Friday, March 27, 2015
Security, Common Sense and Education
A few weeks ago, we moved into our new apartment here at Lanzhou University. The lock on the front door was not working well so we got a locksmith to change it. A few days later, we forgot our keys inside and locked ourselves out. We returned to the locksmith to pay him to open the door for us but he said he could not. He did not have the tools or the expertise. We could only get someone from Lanzhou (one hour away) to unlock it without keys. It was 9 pm at night, cold and it was not looking promising. We thought about a hotel, my classes the following day and so on. Luckily, my wife remembered that we had given an extra key to a trusted friend right after the installation the new lock. After a phone call and a five-minute wait, we were safely inside our house.
A couple of months ago a similar thing happened to us in Guangzhou and it took about 30 seconds for the locksmith to pick the “high security lock”. A pattern about security and what it really is, begins to emerge from just these two incidents.
In the USA, governments are spending millions of dollars on new prisons while educational spending is defunded. We focus our teaching on math and science and on examinations, while criminality is on the rise.
In the world we are spending billions to secure ourselves from terrorism and precious little is spent on education that teaches children how to get along with each other, how to tolerate or appreciate diversity how to understand and listen to people who have different religions or belief systems. We are living in a multicultural world while failing to see beyond the next sad story in the news.
We create open-systems like the internet and then after seeing the results, we try to implement security. We create governments with guaranteed freedoms and then pass laws to fix the abuses.
Smart criminals are flourishing and those who seek to walk civilization backward are living in paradise.
We fail to use common sense in our solutions. In engineering - be it in software, in governments or in building bridges we consistently omit common sense. We fail to take the long view and see that fundamentally the problem lies in our parenting and in our systems of education. We treat children like cars that all need four wheels and think that if they have four wheels they will grow up happy. We forget about braking systems and about quality. We forget we are human until another human tragedy takes lives and then we ask, “How could this happen?” and “Who is to blame?”
The crash of the Germanwings plane in March of 2015 shows the extreme futility of our directions and out efforts. After 911, we made cockpit doors that can keep out terrorists but we forgot that pilots need to eat, drink and use the bathrooms. At those times, the door is open. Moreover, we created locks that can be locked from the inside to keep out the bad guys. But as we have seen the bad guys can be on the inside and they can lock out the good guys. Then we have another tragic loss of life, another wave of angst, another failed “solution”.
I think we need a fundamental rethinking of all of these issues. We need to understand and build educational systems that are not assembly lines, which seek to find and enhance the basic goodness in every child. We need to facilitate the growth of adults who understand what really leads to happiness and what leads to sorrow. We need adults who can exercise creative and critical thinking skills and such adults only come into being after once being children: spiritually and mentally healthy children.
Will this prevent every disaster? No, it will not. Some people will always slip through the cracks, but it should make better engineers, better thinking and should make for a much happier society. We should be more “secure” without bigger locks, more happy without more drugs and common sense might just begin to flourish.
Saturday, June 14, 2014
A student of mine whose name is Li Ping (Dawn Li), will be a wonderful teacher in the future. She is a deep thinker and a sensitive human being. Over the past year I have had the honor of being her teacher. She wrote two things I'd like to share. The first is about our dreams and an attitude towards holding our dreams. The second is about teachers and society. Here they are, without further comment:
“I believe the best way to live is to live realistically, while having an imaginable magic map in your mind”
"Teachers are the core of society"
Wednesday, April 02, 2014
Mentors and Hope
“We were talking about the love that's gone so cold, and the people who gain the world and lose their soul…”. (1) I just came from a class where we were discussing a story called “Pacific Sunset”. The class is called “Audio Visual Listening” (2) but in fact we discuss and share as much as we listen. Today, we listened to a song called “Don’t Be Shy” (3). A student named Lily brought together child-rearing practices and how perhaps the these practices that make us lonely as children and later lonely as adults. Speculating that this “shyness”, that is so common (especially here in China) might be brought about by the shyness (and loneliness) of our parents. She said we must be do better as parents in the future. During the discussion of the story she stated that “The Creator” is something that we all feel driven to discover but whom (or what) we have so little knowledge of. Another student (Dawn) made the comment that we are born knowing certain things like how to be parents, how to be teachers and so on. By implication, along the path of life we lose much of this innate understanding.
Last night, during the Story Evening(4) , about 40 students were talking about another story called “Mongolian Breakfast”(5) and talking about mentors. As I thought about my own life, I thought (and shared) something about my first “conscious” (or semi-conscious) mentor, Stanley Jackson of Galiano Island, BC, Canada. What I came to understand in the course of the evening was what it is that mentors give us: hope. They may not (and perhaps usually do not) give us answers, but they stand in their shoes, in this life, in a certain moment in time and they give us hope. They may tell us little, but they show us that this life (that can seem so cruel sometimes) is worth it, it has purpose, it has love, it has joy and our mentors give us hope. This hope leads us to love and that love leads to peace of mind.
After class I was working on my computer and came across a directory of old family photos. I saw pictures of my father and my uncle. I saw them as children, as young adults and as elderly men. I saw the loss of innocence and much more than I can put words to. I ask myself what was it that they lost? I thought about my extended family and the heartbreak and trials that life has brought; the shallowness, the sorrows, the broken relationships and I thought more…
Then I thought back about the story “Pacific Sunset” and the things that surrounded the 37 guests gathered in a living room overlooking the Pacific Ocean: “The sounds of the Pacific Ocean filtered in between the words of the story. Finally, the clouds received the sun, and a great painting appeared in the sky. Orange, yellow, and gray were the main colors—but there were others too—if you looked closely enough.”(6)
Then I thought of my dear father (who was a great teacher and who I love dearly) and I thought about a certain emotional torture that you could see if you looked deeply into his heart. It struck me that he had no way to understand the eternal questions in life. He had no story, no plausible explanation, no believable story to explain where we come from or why we are here, let alone where we go next.
And it occurred to me that beyond the purpose of “carry[ing] forward an ever-advancing civilization”(7) one of the purposes of religion is to give us hope, to give us a believable, plausible explanation to these great questions of life. Without some believable answers we lose hope and without hope our life is at best a quiet, orderly misery.
The mentors in our life restore this hope. Even if they don’t give us the answers, they give us hope that answers exist and that we may one day find them.
1 - “Within You Without You”, George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul Mccartney
2 - A class for English majors at Guizhou University
3 - Written by Cat Stevens
4 - A weekly event here at Guizhou University
5 - Still Reflections: Stories of the Heart, 207-211
6 - Still Reflections: Stories of the Heart, 263
7 - Baha’u’llah, Gleanings From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, 215
Sunday, January 05, 2014
Two types of teaching and learning.
One of the biggest problems in teaching is that educators of all types strongly favor one type of teaching. One of these types is "drawing forth" (which is used as the name of this blog). The other is “just learn the rules” and then “bank the knowledge”. The drawing forth approach sees all things as potentially inside of a student and that the teacher or parent’s role is merely to draw the talents and abilities out of the child. The other approach believes that humans are pretty much all the same - they need the same things, the same basic skills to become good members of society. In this paradigm children are taught knowledge and they learn knowledge. Having learned the “classics” or having learned from their elders, they will then “do right” and become good members of society.
The name of this blog indicates my basic belief (at least in terms of what is mostly missing from education). But my views have been changing and becoming more inclusive in scope.
Take language as an example. Learning a language is one of the most complex tasks that we ever learn, yet we know very little about how children learn their first language or how they should be taught a second language. We often mistakenly divide language education into four parts: listening, speaking, writing and reading. In fact there are more parts and many of the parts are interrelated. In a second language acquisition, thinking is another mode of the language. One could call this “silent speaking” but in fact thinking is far more complex than the language can embrace or enable. If it were not more, then thinking would become static and no knew science would come forth and no new art would develop. Language enables thinking – it is a starting point.
Look at the teaching of “writing”. In English (and in many other languages) writing is composed of letters that form words, words that compose sentences and paragraphs. These are stacked into articles, stories and books. In English the letters have no meaning, but when letters are arranged into words they have meaning. When the same words are arranged into a poem, they take on a whole new kind of meaning. If we examine the teaching of writing letters (the alphabet), the teaching of spelling (the composing of words) and the teaching of writing of sentences we may find some interesting things.
Such a study is tied to procedural knowledge and declarative knowledge. Declarative knowledge plays in the space of what can be described. For a medical doctor the names of the bones in our body are declarative knowledge or descriptive knowledge. Procedural knowledge is more about “know-how” that is often based on experience. A medical doctor might rely on the “affect” of a patient when the patient is describing a problem. The doctor might (almost unconsciously) listen to the sound of the voice or the movement of the eyes of a patient before diagnosing a patient. In the same way an auto mechanic might know that a certain type of car commonly has a certain problem. The mechanic might side-step certain trouble-shooting procedures when encountering this kind of car.
When we apply this to the writing of letters (alphabet) and the forming of words (spelling) and the writing of sentences, we will find that letters have no meaning and the teaching of writing at this point in development is very different from the teaching of the writing of poetry. Writing the characters is a skill and “drill” is often used to teach it. But what happens to a child who fails at learning to write the letters of the alphabet “nicely”. If there are traumatic effects associated with this learning, then those effects will carry over to spelling and the writing of poetry. Somehow the learning to write characters (a fine motor skill) must be done in a way that success is common and the experience is pleasant. The same is true of creating words (spelling). The writing of poetry calls for far different skills but if the basics (handwriting and spelling) are filled with emotional trauma, then getting beyond this in the creation of poetry will be problematic.
So the teaching of writing might best be seen and done as a “scaffolded” process. Each step has its own challenges and methods and each step enables the next step to be taken.
Friday, July 12, 2013
Chinese and Western Values Towards ParentsMany students in China struggle with what seems to be a conflict between Chinese cultural values and Western cultures values such as those seen on American TV programs. The purpose of this article is not to confirm or deny any particular cultural values but rather to discuss these values so that readers might better understand the issues. Especially acute is the differences between child-parent relationships, values and actions.
In the U.S. children are encouraged to become independent at early ages and to become financially and “domestically” independent in their late teens or early 20’s. This leads to an attitude in the younger adult having little or no need to consult with parents about decisions and to feel little obligation to live with or near their parents. The parents and the children live independent lives and visit each other with some regularity but often live in far-away towns or cities.
In China, children at the age of 20, 30 and even 40 feel obligated to live near their parents, to consult them when making decisions and to care for their parents financially, emotionally and physically.
To a 20 year-old in the US the Chinese way seems strange and to a Chinese 20 year-old the western attitudes and actions seem cold, immoral and irresponsible. Yet to the Chinese 20 year-old there is an attraction to the freedom that western culture brings. To be sure civilization can only grow and improve if children choose some different values and norms than their parents accepted. But how can this be done when children have been raised to accept the values of a 5000 year-old culture? There are many benefits to the 5000 year-old culture but that same culture can become like a very long shadow that hides the sun.
In the case of 20 year-olds in any culture it is important for them to learn to think independently no matter where such thinking takes them. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to relate to parents but there are good ways of thinking and less good ways of thinking. In the Baha’i religion there exists a concept called independent investigation of truth and it is a requirement that all children learn to think for themselves and to choose a religious, philosophical or other way of living that they feel is true and then to follow that path. Creative Thinking and Critical Thinking skills are needed to consider such life-changing decisions. But choosing a religion or philosophy does not obviate the need to think of such issues in a deep way. These issues still need to be considered.
The issue of how to relate to ones parents is one such issue that needs consideration. To help in such consideration questions can be asked:
• What does my heart feel?
• Can I become myself (my own person) if I live for a long time under the shadow of my parents control?
• How can I show love to my parents and still be myself?
• What will happen if everyone lives in a certain way?
There are even deeper questions that may support an understanding of and a good decision about such issues such as:
• Why am I here?
• What is the nature of life?
• Where am I going?
• What is my unique role in the world?
These and other questions can help with such potential changes in the relationships among family members.
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Contentment or Bitterness - A Choice
Some time in my early 20’s I recognized that older people seem to fall into one of two categories or states of mind. There seemed to be no middle ground. Older people seemed to be either happy (contented) or extremely bitter. It was just a simple observation by encounters with a few “older people” and especially with Mr. Stanley Jackson (Galiano Island, BC, Canada) who was an extremely contented older person . In the 40 or so years that followed I found no exceptions to this polarity in older people. It seemed that people either developed a world view that enabled them to accept themselves and others “as is” or not – and the “or not” manifested itself as bitterness. Some were able to accept the tests of life much like the sentiment in the poem “Mountain Dreamer” by Oriah, “I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life's betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain!” It is a great joy to be around people who are “older” and are contented.
Erik Erikson, a developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst describes this seeming polarization as the “integrity versus despair” stage in his theory of psychosocial development. He says that late in life people reflect back on the life they have lived and come away with either a sense of fulfillment or a sense of regret and despair over a life “misspent”.
I think this is related to the concept of “detachment” that is described in many religions and philosophies. The “being in the world, but not of the world” which is implied by the teachings of Confucius and by Christian scripters. Abdul-Baha reflects the Baha’i view in part of a talk, “Our greatest efforts must be directed towards detachment from the things of the world; we must strive to become more spiritual, more luminous, to follow the counsel of the Divine Teaching, to serve the cause of unity and true equality, to be merciful, to reflect the love of the Highest on all men, so that the light of the Spirit shall be apparent in all our deeds, to the end that all humanity shall be united, the stormy sea thereof calmed, and all rough waves disappear from off the surface of life's ocean henceforth unruffled and peaceful.”
You cannot control all the things that you will experience in your life, but you can control how you react to them. From this perspective part of our job in life then is to learn how to react to the fast-flowing and often unpredictable events in our lives. Living one’s life according to such a pattern as this will result in the stage where “…the individual views their whole of life with satisfaction and contentment. The ego quality that emerges from a positive resolution is wisdom.” (Erikson)
This also seems very related to Maslow’s self-actualization written about a few blog posts earlier.
Thursday, May 09, 2013
Maslow and others brought our attention to the concept of self-actualization. Maslow came to this thinking by deciding to study those who are healthy (or especially healthy) psychologically instead of those who are mentally ill. As formal and informal teachers we could do a lot for mankind if we spent more time on using techniques like "instructional scaffolding" to teach these concepts.
The following two lists are two views of the characteristics, qualities or traits of self-actualized people. The first list comes from the blog of Rudy Amid. The list can be found by following this link. Mr. Amid's list is very readable, very spiritual and easy to understand. The second list comes from Wikipedia and is perhaps more academic. Personally I prefer the first list.
Maslow‘s 15 Traits of The Self-Actualized Person from Rudy Amid's blog:
- Perceives reality accurately and objectively; tolerates and even likes ambiguity; and is not threatened by the unknown.
- Accepts himself, others and human nature.
- Is spontaneous, natural, genuine.
- Is problem-centered (not self-centered), non-egotistical; has a philosophy of life and probably a mission in life.
- Needs some privacy and solitude more than others do; is able to concentrate intensely.
- Is independent, self-sufficient and autonomous; has less need for praise or popularity
- Has the capacity to appreciate simple and common place experiences; has zest in living, high humor, and the ability to handle stress
- Has (and is aware of) rich, alive, fulfilling “peak experiences,” or moments of intense enjoyment.
- Has deep feelings of brotherhood with all mankind; is benevolent, altruistic.
- Forms strong friendship ties with relatively few people; and is capable of greater love.
- Is democratic and unprejudiced in the deepest possible sense.
- Is strongly ethical and moral in individual (not necessarily conventional) ways; enjoys work in achieving a goal as much as the goal itself; is patient, for the most part.
- Has a thoughtful, philosophical sense of humor that is constructive, not destructive.
- Is creative, original, inventive with a fresh, naive, simple and direct way of looking at life; tends to do most things creatively ‹ but does not necessarily possess great talent.
- Is capable of detachment from culture; can objectively compare cultures and can take or leave conventions.
According to Maslow, self-actualizing people share the following qualities:
- Truth: honest, reality, beauty, pure, clean and unadulterated completeness
- Goodness: rightness, desirability, uprightness, benevolence, honesty
- Beauty: rightness, form, aliveness, simplicity, richness, wholeness, perfection, completion,
- Wholeness: unity, integration, tendency to oneness, interconnectedness, simplicity, organization, structure, order, not dissociated, synergy
- Dichotomy-transcendence: acceptance, resolution, integration, polarities, opposites, contradictions
- Aliveness: process, not-deadness, spontaneity, self-regulation, full-functioning
- Unique: idiosyncrasy, individuality, non comparability, novelty
- Perfection: nothing superfluous, nothing lacking, everything in its right place, just-rightness, suitability, justice
- Necessity: inevitability: it must be just that way, not changed in any slightest way
- Completion: ending, justice, fulfillment
- Justice: fairness, suitability, disinterestedness, non partiality,
- Order: lawfulness, rightness, perfectly arranged
- Simplicity: nakedness, abstract, essential skeletal, bluntness
- Richness: differentiation, complexity, intricacy, totality
- Effortlessness: ease; lack of strain, striving, or difficulty
- Playfulness: fun, joy, amusement
- Self-sufficiency: autonomy, independence, self-determining.
Thursday, March 22, 2012
Love and Enmity
Know ye the value of these passing days and vanishing nights.
Strive to attain a station of absolute love one toward another.
By the absence of love, enmity increases.
By the exercise of love, love strengthens and enmities dwindle away.
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 9)
Sunday, July 05, 2009
Hold Pebbles and See Jewels
I just saw and heard a poem recitied on YouTube. The poem is called "Faith" and was written by the late Ruhiyyih Khanum. It is recited by a woman by the name of Mehr and has background music.
In the poem there is a phrase that says one of the definitions of Faith is “to hold pebbles and see jewels.”
This is what we do as teachers. We “hold pebbles and see jewels” and if we do our job correctly, the stones become jewels.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Try, try again.
This link should make you feel eternally grateful and should make you cry. In this video Nick Vujicic (who has no arms or legs but has come to terms with it) delivers an inspirational speech to some school kids. These children will never forget the day they witnessed this. You won't forget it either.
Friday, May 15, 2009
Bringing forth what is within you
Linn A. Moffett posted this on Facebook today and it fits in perfect with the theme of this blog:
"If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.
If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you..."
The Gospel of St. Thomas
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Can Relatively Untrained Children Help Other Children to Learn
Irma Nyby is an almost ninety year-old retired school teacher living a few hours north of Sacramento California. She has been an inspiration to me, assisted in the creation of preschool teacher training programs in southern Africa and has experience that should be shared widely.
The last time I visited her she shared a story of her first teaching post. She was assigned to teach the slowest learners who were stuck between kindergarten and the first grade. Her classroom was a result of four streams that had divided up students into groups of very gifted students, less gifted students and she was given 30 students who were seen as the least gifted. Mrs. Nyby understood that her task was next to impossible - except that she had a supportive principal. She studied some work going on in Oakland, California and was given a day off to visit a class where fifth and sixth graders were helping children like those in her class. She returned inspired and received the permission of the principal to take children from the fifth and sixth grades to help in her class. The principal agreed, but the fifth and six grade teachers needed to also agree. As it turned out, they did agree and sent her all the class bullies and other problem-makers and slower learners.
Irma accepted the gift she was given, gave the tutors a brief training and assigned them various tasks to help their much younger schoolmates. She shared a story of one of the most notorious boy bullies in a rocking chair - giving comfort to a five year-old troubled little girl.
And what were the results? Miraculous! Word spread about what she was doing and she was invited to present her work to a conference of educationalists in Chicago, after which she received job offers from various parts of the U.S.
The picture above shows one of the older children patiently tutoring a younger student. A wonderful side benefit of this program is that the older children began to develop interest in learning again.
Friday, January 30, 2009
Nuances pile up:
the subtle breath,
the watched glanced at,
the window looked out,
the “darn it” said with all the venom of “damn it”
all picked up casually like little carpet sweepings from parents,
and older children;
till they become not just a pile of nuances,
but our personality.
© Steven Fletcher
January 29, 2009
Saturday, January 03, 2009
Marriage and Mentors
I was searching for some contact information in my email this morning when I found the following from a single, thirty-something-year-old woman:
“Most of my friends are single or divorced women. They are supportive and loving, and it is good for me to see the single ones who are my age and older who have full, wonderful lives on their own. But, having the perspective of friends who have managed to have a sound marriage would also be helpful. A friend who divorced a couple years ago, was telling me that her strategy now is to hang out with this couple she knows who have a beautiful marriage that she admires. She wants to learn how wonderful marriage can be and to orient herself so that in the future she will be better prepared for that sort of marriage herself.”
From the perspective of mentorship, this seems like very profound advice. Many of us were raised by less-than-deal families. Our parents held on to their marriages by a thread or at some point may have divorced. This is our seed bed for learning how to be a spouse, a mother or a father. If my father dominated my mother then this is what I learned. If my mother dominated my father I learned that instead.
Even if we take the best of marriage preparedness classes, we may fail to learn the ways of harmony, of willing sacrifice, of setting proper limits and other skills that are required for a happy, healthy marriage.
But most of us can recognize a dysfunctional marriage when we see one and most of us are attracted to a harmonious marriage.
So, whether you are single or already married, the advice my friend received is important, spend time around couples you know that “have a beautiful marriage” – a marriage that you admire. Watch and listen and learn. We are never too old.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Education and Creativity
The following link is a wonderful talk about creativity and education – about how we should value and encourage it. The talk by Sir Ken Robinson posits that creativity is as important as literacy.
Among other things in the talk Robertson says that:
- children are not afraid of being wrong
- that if people are not prepared to be wrong they will never come up with anything original
- that our current system “educates” people out of being creative
The talk is just under 20 minutes long and is also very funny.
Check it out at:
Friday, August 15, 2008
ADHD, genetics and more
Consider the labels:
Each of these labels can be defined in academic terms.
Many have been (or are being) traced to generic inheritance
Each of these has a drug (or medical procedure) that can be prescribed to cure or help with the "disease."
Each of these labels (and their "cures") takes some of the immense pressure off parents or children who are charged with their care.
If the Olympics is any kind of societal "gold standard" then think about Michael Phelps:
As a child he was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). In place of drugs his mother used water - swimming in it. It saved them both. Now with Olympic gold medals falling around him like rain, does he still have ADHD? Could ADHD just as well stand for "Another Diagnosis Hardly Done?" Are we too focused on labeling the extremes of the bell curve to recognize genius?
The Michael Phelps story is not alone. Think about the number of recognized inventors, scientists, musicians and others who could not make it in school.
Oh, by the way, the mother of Michael Phelps showered him with love also. Not shame, not labels, but love!
I think those of us in the growth and healing professions ought to consider this story and the many other like it.
Sunday, June 01, 2008
Art and Music In Our Schools
Dennis Brown is a phenomenon here in the California "Gold Country." He lives a simple life and supports music in any way he can. One of the things he does is to conduct a local choral group called the Pine Cone Singers. On May 16th, 2008 the Pine Cone Singers gave the first of three performances. Near the end of the show, Dennis, dripping with sweat, stopped the performance and offered an impromptu speach on the benifits of programs for art and music. In the video he says that music saved him from a life of crime and that most of his freinds from high school are either in prison, dead or are addicted to "crack."
Hear it in his own words. Click here to play the vedio.
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
Claire Bove, Carnegie Scholar
This blog entry is a link to some great material. The material is written by Claire Bove who is a Carnegie Scholar. She is obviously a great teacher and science happens to be something she has focused on. It is possible to extract from these pages much about education in general. Take a look:
Monday, May 05, 2008
Teachers, in the course of their work often teach from one of the following four modes:
In this mode the teacher has a clear plan. It may be a road map held in the head, it may be a well prepared lesson plan or some other concrete plan. The teacher is fully alert and has mastered the tools of drawing forth and assisting students to discover. At the same time the teacher is alert to challenges from the students. These challenges come in the form of non-participation, direct challenges to the authority of the teacher or attempts to fragment the unity of the class. Teachers must be have tasted successful experience using all aspects of the skills necessary to manage these challenges and in facilitating successful learning experiences. It requires trust that students have inside themselves potentialities of great value and that one of the purposes of education is to help those potentials blossom.
The lecture mode is probably the most common mode for teachers to operate from. Success in using the lecture mode is conditioned on the teacher knowing the material, having an organized lesson plan and that students:
- want to learn the subject matter
- are willing to learn from the particular teacher
- have the learning skills necessary to benefit from a lecture
- are paying attention
Just Talking Mode
The “just talking mode” is a high risk mode. It is incompatible with both the facilitation mode and with the lecture mode. In this mode the teacher forgets to listen to the background “beat” much like a participant in a drum circle who tunes out of the unity of the group, looses the beat and becomes a counter-productive source of energy. At the same time the teacher looses credibility with the students and energy is taken from the teacher’s ability to either facilitate or be seen as a domain expert.
You Will Conform Mode
This mode is where the teacher (often based on past successful experiences) believes that if a student conforms they will be better off. Based on this, the teacher demands that a student conform to the moment. The risk is that any trust that was previously built between the student and the teacher can be destroyed. Additionally, other students who may have created a bond of trust with the teacher, may view the teacher as “unjustly” putting pressure on a single participant.
Teachers are human. Challenges and opportunities come and go. We all fail sometimes. However, the successful teacher will learn from these mistakes. Understanding these “modes” could help us all become better teachers. The understanding and practice of these skills could be taught in teachers education programs.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
Links to Educational Concepts and Ideas
I will update this from time to time but here are a few links that I feel are important on the subject of drawing forth the best that is in us all:
Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor a scientist on left brain, right brain thinking and on the unity of all things. On the TED website called Stroke of Insight.
Here are some quotes I have collected on education and stories: Gentle Place Organization
Here is a you tube video on Rites of Intensification.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
A Picture and 1000 Stories
A Picture and a Thousand Stories
This picture tells a story. The main character is the young girl on the left. She is responding to questions. My role (that's me on the right side of the photo) is one of educator in the exact sense of this web site. I am not in "teaching" mode, I am in "drawing forth" mode. The one doing the teaching is the little girl on the left.
This took place at an English corner at a university campus in Beijing. The conversation had previously turned a bit ugly. The topic was the political relationship between China and Japan. There is a lot of unresolved history from World War II. I was the only foreigner present that evening. The graduate student who was ‘hosting” this discussion tried repeatedly to draw me into the politics of the discussion. These two little girls turned up and changed the dynamic.
I asked the little girl on the left, “So, what do you think? Do you think we should fight and have wars to solve problems?” She responded with, “Oh, no! We should all just love each other." We all learned a great lesson.
Saturday, March 08, 2008
Crystal Sets, Electronics and English Class - How does "education" take place?
I'd like to share three stories from my childhood and youth. The stories teach us much about education. We understand that education takes place in schools and outside of schools. It also takes place inside of schools in ways that teachers do not plan. Generally speaking these two modes are called formal education and informal education. The two modes interact and effect one another.
For example, a child who gets excited about learning to play the piano, may also get excited about learning other things. The child who is inspired by love for an uncle, may want to emulate him and this may lead to him or her into doing well in school.
In my case (and there are many others who have similar stories) I was bored in school during most of my childhood. I spent many hours looking out the window of the classroom longing to be outside in the fresh air. Many subjects made little sense to me. I did not see the reason to learn them. There was no motivation to learn. My teachers varied from poor to excellent but for the most part I was not interested in learning.
When I was six years old my uncle (Taylor Fletcher) made me a crystal set radio. I can still picture him working in the corner of his garage putting together a few things and then magically, without a battery, there was sound in the headphones. Turn the knob this way you got a man reading the news in Los Angeles turn the knob a little more and there was a lady singing. To me this was magic.
When I got home I climbed a 100 foot tree next to my bedroom and somehow strung a copper wire to another tall tree 50 feet away. This was the antenna. After hooking that to the radio and then connecting another part of the radio to a water pipe for a ground, the magic came again. From my bedroom in northern California, without batteries I could listen to the world around me. I don't have a picture of the radio my uncle made, but this is similar (Thanks to Jim Frederick for permission to use the photo):
The one my uncle made for me was a bit more "bare bones" than the picture above - but you get the idea.
A few years later my family was visiting some friends outside the town where we lived. I was perhaps eight years old. In the basement of the house I found an old (and very beat up) World War II, Navy electronics training manual. It was used to teach adults about electronics but it approached the subject in very simple ways. I started to read with interest and then became excited. The owner of the house (George Dakserhoff) gave me the book. For months, every night before sleeping I read the book. Over and over I read it. Some of the words were difficult for me - like "microfarad" but I was excited and I read on and I taught myself about electronics.
School for the most part could not hold my attention. Somehow I graduated from high school and enrolled in college. The first year I did poorly. The second year a professor by the name of Mrs. Connie Mundrick changed my life forever. Until then, English was my worst subject in school. She made it clear from the beginning that the purpose of English class was to learn how to communicate your thoughts - not just to be able to write a complete sentence without errors. Something snapped into place and I became excited about writing. On the side, I started writing poetry. A year later, I had a binder with a few hundred poems.
Without my uncle making me the crystal set, without the man giving me the electronics manual and without Mrs. Mundrick's inspiration - without all of them - you would not be reading this blog.
Think of where formal education can go when institutions learn to detect, discover and guide children's natural inclinations and tendencies!
Until next time.