Friday, February 22, 2008

Booknotes: What Do I Do Monday, Part Three


Killing of the Self, cont.

  • "The parents cannot and do not say to their children, 'I can't prevent your teacher from despising and humiliating and mistreating you, because the schools have more political power than I have, and they know it. But you are not what they think and say you are, and want to make you think you are. You are right to want to resist them, and even if you can resist them only in your heart, resist them.' "
  • "On the contrary, and against their wishes, they (parents) believe and must try to make their children believe that the schools are always right and the children wrong, and if the teacher says your are bad, for any reason or none at all, your are bad."
  • " 'I'm just beginning to realize that it was the schools that made me stupid.' " - friend of JH.

The Teacher as Cop

  • "When there is much freedom of choice, we teachers are driven or pulled toward some kind of realism and sanity. When there is none, we are driven toward absurdity, impotence, and rage."
  • "The children in the high status and 'creative' private elementary schools I taught in were bored stiff most of the day -- and with good reason. Very little in school is exciting or meaningful even to an upper middle-class child; why should it be so for slum children?"
  • "Why, that is, unless we begin where schools hardly ever begin, by recognizing that the daily lives of these children are the most real and meaningful things they know."

The Teacher as Guide

  • "We talk a lot about teachers 'guiding' in schools. Most of the time we just mean doing what teachers have done all along -- telling children what to do and trying to make them do it."
  • Or, as a friend of mine put it, we teachers can see ourselves as travel agents. When we go to a travel agent, he does not tell us where to go. He finds out first what we are looking for."
  • "... I could not help but know that the stupid and defensive and self-defeating behavior I saw so often in my classes must somehow be caused by me and the class, since outside the classroom none of these children was in any way stupid."
  • "Play-- it cannot be said too often -- is children's work, and we cannot learn anything important, unless we play, and play with them."
  • "It is most important, when meeting children of any age for the first time, to approach with this kind of tentativeness, gravity, and courtesy. And it is astonishing how quick most children are to make friends with people who do not ask them, but simply indicate that they are ready."
  • "This is, of course, what is fundamentally and incurably wrong with the whole idea of lesson plans. It took me years to learn that when I went to a class with every step and every detail of the period thoroughly planned and ready in my mind, it would be a terrible class, the children anxious, timid, trying to con me, saying, 'I don't get it,' wildly grabbing for answers."
  • "If, on the other hand, I went to a class with no more than the faint beginning of an idea, a tentative first step, and often not even that, ready to see what the children had to offer and to work from that, things usually went well.”
  • “Most of the time, we keep giving children new symbols—usually words—and then using other symbols—more words—to tell them what the first words mean. It is a mistake.”
  • “…we must in as many ways as possible give our student teachers the kinds of choice and control in learning that we hope they will someday give to their own students. We must teach them once again what many of them will long have forgotten—how to play, how to confront the new and strange with curiosity, imagination, enthusiasm, energy, confidence, hope, and joy.”

The Theft of Learning

  • “I have said that true communication is communion and change. Jargon is not innocent. … He does not mean to draw near to us, or to empower us, but to stand over us and manipulate us. He wishes, in short, to remain an Expert. The philosopher, by contrast, wishes all men to be philosophers. His speech creates equality. He means to draw near to us and empower us to think and do for ourselves.” – The Lives of Children, Dennison.
  • “The fault of our universities, of our intellectuals and academics, is that they have made themselves into Experts instead of Philosophers. They have largely destroyed, for most of us, our so vital sense that the world, human life, human experience, is a whole, and everywhere open to us.”
  • “They have taken the great common property of human knowledge and experience, which ought to belong to us all, and made it into private property.”
  • “At moments I look at all professors, including myself, with understanding. We are no less victims of the system than our students. In the schools we were brought up as slaves. Someone or something opened to us the possibility of becoming overseers. … but like the best slaveowners…we perpetuated a system which robs young people of their selfhood.” – Up Taught, Ken Macrorie

The Wholeness of Learning

  • “What I had done, clumsily enough, was not to try to hand him a lump of knowledge, which people had already handed him and which he could not take hold of, but to take him on a kind of human journey with the people who had first thought about and discovered these things.” JH on calculus.
  • “The children may ask, ‘What are you doing?’ We say, ‘Watch,’ and just go on doing it – always the best answer to that question.
  • “… the real world out there is not divided up by dotted lines into a lot of little areas marked Physics, Chemistry, History, Language, Mathematics, etc. In the real world, one thing leads to another, each thing is connected to every other thing. The whole world can be explored starting from any place, wherever a child happens to be at the moment.”
  • “A good way to check interest is to ‘forget’ and see if any of the children remind us.”
  • “So we just say, Shall I measure you today? And if they answer Yes, start the project again. The point is not let this become another dead class routine, but to be ready to move with the interests of the children.”
  • “The Gifted Teacher is a myth. …we teachers have low batting averages. …Teaching is human communication, and like all communication, elusive and difficult. We must learn from the children. And learn afresh every year: children and classes are different; what went wonderfully one year may not go well the next. In fact, we must be wary of the feeling that we know exactly what we are doing in class. When we are most sure of what we are doing, we may be closest to being a bore.”

Measure and Comparing II

  • “The point of all this investigating is to find an answer to a question; the only use of the arithmetic is to help us find it. Man did not think of measuring things so that he would get good at arithmetic; he measured things because he wanted or needed to find out or remember certain things about them..”
  • “But it was the measuring, no the arithmetic, that was of chief importance. The need, the act that requires the skills, creates the skills.”

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