Monday, February 09, 2015

Part Two of Long Interview with Me by Alisa Gross at The Acclaim Blog - Trying to Solve Problems We Fundamentally Misunderstand


This is part two of the long interview with the very generous and thoughtful Alisa Gross from The Acclaim Blog (part one is here). The full version is at http://blog.getacclaim.com/using-education-to-serve-the-individual-a-conversation-with-steve-hargadon-part-2z-of-2/.

In some ways, one of the most interesting parts of the interview was in a question that Alisa asked. She said, "Don’t you think this idea of self-motivated learning only really makes sense to the people who’ve already had the benefits of an education created by our current system of education? Do you really believe that learning and motivation can just organically happen?" My experience of talking with Alisa, and then the follow-ups afterwards, have really been authentic and I significantly have appreciated her openness to my diving into such deep and potentially controversial interpretations of the education conversation. And even Alisa questioned this idea that learning and motivation (especially motivation--wow, such a basic element of human agency) could come without external control. We're so indoctrinated in the the beliefs that we aren't capable of moving ourselves through the world, someone else has to tell us how to do it, and that starts with the need for schooling. We defend a system which brutalizes our sense of self, in a terrifying form of Educational Stockholm Syndrome. (There, just when you thought I couldn't be any more controversial! :) Hope you read on...

Some quotes from part two (read the full version here):

"Some of the democratic schools, like those influenced by Jerry Mintz, from the Alternative Education Research Organization, have had the biggest successes in low-income areas. There’s usually a presumption that you need a program to go in and solve a problem, perhaps with charter schools, or a KIPP school system. Whereas what Jerry did was create a minimal structure of school with a lot of freedom in it (a good definition of a vibrant democracy), where students themselves could make decisions about what they wanted to do.

The democratic school movement is a very healthy and interesting movement, but it doesn’t provide a lot of commercial revenue. Democratic schools don’t create funding opportunities, they don’t provide sponsorship deals, they don’t produce testing revenue. They’re not the kind of thing that a Wall Street firm would look at, or that politicians in Congress will lobby for. While these ideas might be the most brilliant solutions, they’re not going to produce the kind of growth in a capitalist system that we currently define as success."

"...the truth that I think most of us would recognize is that real learning and personal growth come from one-on-one interactions with caring people. Almost everyone has a story of someone doing or saying something that helped turn on the light-bulb of our learning. You can’t mandate that, you can’t create a system for that, you can’t test that. It’s a part of our human experience that we have to protect, and it comes from the belief that every child is important and has inherent capabilities. There is something sacred that becomes broken when we treat another person as someone we control. If we want to help the poor student, we have to think about poverty and the family, and how to truly help others. Because if we think about education as mandated school programs that are brought into places, we are a hammer looking for a nail."

"...the truth that I think most of us would recognize is that real learning and personal growth come from one-on-one interactions with caring people. Almost everyone has a story of someone doing or saying something that helped turn on the light-bulb of our learning. You can’t mandate that, you can’t create a system for that, you can’t test that. It’s a part of our human experience that we have to protect, and it comes from the belief that every child is important and has inherent capabilities. There is something sacred that becomes broken when we treat another person as someone we control. If we want to help the poor student, we have to think about poverty and the family, and how to truly help others. Because if we think about education as mandated school programs that are brought into places, we are a hammer looking for a nail.

"We’re so deeply mired in this idea that school is the solution. We then couch the questions in the form of 'What can we do in schools to make the experiences better for kids?' Let’s look instead at the alternative education models that don’t create funding opportunities, but that do a really good job with kids. How do we promote them, and how do we make them more visible, and how do we help people to understand the importance of one-to-one relationships, and the importance of a given adult in the life of a child? And it doesn’t come from a process, or a system, or a discipline structure. It comes from caring adults in the situation where they’re connecting with kids. And in some ways, that’s letting go of control–which means that sometimes things are going to happen in ways that we don’t want. But can it be any worse than it is now? Why are we hanging on to this system?

"So if we’ve got a system right now which is not working, I think it’s worth asking, is the system the problem? Is our desire to control others the problem?"

" ...I think that we can’t solve a problem that we’ve actually misunderstood.

"Learning is inherent. You don’t have to teach a kid how to learn. They learn to ride a bicycle, and they learn to walk. If we’re talking about memorizing, or reading a book when they don’t want to read a book, or doing math problems when they want to be out playing, yes, then we have to help them figure out how to learn. And more specifically, caring parents and adults recognize that “drawing out” the potential in student (going back to Socrates) is hard but very important work. But if we believe that learning is a natural, inherent part of our human experience, we don’t need to be teaching people how to learn–we do need to be helping them learn how to think. We have to be creating environments which give children opportunities and responsibilities, asking them to challenge themselves, and encouraging them to exceed their current expectations for themselves. If we believe in helping the individual gain capacity, for their own individual intellect, accomplishment, and achievement, then we should do things differently than the way they are."


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