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school transformation: real learning
Schools as place of joy
This is @edpsychprof's weekly newsletter for those interested in transforming schools to become places where children (and adults) can thrive.
Schools should be places of joy. We were born with the innate desire to learn, so this shouldn’t be a radical notion. Yet, think of the last time you saw children happy in school, other than at recess. I am fortunate, because of Galileo School, to see this happen quite often. But it’s generally not the case in most public schools in the U.S.
Now I’m not saying that schools are a paradise: struggles go hand in hand with learning, and navigating social relationships, disappointment, and failure is inherently difficult. But the overall atmosphere of schools ought to be one of camaraderie, connection, support, and enjoyment. Learning is fun. Not in a trite way, not at all. Learning is so exciting--that moment when you see the world differently….
It pains me to see teachers put on silly costumes to try and entertain their students. I don't fault them--they are kinda my heroes for all they are doing to keep their kids engaged. Isn’t it sad, though, that schooling has degenerated to such awful boredom and disinterest that teachers have to resort to such tricks to capture the minds of students?
Real learning doesn't need such traps and tricks. Real learning is finding a rock and seeing it with fresh eyes. Feeling the weight and heft it. Drawing it. Analyzing it. Studying it. Smelling it. It comes with a sense of knowing—ah, a rock! I know what a rock is. Not abstract knowledge or facts about rocks you spit out on an exam, but real knowing.
[Damn, now I'm crying. This truly breaks my heart how we are missing the mark in schooling. And truth be told, I feel like an idiot writing what to me is so obvious. Yet, if it’s obvious, why are schools not changing? Why is no one else outraged by all the time we are squandering making our kids feel stupid, bored, restless, and helpless in schools?]
Real learning is understanding how motors work by first wondering about them. How do fans work? How do wheels of an electric scooter move? Who invented the first motor? Where are all the motors in your house? Can we build a motor? What would we want it to do?
I'm not naïve. Kids learn intuitively and as a part of their nature, yet if left alone to their own devices, they'd be on their devices. Learning, yes. But not able to see the big picture, to escape their own limitations--personal, familial, cultural. Schooling can be the great equalizer, exposing us to those different from us. And bringing to our lives the best thing of all--teachers! Guides to help us get beyond our own limitations, to introduce us to even more wonder, and yes, to help us learn things the culture has decided is important to learn. But not dogmatically; rather, through curiosity, exploration, and invitation. Teachers are a bridge from who we are to who we are becoming. A great teacher is priceless—helping us stretch and grow in ways we never imagined. And a good teacher is a comfort and blessing, ensuring a safe, open, and encouraging environment for learning to take place.
And yet, we have hog-tied teachers, forcing them to adhere to strict lesson guides, making them responsible for how their students perform on arbitrary metrics that are mostly influenced by neighborhood and SES. There is little joy or creativity to be had in teaching anymore.
I remember how excited I was to go to school! School opened my world beyond my secretive, patriarchal Italian family. Introduced me to books and ideas. And to other kids, who expanded my world beyond my family’s prejudices and superstitions. Reading Tara Westover’s wonderful memoir, Educated, I was struck how much I resonated with her story, even though she was a mountain girl from Idaho, and I was a poor Italian girl in the Bronx. We both rose out of our circumstances through the power of school. So I ask you, dear newsletter readers, what can we do to strengthen our public schools and make them places of joy?
I would love to hear your thoughts--they help clarify my own thinking and contribute to the larger discussion on this topic. Plus, your responses help create community around this idea of school transformation. Who knows what good we can do together?
If you know of someone who would be interested in joining our school transformation community, please consider sharing this newsletter with them.