Sharing the power

Published by Lori Pickert on February 3, 2011 at 01:11 PM

[P]ower differences (inequalities) make education more difficult than it needs to be. Mr. Stafford’s excellent use of students correcting papers won’t work with some teachers. I used that technique throughout my career and I was told I was lazy (true), the kids couldn’t do it (untrue), and it would create discipline problems in the class (true unless the teacher creates a safe classroom and teaches the students how to do the corrections.)

The main reason it doesn’t work is when there is no trust between the teacher and students. There has to be a sense that if a student is angry about the correction that it can be handled civilly and fairly. This doesn’t happen unless the students are part of the planning before any correcting occurs.

When teachers are reluctant to share their power the students doing the correcting feel (and are) used. When students use and apply the rubrics in correcting others' papers it becomes a valid teaching technique! Negotiating and sharing power builds mutual trust and respect. When teachers try this method the students don’t believe them. They abuse their new powers and the teacher gets defensive and angry and returns to his power position. I tell students that I know some of them don’t trust me and it’ll take some time for me to prove I am willing to take the time to show them how this will improve their lives.

I took this technique as an example, but it is true of any of the complex relationships in school between any individuals or groups. Each needs the power to do the job with minimal interference from those with more power. However, when power is shared, then accountability for behavior goes with it.

— Robert Rose, Critical Thinking: Impossible in Schools?

If you’ve been reading the comments (and I know it’s a big job, but 80% of my blog is the comments), you know we’ve been talking about how some people view project-based learning as too child-centric, giving the child too much power. Elizabeth commented in the latest open thread:

My biggest concern with child-led learning is if it does foster a certain self-absorption in children. I have homeschooling friends who are critcial of this kind of learning because they think it teaches the child that the world revolves around them and caters to them. They think rote learning and 6 hours of desk learning teaches children virtues.

And part of my response:

I believe children embrace learning and become enthusiastic, passion-driven learners only when they see how it connects to themselves .. how it helps them connect with their interests and their purpose. What is education for, if not this? And the rote learning, six hours at a desk a day .. what is that kind of education for? Not, I think, connecting you with your deepest passions and your purpose.

It is a shared relationship, a negotiated curriculum.

That message — that learning is for the child — comes with work, responsibility, trial and error, experimentation, work. The message doesn’t erase the work — it just puts the work into its proper context. Why should a child put his all into something that he cares nothing about, that is designed to please someone else in some inexplicable way? Project learning says this is about you … then expects the child to give his all for something he cares deeply about.

I asked a question — why do so many adults think so little of children and their abilities? I hypothesize it’s because they think little of themselves and their own abilities and motives, and so they transfer those same negative beliefs onto children. If they thought of themselves as strong, capable learners who enjoyed challenge, they would presumably see children the same way.

Many adults are unwilling — or afraid — to share the power. They are unwilling to do the work of helping children learn to be responsible for their share of a negotiated curriculum. In order to have a shared curriculum, the adult not only has to do their own work; they have to mentor their child to be self-directed. Many think this is just too much work. It’s so much easier to give children assignments instead.

But the less autonomy children have, the less they buy in. The less connected they are to what they’re learning, the less effort they’re willing to invest. They bide their time until the assignment is over, then they can go back to what they actually care about.

When you align learning with what a child already is interested in doing, what they’re already motivated to work hard on, then you are tapping into their true capabilities.

Once they discover I mean it ... and they have more real freedom, most accept their part of accountability. — ibid.

Freedom and accountability come hand in hand. The critics think that children in this type of learning environment will be catered to — missing the fact that they have shouldered real responsibility for their own learning in exchange for real freedom. The critics see only what the child is given — and fail to see what the child gives in return.

Rose goes on to say that an unwillingness to share power is why we can’t teach critical thinking in schools:

[T]he way our schools are structured with their hierarchical power base … punishes thinking that differs from the status quo. For that reason I repeat: we can teach the process and skills of clearer thinking, but we can’t teach them to think critically and apply those skills to the real worlds they live in. It goes against too many vested interests that fear their power will be diluted. — ibid.

Can we teach critical thinking? Grit? Creativity? Can we teach children to buckle down and work hard on something past the point where they’ve done enough to earn the grade they need?
 
What we can do is create a learning environment that allows a person to develop those qualities. If you don’t share the power — if you don’t align your learning life with what your child really cares about — then you aren’t fully engaging them as a learner, or as a person. If you don’t share the power, you’re teaching them how to get good grades, but you aren’t mentoring them to manage and direct their own learning.
 
 
See also:
 
 

11 comments

Comment by Heather on February 3, 2011 at 03:38 PM

"I asked a question — why do so many adults think so little of children and their abilities? I hypothesize it’s because they think little of themselves and their own abilities and motives, and so they transfer those same beliefs onto children. If they thought of themselves as strong, capable learners who enjoyed challenge, they would presumably see children the same way."

Exactly what I wonder and surmise. I want my children to be active in their education. I want them to passionate about what they learn. Without that passion what can I expect from their future lives?

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 3, 2011 at 04:56 PM

maybe too many adults equate possessions (houses, cars, big tvs) with perceived happiness, so they think preparing their children for the job market will equal happiness. this is probably a evolutionary throwback -- prepare your offspring to grab the best cave and the best food resources.

or these days parents might say they are acting more out of fear than greed .. needing to prepare their children to deal with a wobbly economy.

we can't control what the job market or the global economy will look like when our children enter the job market .. or what it will look like when they are starting a family or turning 50. we need to think about helping our children become people who are prepared to cope with anything, people whose happiness is robust and not dependent on which way the economical wind blows.

Comment by Heather on February 3, 2011 at 05:12 PM

It is true that there is a lot of fear. I have a few theories on that. However, I think by allowing our children the ability to direct their learning they will be more suited to adaptation in an ever-changing world. If only permitted to learn in one manner, how will they be prepared when their environment changes? How will they even know what they like and what inspires them? How will they be able to find more information on their interests? How will they know the ways they can fully explore a topic from all angles to see the myriad of possibilities? So many things are limited for our children under the current educational model.

I want my children to succeed in whatever way they view success (internal vs. external). I believe that through relinquishing the power over their learning we are

"helping our children become people who are prepared to cope with anything, people whose happiness is robust and not dependent on which way the economical wind blows."

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 3, 2011 at 05:34 PM

wanted to add this to my comment up above:

As for the future, your task is not to foresee it but to enable it. -- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 3, 2011 at 05:38 PM

"I think by allowing our children the ability to direct their learning they will be more suited to adaptation in an ever-changing world." agree! but i bet you knew that. ;)

and agree re: the power issue, although i would say *sharing* rather than relinquishing.

Comment by Cori on February 3, 2011 at 06:40 PM

With most of my friends and family, we are the only homeschooled family they know. I know so many more home educators and people wanting to make big changes in education than public school families -- even if it mostly through my on-line reading, blogs, and correspondence. So to go on vacation and find myself surrounded by people who know nothing about homeschooling and who think it kind of strange....made me really miss home, friends and thoughts such as the ones in this post. I need to immerse myself in them again because spending time with public school teachers (yes, 3 of them) made me have doubts. I think we (my boys and I) "represented" well and I had some good discussions with these teachers...

This learning lifestyle makes us different. Good different but still many do not understand... I guess that makes us stronger too.

Comment by Tana on February 3, 2011 at 06:58 PM

"We need to think about helping our children become people who are prepared to cope with anything, people whose happiness is robust and not dependent on which way the economical wind blows."

This sentence is so awesome! As are so many others in your blog, Lori. I've been reading it for ages but never commented before. I imagine I will spend most of the day wondering what robust happiness really looks like to me. Thanks for that.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 3, 2011 at 08:08 PM

cori, really? every single person i've ever met at least knows that urban legend homeschooling family whose kids run wild wearing rags, not reading till they're 12, zero social skills -- you know, the ones who ended up in public school/high school unable to survive socially or academically. that family *really* gets around! ;)

well, the flip side of those public-school teachers casting doubt on your hs'ing waters are all the public-school teachers (and principals) i know who are homeschooling. from my own personal anecdotal evidence i would say the most common work background of a hs'ing parent is in education.

agree re: being different helping to make us stronger! it acclimates us (and our children) .. a good thing, if we want to keep carving out our own paths.

thank you, tana! :)

Comment by Stacey on February 4, 2011 at 03:35 PM

I would add that this conversation itself is foreign to most adults. In most families and schools adults don't think about sharing the power because it is simply not done (the whole if I turned out okay it must be the right way thing).

Beyond that the understanding that power and freedom work together. They are tools of learning in their own right, the critics can not see this because they are trying to imagine all of this pasted on top of the current system of learning.

I think of a principal that I worked with who was excited to have the teachers use Gardener's 7 Intelligences to teach. You know what most of the teachers in the school did with the information? They had the kids make posters about the intelligences, and returned the next day to their text book teaching grumbling that they had wasted a day on his assignment. The 7 Intelligences were tools he was giving to the staff and they couldn't even take them in, how can a system like that even begin to discuss power and freedom?

As for the economy, well as a well educated person, who is currently waiting tables as a job, I am not sure that what has always been seen as the "best" get a good job is relevant any more. The skills found in independent learning seem more important to employers that so much of the school learning (while history is important for context whether or not you know the actual dates of wars doesn't prepare you for most jobs). It has only been in the last 50 years that this college focused economy has been in place. My grandmother was a microbiologist, not because she went to school for it but because she learned and moved up in her job as a lab tech starting in the 1940s and she was not a rarity (well excepts for being a woman). The skills she used to move forward in her job/ passion were not ones learned in school.

Sorry for all the personal references today they just seemed fitting. I hope that I even read all of this conversation correctly and I am not going off on a tangent.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 4, 2011 at 09:26 PM

"[T]he critics can not see this because they are trying to imagine all of this pasted on top of the current system of learning." this is so on the money. when you talk about change with educators, both teachers and administrators, they are always thinking about simply tweaking the system that's there. they rarely want to turn it upside down or inside-out. and interestingly, they sometimes avow that they want major change -- something like "we want kids to feel like they have power" -- yet they *still* only want to tweak the current system. they seem to perennially feel that if they could just tweak a few things, they can get anything they want.

"The 7 Intelligences were tools he was giving to the staff and they couldn't even take them in, how can a system like that even begin to discuss power and freedom?" yes! i have had so much experience with this, as an educational consultant. the person at the top is enamored of a new idea or approach -- say, reggio-inspired learning. even though the approach itself is based on a foundation of trusting the learner, allowing them to take ownership of the process, letting things develop slowly, the administrator will want to shove this new method right down the teachers' throats. all those beliefs about children evidently don't transfer to adults.

you can't espouse values and beliefs and then not live them; it's a hollow construct.

also - there is this infinitely repeating pattern where the administration springs some new approach on teachers, but there's absolutely no follow-up. there's no shared power there -- the teachers have no say, no way to contribute their thoughts or suggestions, and then they receive no support or mentoring to actually integrate these new ideas with what they are doing. so it all ends up going nowhere.

love the story about your grandmother .. you used to be able to "learn on the job" .. now they force you to pay to learn outside the job and essentially trade your time and money for permission to get hired .. so you can learn on the job!

thank you, stacey!

Comment by estea on February 8, 2011 at 07:17 PM

oh this is all so good! so much to absorb - love the conversation (and your posts) !

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