I will say here that I became a teacher because I wanted to help children and watch them grow and become more capable, compassionate and respectful of the culture and society of their community and their world. That said, I believe that teaching has become way to clinical. In our misguided efforts to establish success by being able to measure learning, we have fabricated a system of complex and rigid classifications with symptoms, diagnoses and prescribed treatments. We have tried to make teaching a science, and it is not. Teaching is an art.
In the early days of NCLB, being an educator was compared to being a pharmacist, where less than successful learners could be treated with scientifically proven best practices and the application of big data.
Of course this clinical approach does describe part of what it is to teach. I call this the teacher-technician. However, what Bobby’d learned, that enabled him to diagnose my car’s problem from the telling of my entertaining story, did not result from an elaborate construct of scientifically proven best practices. It happened because of a family or close-knit community that talked about cars; what made them work and what made them work better. They valued good cars that could be made faster than they were off the showroom floor, and they valued the folks who could accomplish it. They worked on cars. They fixed them. ..and sometimes it didn’t work, and they talked about it – and they learned from what went wrong.
Bobby’s story is not meant to promote classrooms that are shaped by established and described differentiations and toolboxes of prescribed remedies. What I would rather see are teacher-philosophers who are skilled, knowledgeable and can facilitate a learning community that:
- Values what is being learned
- Respects the learning that comes from success
- Respects the learning that comes from failure and
- Celebrates what learners can do with what they have learned.
It is a classroom where students can turn around and look back at the concrete and public results of their learning.
Yesterday (or several days ago) I wrote about success as the element of learning that trumps lazy. By success, I mean learning that accomplishes a meaningful goal, as opposed to one that achieves an external and often symbolic outcome. This morning, I thought of a classic example.
After my first year of teaching, I traded in my aging Fiat station wagon for a brand new 1977 Toyota Corolla. It cost $2,700 and was a wonderful car; drivetrain, chassis, body and four wheels – basic transportation that I kept tuned myself. It cranked every time and never failed to get me to work or to Arizona or wherever I was going. Until four years later.
The starter motor would turn, but the engine simply would not engage. However, if I left it alone for about a half hour, it would start right up. This didn’t happen every time I used the car, but each time it did, the pattern was the same. I took it to a number of auto repair establishments, but, as is always the case, it would start flawlessly.
I remember as if it was today, a rather short stocky fellow, slipping his Exxon cap off as he leaned under the hood and with grease- and tobacco-stained fingers, flipped open a plastic box that was mounted to the wheel well. Seated into a circuit board were several microchips. He said, “That’s your problem. I don’t know what that is, but that’s your problem.”
The car cranked right up and I drove back home. It was the next day that I was telling this story to a teacher friend, outside our rooms, during class change. Several students were lingering close by, including a young man we’ll call Bobby.
I can picture him today; a good looking kid, tall, straight as an arrow, curly back hair and day-old stubble (before it was cool), and the broadening chest and shoulders that come to some boys as early as 15. ..and he was still in the 7th grade.
From the other side of the radiator he said something that I didn’t understand. My teacher friend asked him to repeat and he said almost clearly, “h’it’s yer cule mista Warlick.”
After engaging him in something similar to a conversation, I got that my coil was the problem. An ignition coil is ”an induction coil in an automobile’s ignition system which transforms the battery’s low voltage to the thousands of volts needed to create an electric spark in the spark plugs to ignite the fuel.“1
This was better advice I’d gotten from any of the trained and experienced auto mechanics I’d consulted, so that afternoon I stopped off at Advance Auto, bought an ignition coil for a Corolla, installed it myself, and the car ran without fail until I sold it a couple of years and 95 thousand miles later for $2,300.
I’d never taught Bobby, but I knew that the teachers liked him, one of those guys they didn’t mind holding back year after year. I told the story to another friend, whom I respected deeply, a woman who’d taught Bobby for all of these years, and she said,
“Don’t worry about Bobby. His Dad owns a trucking company that hauls trees to the pulp wood plant. He’s a millionaire, though you’d never know if you saw him. Bobby’s going to go work for his Dad when he turns 16 and he’ll inherit the business. He’s not dumb, he’s just lazy, and he always will be when it comes to learning.”
I don’t know what happened to Bobby. I do know that pulp wood played out in the region, and Bobby’s business either folded, or he found some way to repurpose his assets into another line of business.
What I do know is that Bobby was not a lazy learner. That he was able to diagnose the problem with my car, just from the telling of my story, convinces me that he engaged in deep and powerful learning experiences that taught him not only fundamentals, but how to apply those fundamentals for solving real problems.
They were learning experiences that were qualified by
not by a SCORE.
It’s no secret that there are larger cars on the roads now. The majority of cars on the road where I live are SUVs, and several decades ago these didn’t even exist. Your students may not be able to imagine a time when they were unable to stand up in their cars. But ask you students to research the history of SUVs. Why were they created? How were they marketed to be so popular?
This infographic compares the same cars over a series of years to show how they have grown in length and height, as well as weight. What is the benefit of these larger cars? In science class, discuss aerodynamics, and try to figure out which cars have an advantage, cars from the 1950s, or todays cars. Try to find similar sized model cars and make a wind tunnel, showing students the stream of air. Use other things on cars, such as the slant of cars and spoilers to show them the benefit of these.