Playing School. . .

I continue to struggle with meaningful learning in schools. I continue to think about what Ira Socol said–“Educators often think that school is the point, when it needs to be the path.” I continue to ponder his other statement, “So, it is not a question of whether these technologies add value somehow to education, but the reverse, can education add value to the communications and information technologies of our present day world, and its future?”

Then he states: “It is the job of education to alter itself to prove itself of value to the world which now exists.”

It is the job of education to alter itself. . . .Think about that. . . . Do we ever?

I have been teaching 35 years, and I still see classrooms that look very similar to those in which I student taught.  Teachers are still confusing the verbs of schooling and learning, as Eric T MacKnight responded to my last blog: “Schooling’s main purpose is to produce compliant, homogenous workers and citizens. Learning, on the other hand, has to do with our individual needs and desires for understanding, enlightenment, and personal growth.” (Thanks, Eric, for the contrast of schooling and learning.)

Donna Bills also noted that “If you only learn “school” and learn it well, your expectation is to always be led by the hand “step by step” into all new knowledge and skills.” I believe that too many times we teach students how to “play school” (also known as the hidden curriculum of sit down, shut up and listen) at the expense of modeling learning, at the expense of setting up situations where kids can develop lifelong learning skills or habits of mind or the propensity to WANT to figure things out.

I have a friend who up to a couple of years ago when teachers began to retire in a certain school in our district swore she could have gone back to that school and had the exact same schedule in the same rooms withthe same teachers she had as a 9th grader (and she is over 40 now.)  She also said, that as a district administrator, she had been in some of those classrooms and it appeared they were using the same lessons she sat though in the 80s. So, if it’s the job of education to alter itself, why hasn’t it happened?

What if. . .

* we all decided to incite passion in our students. .  .  To find out what they care about and give them a chance to interact about it. (My fifth graders RAVED about using wikispaces, but it wasn’t wikispaces or our activities that they mentioned–the comments they made were all about connecting and interacting and wiki-mailing each other and sharing and learning from one another.)

What if. .  .

*we all decided to use pre-assessments and actually used that data to compact the factoids we have to teach and THEN used the time we save to set up connected learning situations for our students?

What if. .  .

* we all decided to give each other (as teachers) feedback on what we’re doing so that it becomes more meaningful and richer for the students. (I want to engage my students in some true collaborative projects this year, NOT just parallel play ones. I want my leadership, at all levels, to reduce the silos and the parallel play in which they engage, as well!)

What if. .  .

*we did as Chris O’Neal suggests and build in “some simple sit-down times with individual teachers where we ask some of those “tell me about the students in your room” and “what does the typical flow look like” or “who do you sense isn’t as engaged as you’d like.” Then, as a team, what can we do about it…?” I’m working with my 3rd grade team tomorrow on their math curriculum maps, as simply yet another member of the team.  Will what I say and do make a difference in how we all look at teaching math this year, and more importantly will it make a difference in how our students LEARN math??

Will we think twice now about putting such an emphasis on teaching, or such an emphasis on schooling?

Will we look more to learning, both our own and that of our students?

Will we pull those backchannels out of silently happening in their brains and make them open?

Passionate educators are everywhere.  Will we pour that passion into helping our students show their passion to us, so we can support their learning better and help them connect to others who will help them think deeply about those passions?

Can we

Will we

live up to the job of education to alter itself to prove itself of value to the world which now exists?

If we can, we’ll engage those kids who have checked out, who have disengaged, who have no use for the stupid game of “playing school.”

One thought on “Playing School. . .

  1. Paula, your energy and enthusiasm are inspirational! You’ve inspired me to revise the statement you’ve quoted. I think this version is clearer and stronger:

    Schooling aims to produce compliant, homogenous workers and citizens. Learning aims to satisfy our personal need to understand ourselves, each other, and our world.

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