Education Evolutions #97

The future of books flickr photo by Johan Larsson shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

This week’s newsletter covers a lot of ground. From individual awareness and agency to consciousness of the collective, these writings have some real breadth and depth. There was a lot to choose from this week but these are the ones that struck the strongest chord for me.

These reads get progressively longer but they all offer in-depth looks into their subject matter. Read together, I hope that their scope can be appreciated more than simply picking and choosing. I mention that with the knowledge that most people probably do a lot more picking and choosing. Plus, I am never completely sure how much of my thinking influences the urge to click a link.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” has to be the last one. Any educator would benefit from interrogating the ideas presented in this essay. Teaching has always been and will forever continue to be a political act, no matter what anyone might suggest to the contrary. It is a humanitarian effort at the core, which is at least in part why it is often referred to a calling. It is closely tied to the original three professions too. Read and reflect on the intersection of education and our democratic experiment.

The bloom has definitely begun but April’s showers seem to be reaching into May.

Here are three curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

Mindfulness Won’t Save Us. Fixing the System Will – ACSD Education Update – Christina Torres (3-minute read)

While I am a proponent of mindfulness, personally, and even believe that there is a place for it in schools, this article touches on the source of some of my ambivalence on the topic. Torres’ challenge for educators to take a long hard look at their complicity in authoritarian systems might be the most important point from this piece.

Another key element is the recognition that mindfulness is a tool, not a solution. It cannot be a solution, ever. As the quoted Buddhist teachers suggest, mindfulness is about embracing life in all of its complexity not finding some happy place or avoiding unpleasantness. The latter where my ambivalence arises. Managing frustration or negative feelings is important for any human but so is recognizing that humans also make evaluative judgments all the time and those judgments can have a major impact, especially when it comes to the systems in which we live.

There are systemic problems in our world, where many people have been maligned in all kinds of ways. To avoid confronting that fact is antithetical to mindfulness. Perhaps the growing interest in mindfulness might trigger this realization, rather than invite passive compliance to existing systems that oppress or dehumanize. As far as I can tell, exploring or interrogating life’s paradoxes is an important part of living a healthy life, both individually and collectively.

Student Agency, Authority, and Credibility as Writers – radical eyes for equity blog – PL Thomas (7-minute read)

This post resonated with me considerably. I often think of myself as a teacher of young writers if I am a teacher of anything, which is both a source of strength but also consternation. Thomas hits on some of the latter here. He is an excellent thinker and teacher that I include often in this newsletter. As I watch students finish their research projects, I found myself identifying with a lot of what was written here.

I really like how Thomas lays out the structure of his approach in his bulleted list. I even share much, if not all of his rationales. However, at the risk of seeming contradictory, I provide a formatting template for students. While I explain much of the reasoning for format and nuances of different formats to my students, it all seems like a bridge too far for high school students. Yet upon even greater reflection, it has been an attempt to alleviate a grading problem. It is also about prioritization of time.

Sources, revising, openings and endings are much more significant issues for students in my mind. They are big concepts where high school students often struggle, wrestling with their abstract qualities at times. Formatting almost always is conflated only with students’ idea of rules. Plus, it is one of the easiest things to itemize in a rubric and score. I think that is part of the reason I chose to sidestep it, somewhat. It was an attempt to minimize the associated grade damage. In providing a formatting template, I have been surprised at just how many chose not to use it. Perhaps I need to find new ways to help them with the notion of purposefulness.

The Virtue of an Educated Voter – The American Scholar – Alan Taylor  (19-minute read)

There is so much insight in this essay it is hard to know where to begin. For me, it served as a poignant reminder that we may well live in Alexander Hamilton’s world but we cannot forget Thomas Jefferson’s idealism. Both men were undoubtedly flawed. While the two fought fiercely for the future of the nation, one of the things Jefferson remained most proud of in his long list of achievements in life was fostering our public educational system. It became the envy of the world.

It is good to be reminded of the battles that have been fought for the entirety of our nation. What I appreciate most about this essay is Taylor’s insistence that education is a public good not just a private benefit. That belief deeply informed my decision to go into education. It also is one of the primary reasons that sustains my involvement. Education is not job training. The more we accept that lie the more we corrupt the very system we are trying to preserve. As Taylor highlights, those beliefs seem quaint today. Still, how many of those that have benefitted most from our public investment in education see fit to destroy it? It is hard to say but it is not a short line.

Without arresting the path we find ourselves on, we are only likely to hasten the demise of our republic. We are already well down the path of demagoguery and have enshrined a plutocracy, at least for the foreseeable future. The only option is to continue to fight for our public education system. It is imperfect, severely underfunded in places, and remains a political battleground. That is because the stakes are so high. The world in which we now live is not so far from that which our founders, at least in terms of the corrosive forces of foreign threat and seemingly innate human selfishness. Reminding ourselves of this fact may be virtuous in itself.

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