Part of the this Landscapes for Learning mission is to draw attention to teaching and learning in a broader sense than schooling and to begin a new conversation about the kinds of learning we currently value in our American public schools.
What I think is based on my own personal experience as a student, as a former teacher in a parochial and public high school, as a coach, as a teacher of teachers, as a graduate student, as a parent of four grown children, as a yoga teacher. Feel free to dismiss me as any sort of authority, as this is merely my opinion.
I think we, as Americans, value human “doing” more than human “being.” I think this value is apparent in the American psyche of parents and in the process of schooling. I think it’s a big problem.
I quit my job because my high school is overly-focused on values I do not share. I gave up my income, my benefits, a pension, because of a difference in values— Simply put, my definition of learning isn’t the same as theirs and this was a deal-breaker for me. I was unable to teach authentically or honestly without conflict which makes for an unhealthy and difficult relationship.
If humanity, health, and wellness comes second to achievement, even a close-second, I am not okay with that. I am as competitive as the next person, I was a high-achiever myself, but not when it comes to the learning process. Learning is a whole different game. I saw too many kids suffer because of the community’s priorities that do not match what I know to be true about authentic learning and teaching, humanity, health and wellness.
I was asked in various ways (both systemically and personally) to compromise my integrity as a teacher; my methods and approaches to learning clashed too often with a system (and its people) that values achievement above all else, even at the expense of individual students’ health and wellness. I got tired of unschooling junior and seniors, acting as therapist, mom, and English teacher. The energy it took rescuing students from the edge of hatred of anything and everything even remotely related to learning in school was enormous. I was really good at reviving a love of learning among damaged, difficult, challenging, and discipline-problem-kids. I was even better at helping the high-achieving, way-too-stressed, parent-pleasers-who-never-got-to-be-kids, hellbent on Harvard entrance understand the difference between schooling and learning. I talked more than one kid off a ledge. I lost several others. My teaching experience is probably not unusual.
I never told people I taught English– that’s a subject area– I told them I taught kids– human beings. I tried to teach them how to be good, healthy human beings through reading, writing, talking, and listening. I showed them through my own example as a human being and the examples within history, literature, and contemporary life. Real teaching is about the who of teaching, not the what or the how or the scores or awards, and this is especially true if you are teaching in the humanities.
Now that I am officially unemployed, I can actually do my job–I haven’t lost my identity or my integrity as a teacher— which is to teach young people about human nature and authentic learning. Schooling in the traditional sense damages at least as many kids as it benefits. I don’t know the exact ratio or numbers– only that it was enough to give up a pension and health insurance for the rest of my life. I loved teaching (not my “job”) and my colleagues. We did good work! And schooling itself isn’t all bad– it’s just far too limited, too narrow, and too over-valued in our culture. It needs to be put in its proper place among the far more expansive and broad umbrella of authentic teaching and learning that happens across the landscapes of life.
I can’t fix the school system from the inside; nor am I silly enough to think I can change it through writing a blog or by publishing a book; but what I can do is start a conversation that might get people to think; to reconsider their values; to think about to what end their attention and effort in education is directed; to perhaps look more closely at why a mental health crisis exists among young people; to offer an alternate definition of learning that is more expansive so parents, schools, teachers, and students can feel empowered to authentically learn and teach in whatever ways and capacities possible for each of them; to not cause more suffering, to prevent additional suffering in the future, and to help anyone involved with schooling cope and perhaps even thrive…if they can put schooling in its proper perspective and understand the important differences between learning and schooling.
I also hope to encourage people to value an exploration of inner landscapes as much as, if not more than, “schooling,” studying abroad, or focusing too much attention on the external landscapes– other people, other groups, other-than-ourselves. Yes, I suppose I am asking people to become more self-centered, not in terms of being selfish or self-obsessed, but rather more self-aware, self-loving, self-compassionate, self-knowledgeable; I am, indeed, encouraging everyone to do more yoga.
I hope to encourage teenagers and teachers to discover that they have all the answers to their own lives right within them, if they only spent time getting to know themselves and all that they contain– to tap into inner wisdom, and spend time within, befriending and becoming more familiar with their inner life maybe more than they focus on their external circumstances or “what’s out there”– whether focusing on social media or paying so much attention to what everyone else is doing. We ought to have more FOMI (Fear of Missing In) instead of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). So many people have lost their connection to themselves, despite being so electronically connected to everyone else and everything else in the world.
Kids need mentors to guide them within and to help them travel their inner landscape. It’s up to teachers and parents and anyone else interested in preserving the humanity of humanity.