Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Education -- The Wild and Vast Frontier

Do you remember the 2002 animated film Spirit:  Stallionof the Cimarron?  It did not win best animated film, but it should have.  It tells the story of a mustang who cannot and will not be tamed.  As Roger Ebert rightly observed in his review, the film lacks cutesy animal characters and silly misadventures and therefore is able to tell a compelling tale.  Even adults leaving this film will feel a slight pang as they return to their carefully ordered world, wondering in the depths of their hearts what it would be like to be truly free.

Education has more to do with the wild mustang than the gelding, despite systems that have done everything from whacking students with rulers to moving them along on a conveyor belt every fifty minutes.  Chances are good that is a shocking notion.  If so, be prepared for even more arresting poetry from Samuel Rocha in his book A Primer for Philosophy & Education.

"Education cannot be institutionalized or corralled.  Beautiful teaching requires an explicit, philosophical interest in education -- in the widest sense.  A gifted teacher always sees more to things than the institution or the profession dictates.  Any teacher worthy of the name sees the person.  [E]ducation cannot be domesticated.  [I]t is so wild and vast."  (p. 10)

This is something unlikely to be appreciated on a typical teacher evaluation these days.  There simply is not room for such vision in the spreadsheet columns that track student growth on standardized assessments.  Yet if we can risk the danger of attending to that pang in our hearts, we will know in a way that cannot measured that Rocha is right.

The reason true education is vast and wild and incapable of being corralled (read tied down, measured, and mandated) is that it is about people.  As Rocha observed, the true teacher sees the person.

I made the mistake early in my career of seeing the curriculum first.  A veteran teacher assigned to mentor me at my first school met with me to discuss opening week activities.  I wanted to talk about about how to approach teaching Latin grammar to eighth graders, but she wanted to talk about establishing the classroom environment.  In the brash omniscience of a newly minted undergraduate, I was sure I knew more.  I was wrong, and I discovered that, fortunately, rather quickly.

Because education is a human enterprise (humans leading humans on the journey of discovery), it is not a cut and dried affair.  It requires a great deal of work of an abstract nature, a certain mental gymnastics, if you will.  That will be the focus of the next post in this series, but for now, consider this.  Would you be willing to do the work necessary to become a true teacher if it meant knowing the wild, untamed freedom of true education?

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