Ironically, I wrote this out of the blue on my Facebook page on July 10th, but it so clearly fits what I believe and how I have handled my classroom for 22 years:
I want the students I am charged with instructing to learn how to critically think, to learn how to argue appropriately, to learn how to write, to learn how to create, to learn how to appreciate, to learn how to stand for their beliefs, to learn how others stand for their beliefs, to learn what education can do for the world, and not to learn how to use it as a weapon against the weak, the poor, or those who do not agree with us.
I teach at a Christian school, but I also spent 19 years in a public school and one of the key issues people have had from any faith or “ism” is the problem of critical thinking.
James Sire, writer of the book The Universe Next Door, and also the book, Habits of the Mind, said this about the intellect: “The intellectual… has an almost religious dedication to ideas as such, which, when it is not balanced by playfulness, can quickly turn to ideological fanaticism. True intellectuals, however, have fun with ideas; they move them around, back and forth, turn them on their heads, submit them to ironic reflection, test them with their imagination and don’t get so enamored of their own brilliance that they become nothing more than sophisticated, arrogant prigs “.
Students should have fun with their ideas, they need to be able to move ideas around (something that current standardized test approaches fail to do), and students need to have imagination.
It is from this and my recent studies on problem based learning that show that students have not had fun with their ideas. Sir Ken Robinson has been quite articulate on this matter: “We know three things about intelligence: One, it’s diverse, we think about the world in all the ways we experience it. We think visually, we think in sound, we think kinesthetically. We think in abstract terms, we think in movement. Secondly, intelligence is dynamic…And the third thing about intelligence is, it’s distinct (“Ken Robinson: How schools kill creativity | Video on TED.com,” n.d.).
To think this way means my classroom cannot be one-dimensional. If it is not diverse, not dynamic, or distinct, than it can be a weapon. I read on Twitter the other day that in 1963, poor kids fell behind children in the upper class by a year or so, but now that gap is closer to four years. I did not have time to research this deeper, but in the last twenty years of teaching I can quantify it from experience when I see Advanced Placement students way ahead of their peers in the same high school yet wearing the same cap and gown at graduation, kids who are in no means close to the academic achievement of their AP or IB peers, and they are not even labeled as special education. That’s a weapon in action, one more lethal than any gun-control commentary even if the results are significantly delayed.
This also means what these kids are learning is not diverse, dynamic, or distinct. That is not (and can not be) allowed to happen in my classroom. All my students get the same concepts as found in an AP or IB class, but differentiated to help them find success and grow.
If I am no longer able to do what this vision statement calls for, then it is time to move on to something else…and also think about what kind of person I may be becoming.
Dead-Logic: Habits of the Mind by James W. Sire. (n.d.). Retrieved September 06, 2013, from http://dead-logic.blogspot.com/2010/01/habits-of-mind-by-james-w-sire.html
Ken Robinson: How schools kill creativity | Video on TED.com. (n.d.). Retrieved September 06, 2013, from http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html
Sire, J. W. (2000). Habits of the mind: Intellectual life as a Christian calling. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press.
-Cary L. Tyler