Early morning, and as light flashed through the blinds and the sounds of a new day began with the street rumble my brain kept hearing David Bowie singing “Ch-Ch changes”, and I found myself marveling at how the singer’s vocals had so captured the feelings of worry and confusion major changes might bring on. The near stutter evoked palpable fear- and the lyrics continue to suggest why and how major social upheavals will produce this worry. We have mottoes today such as “change is good” and websites “teaching” how to be a disruptor, yet if people were actually to follow a blueprint for disruption then the bandwagon effect of everyone doing pretty much the same thing happens, and little “ch-ch change ” actually occurs.
Technology and education go together and regardless of what age or grade level one may be working with, most educators do make use of various forms of “equipment”- computer, phone, i-pad, smart board, digital cameras, and even the lesser in vogue today but which schools may have on hand, audiovisual equipment such as TVs, and overhead projectors. But the change today is to almost insist that the students are the ones offering the lesson in order to have them demonstrate some understanding of subject matter. Academics still demands testing, be it in the form of board wide generated formal exams that are meant to provide a summative overview of where a group of students may fit within the big picture perspective of “learning goals” ( formally called objectives) or in the everyone”must” first acquire testing that either welcomes or eliminates students from moving to new levels (any pre – program assessment test from the SAT through the GRE).
So what really has changed? The day to day encouragement which in some ways may be reminiscent of apprenticeships of old, with a slight slant. Many of the younger generation are technologically “gifted” that is swift learners when it comes to using and applying new technology, however this technology to “make sense” of Academic goals is still applied as a “tool” for learning, rather than the end means in and of itself. Learning coding becomes a new strand neatly placed alongside IT courses, when really it could be right up there with Language Arts- coding is a form of communication – not only do computers speak with one another, but the person versed in code understands a language as does the person using vocabulary specific to any field of study. And like the acquisition of any new skill, some basics must be learned /applied/understood, before the “creative” aspect that leads to “ch-ch changes” or real innovation will be demonstrated.
Bowie’s song with its direct appeal that we ought to “turn and face the strange” continues to be of value- when listening to ( “but I”) “can’t trace time” , the clear concept of a younger generation not becoming a carbon copy of its predecessors but instead further innovating and adding to the picture as a whole is both “disruptive” and positive-the singer readily acknowledging that time itself may change him-allowing for his own growing and changing, as a reminder that it is not mere rebellion but is new direction.
Has education really changed? Or are we merely participating in that ripple effect which technological changes create? Bottom line, as educators, we are compelled to encourage the students to question-when they do so -like Bowie-they too may “ch-ch-change” things up.
Profession or calling, enterprise or extension of self- how does one really decide?
Students entering grade 12, or first and second year University, or even earlier- here in Ontario, in grade eight, being asked to project forward, to pick their own learning stream, to choose applied or academic, to “guess” which courses truly will fulfill the goal of satisfied, independent adult “one day”. And then, to their surprise, when at University, to learn how many students ( just like them) are now changing direction, “discovering” through course selection new interests, new opportunities, and their own voice. Such a beautiful discovery; recognizing when to take to heart the comments of advisors and professors, when to decide one’s own goals, when and where to focus both attention and action.
When we look at pictures of High School students from the early 60s when streaming was in effect, almost an entire class when off to University in the pursuit of similar goals- I have heard first hand stories of a class in which all but one entered sciences, followed by medicine, and that one, first obtained a degree in commerce, then entered medicine as well! Today’s more individualized timetables suggest a more personalized approach to course selecting, but is this the reality?
A VIP for a Bank told me he hadn’t been considered good at math in High School, not showing interest- then took a commerce course and loved discussing what to do with “widgets”. For the record – he deals with a tremendous amount of “math” today. There are similar stories, and of course the current jokes about how it might be more worthwhile to put one’s hope into the non academic aspect of school, and encourage a student to focus on an area where showing talent; schools for the arts, and sports oriented programs seem geared to recognizing that there is more to an individual’s “one day-someday” plan than the letter grade, however, when a student’s inklings are for academics, then let us not put down the high scoring community. Too many students still suggest to me their middle school fear of being considered nerdy (actually they often use a much stronger term) if they do achieve, and wish to achieve top grades. It is therefore not surprising to recognize the way in which highest awards are often given to the newest newcomer students- students whose families continue to focus on education, students whose families risked a great deal to make life anew in Canada, and one of their dreams was a full education for their children.
When we collectively consider “school” we may need to reassess the messages we are sending to the very students involved: are we creating an inclusive environment where students needn’t wait till post secondary or later to begin to find their voice? Are we offering within the school the safety of genuine communication, between peers, between students and teachers, between parents and teachers, between administration and the entire community? Somewhere, between “get 100” and “fail forward” we need a new slogan; a concept of opportunity shared, versus hierarchical put downs that seem so accepted within our educational settings.
Together- whole child, whole heart, whole community; holistic education. Let’s get it together !
I’d love to build the kind of school that banned the word “punishment” & replaced it with “here-Read this!”
The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions.”
–Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.,
U.S. Supreme Court justice
To me the quote suggests that wisdom sees the individual in a situation and is able to listen and put reason and context into a judgement.
I joined Mothers against Drunk Driving before I became a mom. I am the last person to be in a position to defend a student for being slightly under the influence- but I also know kids- and know that schools inadvertently encourage drinking when they set up rules and arbitrarily decide who will be punished. I also know that kids have their own code of honour and expecting one student to call out fifty more is a ridiculous notion.
“Zero Tolerance”- imagine if that really were put into place beyond the school system- no need for a legal profession then/ after all, no need to weigh the crime of a stealing of a loaf of bread ( Victor Hugo – yes- Les Miserables) against the crime of cold blooded murder- no need to weigh anything at all- no need for perspective, understanding-balance- just… punishment. And no worries if the punishment fit the crime- OH – but that’s a dystopia- can’t possibly be what one wants from or for an education system.
Teach Literature to students really offering them an understanding of the issues at hand and sit back and listen to how much kids do care- and stop sending mixed messages. As a mom, I know the difference between a small infraction and a major one, and silently or vocally as the occasion demands praise the positive and give thanks that the testing the waters of adolescents is, in the grand scheme of things, about generally safe exposure to new ideas and sometimes, new tastes.
Change- Kids change – when adults let them; over punishment doesn’t allow for change and may in fact push the student in the opposite direction. People -and kids are people too- need to feel a sense of control over their lives. Remove that sense and all that is encouraged is rebellion. I know of a beautiful young student whose participation at her High School has been exemplary, whose one indiscretion is being held up without being weighed or even set beside the four years of non-stop team school participatory action. Zero-tolerance? As adults, as educators, as parents, we ought to be fighting tooth and nail against such an empty slogan; a zero-tolerance society is not going to create future leaders who are capable of recognizing exceptions.