See The Force

from my children's book, Peri Winkle Rabbit Was Lost

from my children’s book, Peri Winkle Rabbit Was Lost

Bill is a board member for non-profit education organization and is forming a case for changing the curriculum. He’s asked me to help him shape his argument. The students going to the organization’s classes did not fare well in the public schools. As Bill wrote, most of the students are interested in the arts and there are no arts available. He wrote that the curriculum is mostly “traditional.”

Many years ago, my mentor, Tom, told me that the alternative schools were filled with artists, so Bill’s observation is not surprising. Anyone familiar with Howard Gardner’s work will recognize the notion that people learn in different ways. Desks are torture chambers to kids who need to move or manipulate things in order to process information. I was one of those kids and I can tell you that the word “torture” is not an overstatement. Even today, sitting is unproductive time for me. I do my best thinking while I walk or while painting. Staring out a window is also highly productive: after all, the imagination is a fancy dancer.

Bill is making the same wrong assumption made by all people interested in educational reform when they first wade into the swamps of change: he’s focusing on the teaching and the teachers. If only the teachers could see the value of working experientially, engaging the students in a real pursuit instead of an abstraction, all things would be better. On the surface, that might be true. What he’s not considering are the forces in place that require teachers to default to rote exercises, compartmentalization, and standardization. In his case (and all cases), the teachers are not being reinforced (paid) to engage the students on a learning journey; they are being reinforced to raise test scores. The change he seeks is not in the teachers or the teaching. He must address the forces of compliance that teachers, just like their students, must obey. He must address the systemic assumptions that define the expectations.

This is the same conundrum that organizations face when they desire their employees to work in teams but are structured to reward individual achievement. The desire for team is in direct conflict with the systemic foundations.

As Arnie recently reminded me, 1) our system of education was not created by educators, so 2) the aim was never to educate but to standardize. These two aspects, the structure and the intention, are powerful forces to change. They now define our assumptions of what education should be. Systems are living things, and, as I learned in school, will fight to the death just like all other living things.

Bill has his work cut out for him. Changing the focus of the teachers is the easy part and can only happen when the focus of the system supports the deep human desire to learn.

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, title_pageSeeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.

Go here for hard copies.

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