open thread

Open thread

Published by Lori Pickert on September 19, 2009 at 11:38 AM

There is a rabbinical teaching that says if the world is ending and the Messiah arrives, first plant a tree, and then see if the story is true. Inspiration is not garnered from the litanies of what may befall us; it resides in humanity’s willingness to restore, redress, reform, rebuild, recover, reimagine, and reconsider. “One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice,” is Mary Oliver’s description of moving away from the profane toward a deep sense of connectedness to the living world. — Paul Hawken's commencement address to the University of Portland, May 3, 2009

Open thread

Published by Lori Pickert on September 5, 2009 at 03:25 PM

In an attempt to circle the wagons for an open thread this weekend, I followed the example of my nine-year-old (renowned for his work ethic), who carries around a little soft-cover notebook in his pocket to note ideas for his comics.

I carried around my own little soft-cover notebook and jotted down various ideas for posts and possible open-thread discussions. These normally come to me when I am doing dishes, luxuriating in the peaceful alone time, as everyone leaves the vicinity when I begin cleaning up, in case I want them to help. I tend to write entire, brilliant posts in my head at these times; unfortunately I can’t quickly type them up — or even jot them in my new soft-cover notebook — since I’m up to my elbows in hot water.

Normally I jot notes about writing and blogging into a file on my laptop, but summer is not laptop friendly, at least since my Mac battery died and my laptop is tethered to the couch like a lonely dog on a chain. Thus the notebook idea.

So this morning I cracked it open and prepared myself for a taxing session of choosing which brilliant idea to bring to the fore, only to find that I had a page and a half of crabbed notes that made no sense to me whatsoever.

I believe I used to have the sort of memory that could call up entire reams of thought based on a few well-chosen clue words, but apparently I have it no longer. Since “pencil vs. mower”, for example, jostled nothing loose from the archives whatsoever.

I have returned the notebook to my pocket with a large scrawled reminder to myself to “WRITE MORE”; hopefully I will remember that means more details and not simply more obscure key words. Autumn is all about ambitious new plans, after all.

Note: There were some great comments on the Grit post that I only got around to approving today, due to my extreme summer-exacerbated lack of work ethic. Check them out.

Open thread

Published by Lori Pickert on July 3, 2009 at 09:05 PM

You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness. You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism.Erma Bombeck

Open thread

Published by Lori Pickert on June 26, 2009 at 11:19 AM

”That’s just how parents are,” Henry explained wisely as he ate the cheese off the top of his slice and wiped his greasy hand on his jeans. “They like to talk about how they used to do things or about how they plan to do things someday, but parents aren’t very good at right now.”Any Which Wall

thank you, Diana, for sending me this quote!

Open thread

Published by Lori Pickert on June 12, 2009 at 11:27 PM

If an activity can be made fun, will that help a child pick up new knowledge?

The process of evolution, Geary says in the study, has resulted in students being able to acquire certain types of new knowledge and skills in a relatively “effortless” manner, through processes that are “child-centered” and fun.

Schools have attempted to use child-centered and fun methods, in the belief that students' natural curiosity will lead them to take on certain, more difficult tasks, like learning to read or do fractions, in the same way they learn language or how to count, he says. But Geary argues that explicit, teacher-directed instruction will be needed for many children to learn more unfamiliar and difficult, or “evolutionarily novel information.” Evolution “has not provided the scaffolding for this learning,” Geary told me. And so “the scaffolding must come from instructional materials and teachers.” Schools should not expect students to be motivated to learn this evolutionarily novel information in the same way they are motivated to learn through social relationships. “There is no such inherent motivation to learn linear algebra or Newtonian physics,” he said. If schools help students understand that effort is necessary and important, children will have a “greater sense of personal control over their learning,” and more sustained focus and motivation as they get older, he writes in the study.Education Week: Evolution, Enthusiasm, and Science

I’m sorry, what now?

Child-led learning is “fun”, “social”, and “effortless” and works on things that are easy, and teacher-directed instruction is evolutionary and necessary to learn difficult and novel information.


Okay, well, I am going to have to disagree. Guess what? Children who are learning about something that is deeply interesting to them will not stop as soon as the work gets difficult … or “novel”. They don’t run up against the need for a new skill or a brand-spanking-new thought process and say “Wait, what?! Hey! I don’t know how to do this effortlessly — I quit!” In fact, they are motivated to learn — all. by. themselves. Amazing. But true.

Wait — is it so amazing? Because — hey! — I myself have actually experienced this! As an adult! I have been deeply interested and motivated in doing something brand new — and when I ran up against the part that I did not know how to do … miracle of miracles! … I did not quit! In fact, I figured out what I needed to do to keep going, and I did it! I learned new skills! I acquired new knowledge! And I didn’t even need someone to “help me understand that effort is necessary and important”. Golly. I figured that out all on my own.

I am reading this again, and I believe that it says — ((cough)) — that children’s natural curiosity can’t carry them through a “difficult task” like learning how to read or doing fractions. Mmm. WHAT?! Sorry, sorry. Let’s see. Everyone who learned how to read through sheer force of will and overwhelming excitement and desire, please raise your hand. Again, believe it or not, it does happen. Not possible without teacher instruction seasoned by a lecture on effort? Oh. my.

But my favorite part is this: “If schools help students understand that effort is necessary and important, children will have a ‘greater sense of personal control over their learning,’ and more sustained focus and motivation as they get older…” Yes. Because having someone else force you to learn something in a teacher-directed way, while sanctimoniously informing you that your effort is important and necessary — that is what helps a child develop more focus and motivation.



Open thread

Published by Lori Pickert on June 6, 2009 at 01:32 AM

It’s the bold, not the meek, who vault higher during hard times. Fear leads nowhere; enthusiasm can lead everywhere.

People who bind themselves to what they love tend to succeed in some way, shape, or form. — Jacquelyn Mitchard, Why Passion Matters

Thank you, Ellen, for sending the link to this wonderful article!

Open thread: Less advocacy, more action

Published by Lori Pickert on May 29, 2009 at 12:37 AM

Face it: The arts still don’t fit in most of our schools and none of the advocacy claims made for them have helped a whit in the last five decades. The arts community — arts educators, arts organizations, artists who work with schools, other friends of the arts — has tried and failed for years to make the case for the arts in every student’s life and learning environment.

All the arts for all the children - hah! It's still some if any of the arts in scattered pockets of excellence, for some of the children, some of the time, taught by a combination of people who can rarely work together as a team and who prize different means, methods, ends and purposes.

Less advocacy, more action, locally. That’s probably the best place to start. — Jane Remer, The Arts Just Don’t Fit in Most of Our Schools

Most processes and practices of school leadership, our study shows, create temporary, localized flurries of change but little lasting or widespread improvement. — A. Hargreaves and D. Fink, The Seven Principles of Sustainable Leadership

People also talked to me with great enthusiasm about innovative programs. But these were always paid for with federal money, and as time went on, it always turned out that when the federal money stopped, so did the program. People might feel badly about losing these wonderful programs. But pay for them with local money, their own money? It was never considered. — John Holt, Teach Your Own

Only slowly did I realize that the people who brought me in to speak were almost always a tiny minority in their own school or community, and that my task was to say out loud in public what people were sick of hearing them say, or even what they had been afraid to say at all. — John Holt, Teach Your Own

• • •

Less advocacy. More action. I believe this.

When I started my school, I had no funding, no partners, no community, no support. I slowly, slowly built a community, found students, found like-minded teachers and parents. There was still no funding.

The school had to be remade constantly, like a sand castle on the beach, erased over and over again by students graduating, teachers leaving, families moving away.

Homeschooling is, as John Holt suggested, infinitely easier and more fun than making a school. Yet … a school serves more than one family. It serves a community. It creates community. It has the capacity to advocate for large numbers of children and educate all the members of their extended family. It is a big project well worth doing.

If we wait … for educational policy to change, for society to change, for cultural values to change … we will be waiting a long, long time. Children grow up very fast, and policy changes very, very slowly. If we merely advocate for children to have more art and less homework, more time collaborating and less time cramming for standardized tests — if we merely advocate, then we are working for some other parents’ children. In order to make things different for our children, now, we have to act. We have to act decisively and quickly, before their childhoods fall through our fingers like sand and one day we simply stop thinking about these things and start thinking about how to pay for college instead. And some other parent takes up the gauntlet we let drop, and the process begins again.

And this isn’t just about schools. It’s about the lives of children everywhere, all the time. The pervasive negative attitudes about children’s behavior and what they can accomplish without adult management.

Instead of wishing for things to be different, we have to make them different, today. Be the change we wish to see in the world, as Ghandi said. Less talk, more walk.


The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers. But above all, the world needs dreamers who do. — Sarah Ban Breathnach

It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. —E. L. Doctorow

Those who say it can't be done are usually interrupted by others doing it. — James Baldwin

Try again. Fail again. Fail better. — Samuel Beckett

Open thread: Let’s not block their view

Published by Lori Pickert on May 23, 2009 at 01:35 PM

We spent last week camping in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

I’ve written before about how vacationing tends to highlight adults’ need to control things. I made a few discrete observations on this trip that made me think about not only traveling with kids, but helping them learn at home, too.

Sometimes it seems like adults are always trying to get between kids and the experience. We’re trying to define it for them, we’re trying to frame it, we’re writing a lesson plan for it, we’re designing a rubric, we’re setting down expectations and goals and plans. We are dissecting it before they even have it and reducing it to its parts and labeling them by curricular area — this is language arts and this is science and this is math and this is writing and this is creative problem-solving.

We insert ourselves into the picture and stand between our kids and the experience like an over-enthusiastic docent, spouting facts and pointing vigorously to things and partially blocking their view.

They don’t have a chance to take in the pure, unadulterated (pun intended) experience … the whole view … the undissected and not-labeled thing … the thing that is itself, whole, apart from our ideas about how it checks off a curricular box or fulfills an educational goal.

We need to work on standing back and letting them experience things for themselves, ask their own questions, make their own plans, devise their own ways of interacting with what they see. Sometimes we need to climb into the backseat and just see where they go.

(p.s. Because I skipped off to the woods, I was tardy with approving comments to last week’s open thread — there is some good stuff in there that hasn’t been adequately discussed, so check it out!)

Open thread

Published by Lori Pickert on May 16, 2009 at 01:34 AM

People write books for children and other people write about the books written for children but I don’t think it’s for the children at all. I think that all the people who worry so much about the children are really worrying about themselves, about keeping their world together and getting the children to help them do it, getting the children to agree that it is indeed a world. Each new generation of children has to be told: ‘This is a world, this is what one does, one lives like this.’ Maybe our constant fear is that a generation of children will come along and say: ‘This is not a world, this is nothing, there’s no way to live at all.’ — Russell Hoban, Turtle Diary

thank you penni for sharing this quote!

Open thread

Published by Lori Pickert on May 8, 2009 at 01:30 AM

Great ideas have legs. They take you somewhere. With them, you can raise questions that can’t be answered. These unanswerable questions should be a source of comfort. They ensure you’ll always have something to think about! Puzzlements invite the most precious of human abilities to take wing. I speak of imagination, the neglected stepchild of American education. — Elliot Eisner