Know Your Oral From Your Aural

626. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

Once I was hired as an artist in residence at a school. Prior to starting I had an interview with the principal to discuss his vision for my residency. He proudly told me that the school’s focus was “aural language.” When I asked him what that meant to him and how they were currently executing the theme he stared at me; he had no idea. For ease, I asked the first part of the question again, “What does aural language mean to you?” He stuttered and began to sweat. Finally, he said, “You know, the spoken word.” Ah. I was gob smacked on two counts: first, he was champion of a school wide theme and hadn’t yet sorted his oral from his aural. Second, it was late in the school year and I can only imagine given his response that I was the first person to ask if he knew what he was championing. That month during my residency every single teacher told me the school’s theme and none had the vaguest idea why it was the theme or what they were supposed to do with it. It became our joke. They’d ask, “What are we doing today?” and I’d look very serious and respond, “Why, aural language, of course.”

I think about this man and those teachers every time I walk into a school and see how invested and driven we’ve become by “the standards.” My-Favorite-Beth showed me a photo of a white board chocked full of numbers that looked like complex equations for string theory but were in fact the scrawls made by teachers trying to identify which standard they were going to teach (note-that-should-raise-your-red-flag: despite the best efforts of My-Favorite-Beth, they were not capable of discussing teaching children, they were only capable of discussing teaching standards. I imagine the standards will soon exit the school well informed but the children will certainly yawn and ask again, “So, why did we do that?”). As Sir Ken Robinson said, “No one wants standards to drop but we need to ask, ‘Standards of what?’” Is it oral or aural, rural or laurel, clap-clap-shimmy-shimmy-shake, if-it-was-good-enough-for-me-it-is-good-enough-for-you, why are we doing it? No body knows but at least we’re all on the same page.

This is what I’ve decided. I want to bag the word “school” entirely – and that includes all of the synonyms as well. Maybe if we called it something else we might jiggle loose our dreams and move beyond our current educational energy eddy. Melissa, my nominee for teacher of the year, said, “It should all be about engagement. Everything else follows from there.” Yes. Here’s my short hand: we’ll know we’re on the right track when we are more interested in problem creation than we are with problem solving. This thing formerly known as school should be more pursuit than regurgitation, more question than answer, more alive than dead. And, we’ll know how to distinguish between those things when we start asking ourselves the question the kids have been asking for years, “Why are we doing this?”

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