January 22, 2013

Fire Building With 9 Year Olds

Deirdre Bailey

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!”

Jack Kerouac

The more I learn as a teacher, the more I marvel that I was any "good" at school as a student. As I come to understand learning more deeply, I realize with increasing clarity that through most of my own schooling, I never really learned anything.

It is impossibly hard to explain to former high school or university classmates that I have learned more about mathematics teaching grade 4 than I did studying matrix algebra or vector calculus. This point is often met with dismissive assumptions that I must not have done well in school, that I had bad teachers, or that my brain capacity has deteriorated since. However, this realization is more a comment on the shortcomings of educational systems than of myself. To consider as fact the suggestion that I am now challenged by mathematical discourse with 9-year-olds would require the acknowledgement that in our school systems, it was perfectly possible for me (and countless others) to gain university credit in math for attention, obedience and careful reproduction without any real depth of understanding.

I'm not saying that I never thought in school, or that the odd piece didn't stick; just that I never really thought for myself. As a “quantitatively successful” product of the system, I grew-up viewing academia as a checklist to be memorized and regurgitated, not the abstract world of interconnected patterns and possibilities it is. I spent a lifetime happily checking imagination and personality at the door of each classroom for the sake of a grade. In the words of John Dewey, I put "seeming before being."

I now know the difference. I ask "what if?" and "how?" to questions I don't know the answer to. I lead investigations into uncovering exceptions to conjectures, ponder the concept of zero, inquire into the function and origin of place value or the properties and applications of prime numbers. Most days are spent in awe of the ideas, connections, and revelations that come from students as they explore the freedom to reorganize and reflect. "WHAT!?" "HOW have I never noticed that before?" "OH MY GOD that's CONNECTED to THIS!" "THAT. Is the BEST idea I've ever heard...” “DUDE!"

That's inquiry; it's not the topic, or the problem, or the technology, or the answer. Inquiry is engagement in the question, a connection with the community, and a nongoogleable search for truth and meaning. Real inquiry fuels a fire.

 © Deirdre Bailey 

January 15, 2013

Trees, Roots, Water

Deirdre Bailey

Reflecting on inquiry and ecological consciousness for University of Calgary EDER 693, Interpretive Study of Curriculum with David Jardine and Jacquie Seidel

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” 
And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”  (Wallace, 2005)

Humanity has evolved to seek meaning, to find beauty that stirs the soul and attempt to connect with it. We were born to experience, to understand from experience, to gain knowledge directly through the senses and the gut. But our sense have dulled. We have transformed beauty from a place to an object, confused it with pretty or attractive, mistaken it for happiness and assumed it can be possessed. “We suffer from being focused on “the wrong things” and from being without much focus” (Sewall, 2012, p. 15) and slip easily into diversion and distraction; our default settings. 
And the so-called real world will not discourage [us] from operating on [our] default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. (Wallace)

It is an anesthetized existence. One in which more is better, and skepticism is safety, and power is success. It is a world in which we criticize rodeos for cruelty while gnawing on a McDonald’s hamburger, or condemn the oil sands for endangering ducks while fueling our SUVs. It is an existence in which questions become infuriating because their hollowness lays bare an appalling absence of wonder in youth who only want to know how to minimize effort, maximize comfort, and win a prize at the end.
The Lorax says he speaks for the trees and we watch as nobody listens and we say to ourselves that WE will speak for OUR trees but nobody really looks at the trees and nobody listens. Nobody notices that they already speak of solitude and fortitude and persistence, and that if we could only cultivate the ability to see them as they are, we would not find ourselves always so desperate to speak. And we might even find peace in their quiet confidence. 
In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves… And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow… (Hermann Hesse, 1984)

I don’t want to teach plants, poetry or politics. I want to teach perception and awareness and sensitivity and vulnerability. I want to teach youth to deliberately exercise control over how and what they think and help them focus their attention on what matters. I want to teach trees and roots and waterBeauty is not a possession or an attribute. It is a perspective. How we look at things or choose to construct meaning can create beauty in the space around us. It is not a simple task, but we owe it to humanity to dig deep, take root, be still and grow hope..
...while reminding ourselves over and over:
This is water. (Wallace)

Flores Island, British Columbia 2010

Hesse, H. (1984) Bäume. Betrachtungen und Gedichte Retrieved from http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/09/21/hermann-hesse-trees/

Sewall, L. (2012). Beauty and the Brain. In Kahn, P. H. & Hasbach, P. H. (Editors), Ecopyschology : Science, Totems, and the Technological Species. (pp. 15). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

Wallace, D. F. “This is Water.” Kenyon College Graduation Address. Gambier, OH. May 2005 Retrieved from http://moreintelligentlife.com/story/david-foster-wallace-in-his-own-words