03 September 2014

Why Choice? Why Comfort? Why Student Control?

If you are in North America or Europe school has just begun, and in hundreds of thousands of classrooms things have gotten off on the wrong foot. Teachers and administrators and introduced themselves as "enemies" of students, and students responded in kind.

In those classrooms seating charts have been introduced. Students have been expected to sit for long periods in brutally uncomfortable furniture. Odd rules have been announced - limiting children's ability to use the toilet for example - or to get a drink - or required forms of "paying attention." Punishments have been announced before any rule has been broken. In schools where computers or has limited the functionality, and has screamed to the students, "We don't trust you!"
similar devices have been distributed the set up of those devices

OK, disclosure. I was one of those students who, faced with a classroom environment like those described above - right up through graduate school, would leave that class and never come back. Most students don't do that, they either shut down or revolt in ways big or small. They do this in third grade. They do this in middle school. They do this in high school. And teachers often sit there and wonder what went wrong, or they grade on a curve, admitting publicly that they cannot help more than a third of their students do well.
"I don't understand this boy," a math teacher said to a librarian at the first high school I worked at. "He'd rather get detention and go to Saturday School than come to my class." "Well," the librarian responded, "I guess you have to think about that."
Learning is all about trust. If a learner doesn't trust the source of information, very little good happens. That's one thing if the learner is at home or in a coffee shop online, and can choose another source. Its something else again if this is "school" and "we," the educators, are being paid to support this knowledge gain.

High School Library Music Studio
Student-created content and context
And trust is always a mutual concept. If Americans don't trust their government - their government doesn't trust them - and spies on everyone while complaining about a lack of trust. If the police in Ferguson, Missouri don't trust their community, and go out into as if dressed for a foray into the Afghani mountains, the people of Ferguson do not trust their police, and presume all of the worst. And if a school won't trust a 16-year-old to use the toilet when they need to, the 16-year-old will behave as if an aggrieved prisoner.

Aggrieved prisoners are learners, but they sure ain't learning what you want them to be learning. They learn how to distract themselves. How to ignore you. How to excape your class. How to annoy you. I'm always amazed be educators who begin a class by listing the things that upset them most... "coming in late, chewing gum, talking in class, leaning back in the chair" ... and are then shocked, shocked, that students do those very things.

'nuff said...

If only we began from the idea that students - that children - are humans. If only we realized that there is only one moral universe and one standard of behavior, not "us" and "them." If only we started with the thought that if something - say, a rule - is "school only" we need to wonder why school cannot operate like the rest of the world...

Imagine if, at your home, you had to ask to go use the toilet and had to first get a pass. Imagine if you were told that you were not allowed to add a program to your computer or an app to your phone, or that you couldn't change a setting. Imagine if someone filled your house with traditional classroom furniture. Imagine if - as a teacher - you were docked pay if every student didn't learn every lesson on time. Imagine if you - as a state legislator - had your pay held back if every third grader didn't read at grade level. Imagine if you, as a principal, were required to sit in your standard student chair all day long.

Becky Fisher - my colleague - challenged schools to loosen up on technology controls recently in a
Every day my email brings me ideas from
profiteers suggesting how I can limit
student opportunities.
brilliant blog post
. And her post has inspired me to ask you to treat your students as humans - as you would like to be treated - on everything.

It's not just about what also applies to you, its about - because education is about our future - how you would like to be treated. Because in a free society we must learn to be free, and learn what it means to be free.

Where I work we ask our teachers and administrators to ensure that students have choice, are comfortable, and have control of their environment, their technology, and their learning, every day. We do that because we believe that we are helping our children become happy, healthy, successful adults who can thrive in their future, not just comply in our past.

So today, take the shackles off. If you want students to trust you, to be willing to learn what you feel is important, you must trust them.

It is really that simple.

- Ira Socol


Nate M said...

Hi Ira,

A year ago, I thought it was that simple as well. I've found it to be a bit more complex in practice. I've posted a response here: http://bit.ly/1oGe8Ye

juli said...

I am looking for advice regarding algebra curriculum for my daughter. Currently she is homeschooled because the stress of school escalated her seizures. Every teacher was very nice and tried to be accomodating, but she needs a total different approach. She is grade level on everything but math. She is in the 9th grade, but operates on 4th grade level. She wants to graduate with her homeschool co-op, but they have the same requirements as the state. She must do Alg. 1, Alg 2, and Geometry. Do you know of a good program for her. We were using Math-u-see, but she has gotten bogged down in that also.