Put Down Your Straight Edge [on Two Artists Tuesday]

winding trail copy

I just wrote a “Statement of Philosophy of Teaching.” It’s for an application to teach at a college that emphasizes experiential learning. If I had a dime for every time I championed experiential learning or used that phrase on a crowd of wooden educators, stony-faced business types, or boards-of-directors, I’d have no need to write statements of teaching philosophy. And, truly, think on it for a moment, what is the opposite?

Andy’s phrase: experience equals knowledge, knowledge equals confidence, confidence equals success. In other words, the only way to learn to ride a bike is to get on the bike and ride. There will be falls. We call that learning. And, the really great thing about getting on the bike and riding is that one day, after a few more falls and many more miles, you might compete in the Tour de France. You will be pursuing something other than your balance skills. Learning is like that.

The problem with shorthand phrases like Andy’s, although accurate on one level,¬† is that they describe a straight line. Life, I’ve learned from experience, has rowdy roller coaster phases that nearly fling you off the planet, awkward backward stepping to get out of wrong choices, chapters wandering lost in the forest, days spent sitting on the rock stripping off the armor before another step can be taken. Life is not lived in a straight line. Experience is a windy road. It only looks straight in the post-mortem. Knowledge gathering en route to confidence is no walk in a meadow. Andy will tell you that, too.

We make meaning out of our experiences after the fact. We have experiences first and story them second. It is why learning is circular. It is why a rich life is circular, why life lessons come around again and again.


read Kerri’s blog post about WINDING TRAILS


arches shadows k&d website box copy


2 Responses

  1. YO! DR! In another of our never ending (or so it seems) gyre of coincidental path crossings I came across this latest blog entry after having facilitated an in-service day at Herbert H. Kohl Elementary School here in good ol’ Stockton, California just last Monday.

    So what’s the connection you may well ask?

    Most educators of my vintage…that is, somewhere in their seventh or eighth decade…will remember Herb Kohl as the author of “36 Children”…among other revolutionary and inspiring books about mid-20th century American schooling…from his hey day in the late 1960’s-70’s.

    Along with others–like “Summerhill”–Kohl’s writings championed the notion of “open schools/open classrooms” which–once the dust had cleared and a few effective ones got their legs under them–became schools (and teachers) dedicated to things like “project-based” and “experiential” learning.

    Which schemes, when boiled down to their essentials, all look very suspiciously like the way really thoughtful parents have always raised/taught and then set loose into the world their own offspring.

    Like so many of the other “radical”, “revolutionary” and “earth changing” movements of the 1960’s the “open schools” push withered when the focus of public education shifted its attention elsewhere…as it inevitably does every 7-10 years…when those new textbooks get adopted after everybody finishing complaining bitterly about that “new math” stuff…or “new social studies” stuff…or “new science” stuff or “new (???) stuff…

    That and when school planners found out–the hard way–that simply knocking all the walls out between classrooms, letting the kids call the teachers by their first names and teaching math by playing black jack all day didn’t guarantee that one would get an “open school”.

    Despite the rather quick loss of interest in the concept, a few individuals (and even fewer entire schools) did cling to the ideals of authentic project-based learning very much in the model of Kohl and other outlier education thinkers before him. Look up, for example, John Dewey or “The Sloyd Method” in early 20th century Sweden or, more recently, the life work of Dr. Lillian Katz at the University of Illinois/Champaigne-Urbana.

    Kohl School is one of those places. It is staffed by 10 people dedicated to experience-based learning much adapted and upgraded but still showing plenty of signs of its ancestry and the debt owed to open schools ideas generally.

    So educators steeped in and dedicated to experiential learning are out there…everywhere. And, no, they are not all graying ex-hippies…though one of Kohl School’s founding fathers and long time fearless leader–Bud West–may still have some love beads laying around. Bud recently retired. The Kohl staff is on the hunt for an adequate replacement. The Real Deal–Bud West–will ever remain unequalled.

    Kohl’s faculty are dedicated practitioners of experiential learning. What new understandings could I possible bring them to? The only epiphany I had to offer–as a dedicated 4 decades-long practitioner in several areas of experience-based formal education was this: Isn’t ALL of life just one big endless “lesson”. One big experience-based education…experience?

    There is no manual, no textbook, no “This Is Your Life and How To Live It” curriculum…

    …as you have also pointed out in only slightly different terms.

    The question then becomes: Why is it so hard for and educators and their institutions to get their heads around this notion when it comes to their plans and programs for “schooling” the young of human society?

    Instead of using the organic (messy?) model of the real world learning policy influencers instead create complicated “subject area lists” and “skill sets”. These are then hammered into “curriculum guides”. Details of which are then hacked into ever smaller chunks and spoon fed, slowly and inefficiently apparently…given the mind numbingly slow progress we seem to make in getting those graph lines moving upward on such things “improving reading and math levels” and “building higher level thinking skills”…or any other “data based” indicator of learning progress you favor.

    I do not claim to have “the answer” to all this. I, therefore, do not have that elusive silver bullet. But I am with you in wondering…

    …why cannot more educators see what is all around us? How does the infant human learn to talk? To walk? To recognize what is safe and not so in its world? To do any of the countless number of very complex things it learns between birth and the day it first enters into “school”?

    Why is that model of education not seen as the universal ideal?

    • It amazes me that you offer more knowledge and wisdom in a simple comment box than Betsy DeVos will provide in her tenure The Dumpsters education sycophant. Your question is the only real question which is, perhaps, why it is never asked in the upper realms of education.

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