Friday, September 26, 2014

Metaphors (part 3 of 4)

The air was thick with them.  We leapt into metaphorical comparison of the materials and our educational experience to our students and their learning.  Here are a few of them:

As Peter explained how joints and grain cuts and types of wood comprise and harmonize a quality design, James (of School Factory fame) offered, “Wood furniture is not just an object but a system.  It changes over time.”  The room gasped in recognition of how perception fixes reality.  I considered concepts like “learning” or “teaching” and the ways our normative perception has made them narrow realities.  More on this in another post…

Peter spent time illustrating the character of wood and how critical it is to work with it.  You cannot force it because it will inevitably do its own thing!!!  That provoked some pondering for me about what we expect to be able to do with children to “educate” them and then we are frustrated when it doesn’t “take.”  Do we consider their nature and characteristics?  Do we “work” with them?

Final metaphor: Teachers as sawyers… Peter showed us how wood planed from the same part of the same tree could look very different depending on the sawyer.  The sawyer could bring out beautiful irradescent qualities or the aesthetic equivalent of a Home Depot 2x4.  The same piece of wood could be worth $10,000 or 9.99 depending on the skill, knowledge and experience of the sawyer.  A collective “oooooo” burst forth as we simultaneously traded sawyer for teacher and wood for students.  What skills, knowledge and experience make a teacher who can bring out the $10,000 qualities in the potential of her students?

Toward the end of our time together, Sean-our adventure guide and fellow traveler-spoke of his reticence to think about this experience in metaphors, a space in his mind he found all too familiar.  Rather, he wondered if he could just focus on the immediate experience instead of leaping to teacher thinking?

His words triggered me.  I responded to him quickly.  And later, reconsidering now, I have another response.

I was/am troubled by the idea that learning and teaching have become a dichotomy, worse an equation, inextricably linked by causation.  If teaching, then learning.  If teacher, then not learner.  If learner, then not teacher.  I don’t think Sean was abiding in this space of limited definition, but in the moment, I reacted against the idea that I couldn’t do both –learn and consider that learning in light of my teaching.  Learn about my students learning through my own learning.

In the last few years, I’ve turned over and over this thought from William Pinar, a noted curriculum theorist.

It becomes the teacher upon whom the student depends in order to learn: that is the intellectual trap.  And it is the teacher who becomes responsible for student learning: that is the political trap.

But it is this last iteration of my thinking, “learning about my students’ learning through my own learning” that gave me pause.  If I too quickly leap to compare my learning-as-learner to my students’ learning, in an attempt to learn-as- teacher, have I missed a thoughtful and thorough reconstruction of my own experience as learner.  That Deweyan reflection upon experience IS the meaning that I make.  Without it, the possibilities for comparison, for learning about learning, I think, can be shallow at best.

I think that was Sean’s point.  And a good one at that.  I’m thankful to be among people who exercise humility and a willingness to let go and be open for the unknown. 

And from our circle I heard..."A mix of humility and wonder..."

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