Teachers teaching within any teaching system, systems which are nearly always fraught with issues about money, curricula, mission and goals, might feel as if they cannot make a difference.  They absolutely can, however, help to bring about progressive social change – through the transformation of one student, one person at a time.  I am intrigued, however, by this not-quite-intuitive description that Greene uses – this is the “seeing big” and seeing small” imagery.  When she talks about “seeing big” that means being up close and personal with the student in front of us, close enough to smell their perfume or the scent of coffee on their breath as they articulate the ideas important to them.  We can see the color of their cell phones and maybe even know what earrings they are wearing or what color ink they prefer for writing.  When we see our students big, we cannot diminish them.  It has often been said that by reducing people to statistics, numbers a quantity – we diminish their humanness.  In that instance yes, we are seeing them small, as just a point on the bell curve.

Seeing big requires courage as seeing our students for who they are can make us more vulnerable.  Greene again, (p. 109)  talks about teaching for openings.

We teachers have to be willing to “break ourselves open and begin again”.  We have to be that vulnerable and awake to our students and their learning.  Knowing ourselves and our own prejudices is part of this.  Staying awake and aware of the same in our students is another part.

I am not proposing that any of this is easy.  It is, in fact, among the most challenging things that we could ask of ourselves and our colleagues.   Robert Kegan, formerly of MIT and now with the Harvard School of Education wrote a fascinating book in the 90s, In Over Our Heads:  The Mental demands of modern life (1994).  In it he explores in a very accessible manner, how difficult it has become to function effectively in our modern world.  Kegan discusses different levels, what he calls orders, of consciousness.  His system includes six orders, each allowing in more information about our surroundings, people around us, and indeed ourselves.  The main thrust, however, is whether or not the individual has any perspective on themselves, their situations and their relationships with others.  Being able to reflect, to step back from and out of one’s immediate circumstances to varying degrees is how one moves from one order of consciousness to another.  In this model an infant and young child who only wants to nurse at the breast or to have the cookie is seeing the world from the first order of consciousness.  Adolescents thinking about how to pass the test with the least amount of effort or how to get to know some special boy or girl are probably at the third order.  Kegan points out that most adults only make it to about stage three or four.  Modern life, however, and solving the world’s problems requires more and more people to operate at at least a 5th Order of Consciousness which involves the ability to hold multiple perspectives and to weigh them against each other.  This requires the skill of and willingness to reflect not only on one’s own circumstances but how those circumstances affect others around you.  This is a far from straightforward demand.

Critical thinking is a skill that can be developed in ourselves and in our students.  I see the need for this with increasing frequency when I visit classrooms or training centers.  Many educators around the world are highlighting how important it is that students (and, of course their teachers) develop the ability to think critically, to examine situations from many perspectives, not jump to the first conclusion, to challenge easy answers and look for complexities and nuances. The so-called higher order thinking skills are becoming something of importance to all students worldwide.

And so I’ll continue exploring this in my next post.