A few weeks ago, during my school vacation, I spent some time dissecting a book I’d put down months ago: John Dewey’s Democracy and Education. It’s taken me a while to get through — Dewey’s a hard read. One writer termed it, “Dewey’s inimitable (one hopes) style”: obscure, dense, philosophical. It’s not quite Immanuel Kant-level unreadable, but it’s not exactly Malcolm Gladwell either. But every so often, Dewey gets excited, and his prose suddenly becomes readable. This happens toward the end of Democracy and Education, in a chapter with the rather inauspicious title “Vocational Aspects of Education.” It’s my favorite chapter in the book. It’s Dewey really hitting his stride.
I’m always fascinated by the lengths to which educators and education writers will go to label old practices with the hot new jargon. Right now, the buzzword is “equity.” Just this morning I opened up my new copy of Ed Week and found this article, titled, “The Art of Making Science Equitable.”
That was the title. By the time I tracked down the article online, it was called, “The Art of Making Science Accessible and Relevant to all Students.” No more “equitable.” Hmm.
One time I got into an argument with a coworker about something an administrator of ours had said. I maintained that this person was a good leader, in fact a very good leader. My coworker said, “No, I know what inspiring leadership is. I worked for Dennis Littky.”
As a high school teacher, occasionally I have snow days when I don’t have to work. Usually on those days my son’s daycare is closed, too. But today is different. Today I am off and he is at daycare, giving me some valuable time to reflect on some of my favorite — and most challenging — parts of being the parent of a one year-old son.
There are certain aspects of parenting that you just take to naturally. For me, cutting my son’s hair is not one of them. I think it’s pretty hard to cut someone’s hair under the best of circumstances, such as when they are paying you and just really, really hoping you don’t bring up politics. My former barber, a noted political pundit, used to cut hair wearing a pistol on his hip. You can be assured that when he said, “Tilt your head for me,” I didn’t mess around. But it’s a little harder when your “customer” is actively trying to grab your scissors and put them in his mouth.
Just read a fascinating book about ed history: Getting it Wrong from the Beginning, by Kieran Egan. “Ah, an autobiographical work!” one of Egan’s colleagues quipped on hearing the title. I found this book online somewhere, and quickly ordered it as part of my ongoing quest to understand the thinkers and the thoughts that have shaped modern education. With Egan’s book, I wasn’t disappointed.
Here’s a new piece that’s been going around the Vermont ed community. It’s an article by two Vermont educators (both of whom I know casually) about the future of proficiency-based learning.
My first thought was — it’s refreshing that someone’s actually talking about proficiency based learning (PBL) again. This was the — no joke — revolution in teaching and learning we spent four years trying to wrap our minds around and sell our communities and ourselves on but for the last two years, it’s felt like everyone collectively moved on.
I read this phrase once: to be “back in harness.” I liked it — even if it sounded as though it was missing a “the” — and now that I’m back full-time teaching again this year, I find the phrase fits me.
Last year I wasn’t “in harness” — or at least, I was in a different kind of harness — and it was surprisingly uncomfortable. We always talk about how we’d love to make our own schedules, come and go as we please. But would we really?
Here’s my newest teaching mantra: Talk learning, not logistics.
That means when you’re talking with students, don’t talk just about what questions they need to do, how much time they have, or how they need to quit watching car videos on their computer. Sure, you need to tell them that too sometimes. But try to minimize it. Instead, try to talk to students about more important stuff — what they’re learning, what they’re not learning, what sense they’re making of the material, what information they need to move forward.
One thing that I’m proud about coming out of my fellowship last year is the newfound confidence that I have as a teacher. Perhaps it’s related to the validation associated with receiving such a prestigious honor as a Rowland Fellowship, but I believe it’s more likely that this new confidence is more a matter of learning to see my job, and my role as a teacher, in a completely new way than before.
The other day I went down to the basement to retrieve three boxes of guidebooks to ship out to a supplier. As I was rummaging around in the dark corners searching for the once-ubiquitous cardboard boxes bearing the name “Malbaie Press” (my invented publishing company), it began to dawn on me: there aren’t anymore left. Aside from a few boxes I’d set in my office to keep for posterity, that’s it. Twelve years after publishing my whitewater guidebook, Let It Rain, I’m finally sold out.