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Feb 23

Bridge Over Koolaid-filled Waters or We Don’t Need No Replication

“True teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross; then, having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create their own.” ~ Nikos Kazantzakis

 

We don’t need no education

We don’t need no thought control

No dark sarcasm in the classroom

Teacher leave them kids alone

Hey! Teacher! Leave us kids alone!

All in all you’re just another brick in the wall

~Pink Floyd

 

The first thing I ever wanted to be when I grew up was a teacher. The expectations of my family and culture sent me on a different path, but here I am back to the beginning of life’s spiral dance many moons later. This is a good place from which to begin formalized teaching because my experiences have shaped my philosophy of life, which will have a huge influence on the way that I approach pedagogy. The child of immigrants, I employ their method of becoming part of the system: Understand it first before making change to better suit my perspective. In addition, my time in corporate America and Wall Street showed me firsthand the differences between an engaged climate and an uninspired one—the former led to a collaborative and peaceful work environment while the latter damaged morale throughout the organization.

I have the luxury of studying pedagogy a semester before walking in front of the classroom, so I am learning what it entails, best practices, innovations, and what methods might suit my skillset best. I am letting my ideas spark firestorms in my head, thinking in hyperbole as well as trying to understand the traditional methods still employed and encouraged throughout academe. I am also making plans to watch excellent teachers in action so that I can study how they guide students’ imaginations.

I’m also remembering…Why did I want to become a teacher at such a young age? Teachers helped me to find competence and confidence to explore the world, and they often were kind and sometimes inspiring. But I also recall how I excelled in 9th grade algebra and had to sit through almost the entire year bored because I had already mastered the concepts. Many years later, I wish I had retained that knowledge or been given the opportunity to further my mathematical studies because I now sit in statistics classes scratching my head—and today, algebra confounds me. My aptitude was never supported or put into application, and it wasted away.

More recently, what has worked for me as a student is being able to apply theory to practice such as role-playing and engaging in simulations to make concepts come alive and have meaning. So as I prepare to teach for the first time, I want to learn from my predecessors, who include other graduate students who have brought their modern mindset to teaching and use tools of the younger generations to make the classroom a place of discovery rather than boredom. As Sugata Mitra extols, we no longer need to develop apprentices who merely replicate what we do. We need people to learn what ha been done in the past in order to advance it, not only in terms of execution but also of thinking above and beyond how it is conceived. We should be telling our students and employees, “Paradigm shifts encouraged.” But first, we need to listen and hear them, rather than wait our turn to speak or we’ll all be lost in translation.

© Eva Rinaldi

© Eva Rinaldi

I don’t believe that students are asking for us to entertain them (well not the majority anyway). They are asking us to make education relevant and important. Asking “why” shouldn’t be seen as inflammatory but a way of understanding. Why do people invest thousands of hours learning how to play a video game? Because it matters to them. I myself play jigsaw puzzles on my iPad when I need a break. While I enjoy it for its meditative qualities, I find myself hurrying to finish so I can win the promised “reward.” It wouldn’t matter if I didn’t care.

It’s pretty clear that I am unabashedly a yearner in the language of Seymour Papert. My philosophy of life bears that out. I believe that all sentient beings are students and teachers, no matter what our demographics including age or species. I believe that aptitude is not defined by linear standards, and that there are many kinds of intelligence that should be fostered both at home and in school. We do a huge disservice to our civilization by penalizing unique talents and divergent thinking. Like therapists and clients, educators and learners both have mutual responsibility to create an environment conducive to the safe exploration of ideas. It is my hope that as an educator I can be a bridge connecting the old and new, the traditional and innovative, so that we are moving in the right direction toward building a better system.

12 comments

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  1. Gary Nave

    I love that you call out listening as a part of teaching. A lot of what we talk about is getting students to take charge of their learning and become learners on their own. This can’t happen as long as their teacher doesn’t hear them. By showing them that their voice does matter, perhaps we can shift from the system we have now to this idea of “mutual responsibility” that you mention.

    Thank you for your perspective and insight.

    1. renualdrich

      Thanks Gary. I think that when people don’t feel heard or seen, they can stop caring and become disengaged. That doesn’t mean we always have to agree, but respect each other and diverse ideas.

  2. Amy Hermundstad

    Thanks for sharing! I really like the point you made that we no longer have to train apprentices who just repeat what others do. Yet, this is how a lot of formal education settings are structured. In a field like engineering, students are told what to do and then have to repeat that information on tests. Then the engineering workplace is nothing like that education. We should be teaching students to think and to see other perspectives and to communicate and to solve problems. And I completely agree with you – paradigm shifts should be encouraged!

    1. Erin Connelly

      As an engineering student I have seen this time and time again, where students are given information simply to put on tests without being shown the relevance or context of said information. In a world that demands increasingly complex and creative problem solving, we continue to teach students to narrow their thinking and assume there is a single correct solution. I’ve made efforts to fight against this in my class by frequently repeating that there are always different possibilities and by encouraging discussions to incorporate multiple perspectives.

      1. renualdrich

        Thanks Erin. I’m sure that your students are thrilled to have you has a teacher! Just even helping them to understand that they could be thinking about alternatives will spark curiosity. And you’re right about how much we need to be able to imagine other solutions in today’s world. I also value more collaborative efforts rather than focusing on individual success esp. at a young age. If we want to make real change, we must do it as a society and help people to learn how to work in groups better.

    2. renualdrich

      Thanks Amy. My dad was an engineer (in fact, tomorrow is the anniversary of his death) and he used a lot of creativity in helping to build the largest water tunnel in New York City. If not for him, I would never have thought of concrete as interesting! But they had so many issues with it as they were building it that they needed to think out of the box at times to make it happen.

  3. Willie Caldwell

    I would like to start a slow clap on 1.) your title and 2.) your use of Pink Floyd in opening a blog entry about teaching with your authentic self. Slow clap my friend, slow clap.

    I really want to focus on the last few statements you made about all sentient beings being teachers and students. Also the one about doing a huge disservice by penalizing unique talents and divergent thinking. These are beautiful statements and I couldn’t agree more. When I was a kid, my school wanted me put on the standard cocktail for children suffering from ADHD. Luckily I had parents who refused and who encouraged me to pursue outlets in theater and music because those were the subjects that held my attention. As it turned out, I didn’t have an ADHD problem, I was bored. I think this is what Pink Floyd is talking about. Forced conformity turning out another brick in the wall. Genuine education, authentic education counteracts this. So how do we ensure the genuine and authentic educational experiences that our students so desperately need? I mean really, do we have to eat our meat to have any pudding?

    1. renualdrich

      Thanks Willie! I grew up listening to Pink Floyd and other amazing artists in the 70s. I even remember hearing “Brick in the Wall” for the first time, generating such chaos in my head because of all the new ideas it was bringing to life inside of me. And I would have to eat the pudding first, being vegan and all 🙂 It’s truly sad what has happened with medication to children in the name of helping them–and kudos to your parents for making sure that they could resolve your issues by other means first. You might be interested to read this Esquire article on the “Drugging of the American Boy”: http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/a32858/drugging-of-the-american-boy-0414/.

    2. A. Nelson

      More slow clapping and asynchronous appreciation for this post, especially that last paragraph, and for Pink Floyd. Might have to play some in class. Because The Wall.

  4. Chad

    There is a really good episode of the Freakonomics podcast that talks about this exact issue, and actually talks about how some schools in large cities have implemented individualized curricula to students based on their individual skills. I think it really speaks to your point about how education wants to penalize ” unique talents and divergent thinking.”

    Check it out here:
    http://www.podcastone.com/pg/jsp/program/episode.jsp?programID=437&pid=469254

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    Hello. And Bye.

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