13 October 2010

Creative Collaboration

What is your school teaching?

I'm not discussing content. Content can be interesting, or worthless (a must read blog post in itself), but its a small part of school. What schools "teach" first and foremost is that completely unhidden "hidden curriculum" - the curriculum which aims to turn children into passive, compliant, individuals.

Tuesday night I came home from "teaching" a class. I drove through the night listening to NPR programs about the almost-ready-to-begin Chilean miner rescue and about recollections of a similar rescue 62 years ago in Nova Scotia. At home I watched two things on my computer, the BBC Feed of the Chilean rescue and the video below, sent to me by the head of MSU's Alumni Association:

I have a BA in Criminal Justice/Juvenile Justice from Grand Valley State University,
where I had extraordinary professors

Spring Hill, Nova Scotia 1958 - the rescued (above)
and the rescuers (below)
And as I watched both, I met friends, from Virginia, and Perth, and Salt Lake on Twitter, and we talked about this.

"What is rescuing those miners? Learning, care and creativity. Sounds familiar?" said Tomaz Lasic from Western Australia. "And collaboration" I said.

We thought about how amazing humans are as problem-solvers in an immediate crisis, whether rescuing astronauts on a crippled moon journey or capping a runaway oil spill a couple of miles beneath the ocean, but how bad we are at developing solutions when we lack the immediate issue to focus on.

I said, "We are brilliant problem-solvers when we want to be. I think we owe God better than we give on too many days."

And Dave Doty said, "No doubt--but most days we're too busy casting blame than pulling together. This is very inspiring."

So let us be inspired.

"What is rescuing those miners? Learning, care and creativity." "and collaboration."

And what are we teaching?

In the morning this Tweet arrived via BBC's stream: "1022: Chilean Planning Minister Felipe Kast tweeted: "A great day for restoring faith in our collective ability to face huge challenges with urgency and hard work."

This comes at an interesting moment. Today, Washington, DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee resigned. Rhee is famous - or infamous depending on who is doing the writing - for dissing the value of creativity. It is also the day that The New York Times chose to look 'under the press releases' of Geoffrey Canada's Harlem Children's Zone.

Speaking of the Zone's new high school the Times reports: "The school, which opened in 2004 in a gleaming new building on 125th Street, should have had a senior class by now, but the batch of students that started then, as sixth graders, was dismissed by the board en masse before reaching the ninth grade after it judged the students’ performance too weak to found a high school on." (article p. 2)

Yes, they kicked out an entire grade because the kids' scores would have made those who promote these schools look bad. [I think Canada began with the best of intentions, it is sad to see him become a shill for American Express and right-wing politicians on both sides of the Atlantic.]

No one dismissed: the Chilean rescue was the result of allowing competing creative solutions (three rescue tunnels were being dug) and a commitment to actually leaving no one behind.

There was also a comment on my blog post about helping students to see differently: I had quoted Postman and Weingartnerabout prohibiting teachers from "asking any questions they already know the answers to." And a commenter asked, "Is this supposed to apply only in limited situations or what? I can't imagine how kids would ever learn math, for example, if their third grade teacher only posed problems (say, from calculus) that she couldn't figure out."

I tried to explain that I could demonstrate, allow discovery, allow students to doubt, that "testing" - this commenter was really not talking about "teaching" - she wanted to know how to test "knowledge of facts" - is not "learning," but he/she could not understand.

And now I think of the GVSU video and the Chilean Mine Rescue. Both could certainly be "assessed," but neither could be judged on the basis of an "objective" exam. Neither could have happened without "students" looking over each others' shoulders, sharing work, talking, arguing, disagreeing. Neither could be limited by a specific knowledge base or the separation of knowledge areas. Neither could have happened with artificial time limitations.

Both are the result of many things we far too often discourage in school.

So, let us be inspired. Let us be the opposite of Michelle Rhee. After all, if kids are creative problem solvers we can easily leverage that to allow them to "read" and "write" in many ways. If kids are creative collaborators we can help them learn to build networks for learning and discovery. If kids are caring humans we can give them a world to learn about. The technologies of this century make the mechanics of reading, writing, math easy, it is the creativity, the empathy, the collaborative skills which need the encouraging.

We need classrooms filled with the chaos of imagination, the chaos of 'in-progress' communication capabilities. The chaos of many different paths to learning. We don't need more tests, we don't need more "standards," we don't need more scripts. And we don't need more unified strategies.

Let us embrace a learning system which helps create adults who will change the world. We can do it. It isn't easy, but, Yes, we can.

- Ira Socol


Stephanie said...

Great ideas. Read Clay Shirky's Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in the Connected Age. Very fascinating and thought-provoking book that focuses on a culture of changing the world in the digital age.

Anonymous said...

About Postman's quote: Who said anything about testing? As I read those comments, the point, it seems to me, is that he's saying that a teacher can't stand in front of the class and check their knowledge as to whether 2 + 2 = 4 by asking them that -- or any other math question to which she knows the answer. That is about the stupidest thing ever said about education.

Sure, it might be good sometimes to ask questions wanting not just to hear a rote answer but to hear a process of reasoning . . . but it's unbelievably stupid to suggest that teachers should never ask questions to which they know the answer. That would mean that the entire body of human knowledge would be basically cut off from the classroom.

narrator said...

Ah the anonymity of anger and insult. Fascinating to see how people behave when their name is not associated... which brings up the failure of many educational systems to raise caring humans who can collaborate. But I digress.

Of course, "Anonymous" (if that is your real name), the question was about testing, as you admit when you say "check their knowledge." Checking their knowledge is not learning, it is testing/evaluation. And honestly, if you cannot tell if a student understands that 2+2=4 without asking that question directly, you have no business being a teacher.

- Ira Socol
who will repeat the ground rules here - if you are going to be insulting and rude, sign your name, or your comment will be deleted. Rational arguments are expected here, from rational people.

Anonymous said...

Why do you have to be indirect about it? Seems awfully inefficient.

Moreover, testing really isn't the issue. Postman is saying that a teacher couldn't even begin a conversation by saying, "Why is the sky blue? Let's think about that for a minute," unless she specifically did NOT know the answer (in which case all of the following speculation will likely be rather useless). It just makes no sense to say that teachers should never teach something that they actually know.