In every educational system we can find, if we dig just a little, the hidden or tacit curriculum.  Typically the hidden curriculum can be surfaced fairly easily and it usually focuses on getting people “on board” and ready to participate in a certain way in society and within the school itself.

Alternatively, or in addition to this, the tacit curriculum also reveals the beliefs and intentions of the teacher.  This can include a deep belief, held by the teacher, or the unlimited potential of the learner or, conversely, a belief in the basic lack of intelligence or capacity of a learner.  It can involve a teacher’s desire to control the students or to make sure the content is kept in a “safe” territory.  The tacit curriculum might also show the teacher’s intention for students to become involved in issues of social justice or other goals.

What is important is to reveal, explore and then, most importantly, revise it so that the hidden curriculum is the extant curriculum and is something we as teachers can feel good about and wholeheartedly support.  We want schooling as a training function to be educative which should mean the education and growth of the whole person within a whole system of learning.

And, my opinion is that we teaches want to examine our tacit curriculum carefully to make sure we are educating in a manner of respect and hope for the unlimited potential and growth of our students.  I’ll write more about working to uncover the tacit curriculum in subsequent posts.

Violence can emerge via pedagogy.

By this I mean any teaching practice that is rote, or unconscious; the curriculum having to follow the book regardless of the interests of the students; the teacher not know how to NOT follow the book.   It can emerge through a teacher never having been taught how to creatively expand beyond the text and the curriculum to address the true needs of learners, or not being encouraged to do so nor being supported in your efforts.  This is a form of the violence I am referring to.  For many teachers around the world, the lack of autonomy or decision-making power available to them is a violence to them which then lands in the laps of their learners.

Who is to blame for this?

There is plenty of blame to share.   Included are teacher preparation programs that don’t address these issues, administrators who don’t understand what’s at stake in the teaching and learning process, curriculum writers who decide what students can and will learn and who possibly provide a biased perspective.  AND we mustn’t ignore some students who want to simply pass the test, who just want to move on to the next level and whose parents have invested a lot of money in the success of these students, and who have sacrificed their own well-being and that of the students for it.

Much of testing, especially the so-called high-stakes tests are to blame.  The tests I’m referring to only measure a student’s ability to test well rather than their actual knowledge and skills.  These are the tests that act as gate-keepers rather than being true measures of the student.  The testing inherent in the No Child Left Behind movement perpetrated in the USA is particularly cruel to students and teachers, but even in this the US is not alone and probably No Child Left Behind, as an educational reform movement, is not the worst version on earth.  Standardized testing, in general, is a kind of violence.  How can it be assumed that passing, succeeding or doing poorly on a standardized test really tells us as educators anything of real importance?  These tests cannot tell us anything about the nature of the learner, anything about their skills and talents nor who they are as human beings.

I realize that I am probably insulting my educational colleagues who spend their intelligence, creativity and time writing texts and in designing quality assessment and evaluation materials.  I know and I understand that these materials are important tools for teachers.  We all feel supported by good materials.  I simply want to stress, however, that regardless of how good materials and curricula may be, they can never replace the focused attention, intelligence and wisdom of the good teacher; the teacher who can adapt and adjust materials within the context of what they know and are learning about their students.

When looking at these violences, we cannot forget to give a close look at discipline and other issues of classroom management.  Here I am talking about the little acts of violence that go on in teaching and schooling.  I propose that they are far from “little”.  They may seem small, but the cumulative effect is huge.  I am referring to “the look”, the fear of being wrong, the fear or actual experience of rejection, and the disgrace of not knowing the right answer.  Of course we cannot and must not forget the actual physical violence that is still the norm in many school systems around the world.

More on this and moving towards some solutions and responses coming soon.

In my last post I talked about the work of Fetzer Institute and their publication, Centered on the Edge.
The Fetzer scholars and researchers are doing great work.  Check them out:  http://www.fetzer.org

Here’s an additional quote from that publication:

“It is in the group setting that we are called to stand witness for each other – to notice, to acknowledge, to name and to give meaning to what is unfolding for us, what we are learning, what we are remembering, and what we are becoming.  One aspect of witnessing is simply the creation of shared understanding and experience, through deep listening and understanding of each other’s perspectives.  A second aspect of witnessing lies in being a mirror for each other’s learning. . . This aspect of witnessing takes on critical importance in the collective healing of humankind. . . .Where atrocities have been perpetuated against whole communities, whole countries and whole peoples. . . public witnessing has a critical role to play.” (p. 51).

The activity and presence of groups also commonly called communities of learning certainly has the potential to foster incredible growth and learning, when managed well.  This is typically the work of the teacher, especially at the outset but can certainly be assisted and/or driven by students.

At the same time, groups can also be negative places where the individual can feel diminished, worthless and invisible.  I would imagine that we have each experienced that at some point in our educational lives.  The feeling of being invisible, of not having a voice, of being somehow “less than” others is a part of this violence of education that I am trying to define here.

I would like to deconstruct a bit further this idea of the violence of education.  I hope it is clear that my view, inspired by a range of thinkers from a variety of backgrounds, is that violence in education involves anything in the educational process that diminishes, flattens, waters down, boils away or dilutes the spirit of the individual and the collective to take on those challenges in our world that I enumerated earlier.  It is an insidious process and if we teachers are not very careful, we can be unwitting participants in every single world problem I have named and so many more.

The violence of the educational process is deeply intertwined with schooling’s tendency and core intent to train, change and improve the person as though the individual who entered that educational system was, in key and fundamental ways, inadequate and flawed.  If the word violence feels too strong for you, that is purposeful on my part.  One could replace violence with the words violated, belittled or controlled. The individuals in question feel a loss of autonomy, of self-respect, of self-authority.  This strikes me as violent.

This violence is perpetrated in a whole array of ways, mostly and typically outside of the realm of an individual teacher’s consciousness.

So what are we going to DO about all of that?

More on that soon.

The Fetzer Institute, a progressive think tank based in Kalamazoo Michigan, conducted in-depth interviews with 40 key group/community leaders from around the world and came up with some generalizations that were shared in a monograph titled, Centered on the Edge.

Generalizations are useful, as long as we don’t rely on them.  They allow us to have a vision of the collective understanding that might be emerging.  Following are some of the Fetzer Institute’s generalizations about groups to consider in thinking about transforming education worldwide.

On Connectedness:

“People most often find great comfort and inspiration in group gatherings.  There is a very real need for safe places where people feel welcomed; where they can come together to share feelings and experiences at a deep personal level.  Places where they come to feel fully seen and heard and validated.  Places where they are able to take the time to really listen to each other, to reflect together, to make sense of their experiences, and so to reach deeper levels of understanding in their own lives and for the community represented.  In the group, people experience the power of being seen, being heard and understood at a very deep level; a sense of coming home, of belonging.” (p. 21).

Also from Centered on the Edge – On the Movement of the Whole:

“People describe times in the group when the boundaries normally experienced between them seem to dissolve.  At these times, people seem to make the deliberate choice not to see their interests as separate from anyone else’s, and in so doing, they begin to experience the sweetness of unity, and the harmonious forward movement of the whole. . .” (p. 27).  There is something magical about this, the experience of moment the group moves together.  I have seen it happen often in my work with teachers in many classrooms around the world.  The magical moment when the group transcends individuality and moves to a new collective place.

Also from Centered on the Edge – On Serving Wholeness:

“People come together in response to a natural impulse to work together, to build together and to create together.  They come to experience how necessary it is for them to collaborate with each other.  And so it is that humankind begins to learn how to leverage the infinite power of collective intelligence and spiritual wisdom.” (p. 41).

And finally, from Centered on the Edge – On Witnessing by which is meant the act of being present for another person and for their experience and their learning.  Witnessing is about watching and staying present with each other within the group setting.

Centered on the Edge:  Mapping a Field of Collective Intelligence & Spiritual Wisdom.  A study supported by the Fetzer Institute, Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA.  September 2001.

A great deal of learning happens in groups, with other students, with a teacher or facilitator of some kind.  Learning together is something that humans do.

Animals and other creatures learn together as well.   Perhaps you have heard of the research from the animal realm related to the 100th monkey.  This research shows that if a group of monkeys (99 is the number often used, but it is not that specific) have learned a skill such as learning that pressing the orange button will get them a special treat like an orange whereas pressing the green button only gets them standard monkey food, suddenly monkeys who come after learn the skill much more quickly. These monkeys have not watched other monkeys learn the skill.  Also they are not necessarily offspring of the monkeys who previously learned the skill so we can’t ascribe this to inherited skills nor to DNA memory.  These monkeys learn the skill faster, somehow, because of the 99 other monkeys who went before.  Researchers know it’s true but they can’t exactly explain why.  This relates to human learning as well.  We learn together and in community.

And, yes, we learn alone too.  Reflection is often about solitary learning.  This is the learning that happens in our dreams, in the middle of the night, while driving or walking alone.  Even so, much of our learning happens with others in learning communities.  As the proverbial phrase relates, we all stand on the shoulders of others; we build on prior learning.  We learn from and with each other.  And we as teachers are responsible for creating these learning communities and for defining, at least at the beginning, the norms, rules and boundaries of these groups.

Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers are systems theorists and well-known thinkers in terms of group learning.  Wheatley is the founder of the Berkana Institute.  (http://www.berkana.org )  Wheatley and Kellner-Rogers wrote the following,

“What we know about individuals, no matter how rich the details, will never give us the ability to predict how they will behave as a system.  Once individuals link together they become something different. . . Relationships change us, reveal us, evoke more from us.  Only when we join with others do our gifts become visible, even to ourselves.”  (Centered on the Edge. Fetzer Institute, Kalamazoo, MI. 2001. p. 75).

These things need to happen in our classrooms.  We need to plan and teach so that our students’ gifts become visible to themselves – and also – to each other.

More on this coming soon.

“The Peaceable Classroom” that O’Reilley talks about involves a keen level of humanism in teaching.  In learning environments, teachers must ensure that students are provided with space and time for self-expression, the ability to connect with others, to share ideas and emotions and experiences with others in the classroom, regardless of the subject matter.  This sharing is a profoundly personal, creative and spiritual act.

We are called to acknowledge that education should be a humanizing experience rather than the contrary.  By being called to share our common humanity, this experience of being human, closely with each other through the educational process we are indeed connecting with others on a spiritual level.

Don’t be afraid of the word spiritual; by this I mean the fundamental human connection between us which involves the human spirits or souls.  This connection is made possible through communication which is supported by a language in common and the invitation to share our experiences of living with the others who are around us.  The human-to-human connection is one thing often not fostered in our schools and universities and is something we must learn how to do or do better.

Because of the dynamics just described, because of the intimate and personal nature of communication and learning, the potential for healing, for creating climates of peace and good will between people, communities and nations, the potential is so great – and therefore the risks are high.  This is true every time there is great potential or great opportunity, there is also an accompanying high risk factor.  As teachers we can fail our students and unwittingly create situations of great pain and suffering.

Education in its historical and current inception is often violent in that it denies students the opportunity for connection that I’ve just described.

We need to pay attention.  We need to pay careful attention.

At this point I need to alter O’Reilley’s question slightly.  “Is it possible to teach so that people stop killing each other?”

What would that kind of teaching look like?  I’ll continue exploring that question next time.

What ARE the problems?

I don’t intend to focus on this at length.  I am an optimist, generally speaking, and I hold a great deal of hope for the future.  But I need to begin by briefly recounting some of the current and present issues we face in our world these days.

I begin with the seemingly never-ending war the US has waged in Iraq.  There are ongoing and mounting tensions related to the nuclear capacity of both Korea and Iran.  We need to come to terms with the truth of global warming and climate change and be working together towards solutions.  We should worry about the suffering in Afghanistan and the political upheavals in Myanmar, Pakistan, Thailand, Georgia, Darfur, South Africa, Indonesia – and maybe not enough of the right kind of upheaval in other places like the United States.

We all must be concerned about human trafficking, sexual slavery and the constant threats and actual violence against woman and children around the world.  We cannot ignore the exponentially-growing divide between wealth and poverty; the intensely inadequate distribution of wealth in every country on the planet and between the classic north-south, developed and developing world distinctions.

In the U.S. and in many other parts of the world, we have to give a hard and careful look at increased violence in schools and disenfranchisement in universities.  We need to be concerned about students striving to get accepted and then knowing/believing/feeling they have “got it made”; students who see getting in to the right university as the end rather than a beginning.  And we cannot and must not forget all those children and young people worldwide for whom education is something they might only be able to dream of.  Maybe.

We live in a world filled with, as the journalist and writer, Hunter S. Thompson often remarked, fear and loathing.  The fear is that maybe there is nothing we can do about any of these problems.  The loathing is of ourselves and others if we accept the current sad state of affairs.  How do we confront and try to mediate that fear and loathing?  How can we make a difference?

Education is one thing that humans worldwide have in common.  We are, all of us, educated by our parents and communities and, if we are “lucky” and I use that word carefully, by systems of education.  Education should provide us with hope or at least we tend to assume that it will.

A premise I want to explore is that there is an inherent violence in these systems of education and indeed in systems of training and schooling as it traditionally occurs.  I believe that there is a pedagogical, systematic and pernicious violence in schooling.  In order to address this violence we need to understand it; we need to examine it to see what it looks like.

And that is what I will address next.

Until then,

Peace

In this blog I intend to explore how education can and must be reformed in order to bring about greater personal well being for the students involved, an outcome which I propose will inevitably lead to greater societal well being.  Education around the world continues to be modeled on outmoded ways of interacting in classrooms, ways that do not prepare students for the challenges and opportunities of the twenty-first century and beyond.  I propose that educators need to embrace a humanistic pedagogy which I am calling a pedagogy of peace.  Laying the groundwork for such a pedagogy is the focus of this blog.

One of my favorite educators and writers from recent years is a Professor of English at St. Thomas University in St. Paul Minnesota, Mary Rose O’Reilley.  Her book, The Peaceable Classroom is a collection of essays that have inspired and challenged me for quite some time.  It was a question that a graduate professor asked her during the tough years of the American/Vietnam war that inspired me to write this paper.  This provocative question was,  “Is it possible to teach English so that people stop killing each other?”

Is it possible to teach English so that people stop killing each other?

Perhaps this strikes the reader as an outrageous or possibly irrelevant question.  How can one entertain this idea?  War, conflict, violence, struggles.  We tend to believe that these are the truths of human nature.  We know this to be true from history and from our own experiences.  My father who grew up during the time of the great depression in the United States always said, “Times were tough.  Life is a struggle.”  I grew up believing this.  There is something uplifting, encouraging and different in important ways about being invited to engage with THIS question.  And I invite you to engage along with me.

Is it possible to teach English so that people stop killing each other?

Considering this question I extrapolate and ask, is it possible to teach mathematics so that people stop killing each other?  Science?  French?  History?  Social Studies?  Art?  Humanities?  Physical Education?  What are we talking about when we engage with this question?

The question requires that we look a little more closely.  We need to deconstruct some of the ideas and possible outcomes and eventualities associated with this question.

I propose we begin with the problem.  Is people killing each other the only problem we have on the planet at the moment?  I think not.

I’ll continue from here next time.

Until then,

Peace

« Previous Page