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Educating Human Beings or Human Doings?

What kind of learning do you value and why?

I value the kind of learning that helps people live qualitatively well as authentic “human beings” not just as skilful and knowledgeable “human doings.”

Unfortunately, our current American public schooling system continues to dedicate most of its attention, time, choices, actions, deeply-ingrained habits, and resources to raising a.k.a inculcating kids to become “human doings”– performers, accomplishers, achievers, competitors.

It is no wonder there’s no room for wandering attention (you’ve got ADHD), day-dreaming (you’ve got ADD), imagination, entrepreneurial thinking or attitudes (you’re disrespectful because you won’t do what you’re told; you don’t get the freedom to try it your way because I am grading you and comparing you to your peers), failure (you’re a low achiever), risky behavior (you’re a discipline problem- probably your parents’ fault), uncensored speech (you can’t make mistakes when trying to learn new concepts or experiment with new vocabulary when it may possibly offend or “oppress” others who feel victimized by your trial and error process), or love and affection (you’re too human, and not business-like enough, scientific/robotic enough) in a typical high school classroom. All of these characteristics of a genuine learner are unwelcome challenges to the status quo and fear-inducing to those who tow the party line as cogs in the wheel of the established institutional tradition.

You are just waaaay too human if you are an authentic learner.  Not to mention that the whole project of schooling takes place inside, where everyone is routinely disconnected from fresh air and open spaces (hence Nature Deficit Disorder), protected within the institution, using square, little desks in rows within square, little rooms that kids get four minutes to travel between for 8 hours per day for 180 days per year with few exceptions. And we wonder why kids are literally losing their minds? Could the current mental health crisis among adolescents and teens (and everyone else) possibly be related to what we value? to what we pay attention to? to how we define learning? to the kind of learning we actually value? to how we raise and school our kids?

We do schooling really well. We just need to decide whether or not we want to balance schooling with learning. Are we willing to rethink our priorities? I don’t think these two things– schooling and learning– are mutually exclusive.  A conversation about more balance seems necessary, but such a conversation requires open minds and hearts, rationality, and humility among all of us.

Psychoanalyst, Carl Jung once said, “Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are.” I ask, What are you paying attention to, superintendents? school committees? students? teachers? parents? Can each of us stop with the unconscious, habitual day-to-day to reflect for a moment or so about what we are paying attention to each moment, each class, each day, each year? Might we stop the same old same old busyness of schooling to do an honest self-evaluation of where we actually put our attention? How much attention? How much time spent? Why? Are we happy amidst the school shootings and mental health crises in our schools? Are we going to continue to hire more special education staff, more social workers, more nurses to bandaid the problems with our kids, or will we self-reflect on our values and priorities? What kind of an education do our children need today, in this new and very different world?

Part of my mission at Landscapes for Learning is to revitalize a love of authentic forms of learning among young people who may be disillusioned with, bored by, or being made sick (emotionally, psychologically, physically) by the traditional structures and forms of public high schooling in America with its inherent over-emphasis on inculcation (what to study and how to think about selected studies) achievement, testing, grading, and competition.  Simultaneously, the stories recorded in the podcast are a celebration of the quality lives of ordinary individuals who are healthy and personally fulfilled as they pursue their life-long process of self-actualization.  Many of my guests’ authentic learning and teaching experiences differ from their schooling experiences and/or place their formal educational experiences within a broader and more appropriate context of life-learning. This is a good thing to know– not just for kids so they don’t get discouraged by school but for their parents who might broaden their understanding of the purpose of education for their children, and for schools to keep their role in the learning process in perspective as well.

I’d like to ask parents of adolescents to become more conscious about about what kind of learning they value for themselves first of all and subsequently for their children. What is your definition of learning? Is it the same as schooling? Do you want your child to learn how to learn and to love learning, or do you want them to behave, do what they are told, get As or better scores than the next kid, and get into Harvard? You don’t have to go along with the traditional modes of schooling (that are too familiar to your own) because everyone else is! If you feel that your child is stuck in the system, that you are powerless, I am here to tell you that there are things you can do and choices you can make to optimize your child’s schooling experience without having to home-school or un-school them. Don’t play the grade game; don’t make your child do unnecessary homework that is a waste of time that may be better spent (perhaps outdoors or socializing with peers without adult supervision). De-emphasize “getting your schoolwork done” and emphasize learning when talking to your kids. Start journaling; teach your kids to journal about their personal learning rather than making time for only academic learning. Write your values. Answer, “why am I educating my son or daughter?” To what end is your child being educated? To be “X” or to do “Y?” What’s your “why?” You can also model self-inquiry, share your own journey to self-awareness and self-knowledge and discuss its connection to other forms of learning in your life. Make the distinction between schooling and learning clear to your children and live a life of learning while keeping schooling in its proper place.

I’d also like to prompt schools to self-reflect on the type of learning they value– this is not the same thing as having a mission statement or school mantra written in the handbook or posted in the entryway to the school, but whether they are consciously living out the kind of learning they purport to value each and every day, in each choice and decision they make, for each child for whom it affects. I hope to begin a discussion with schools and parents about the “why” of educating kids– their specific intentions for their children/students and to where they put their attention on a daily basis, class by class, moment by moment. Is learning really the focus, the value that’s being lived out day in and day out, or is more time, effort, energy, attention, and reflection focused on  schooling– that is, but not limited to– grading, coverage of curriculum, and achievement (college acceptance rates, drop-out rates)? What are the priorities? How much professional development time is dedicated to using new grading systems, new administrative technologies, new methodologies for implementing the same curriculum, assessment, analysis of data? How much time is dedicated to teachers for them to implement real change and personal growth and creativity? How much time is given to the “who” of teaching? Observe your institution for a day, a week, a month, write down what you see happening among students, teachers, support staff, and administrators. Notice (without judgment) what your organization is spending its time doing and talking about. Then sort through how much time is spent on schooling and how much on learning. Confirm what your institution actually values– that is, what it lives out, in action, on a day to day basis.

If we fail to value self-knowledge and exploration of the inner landscape and all we do is over-focus on the externals– grades, achievement, administration, controlling our environment to solve the problems that live within each of us, how will kids learn how to learn about themselves? How will they understand anyone else if they don’t know their own human nature? How will they do any of this essential interior work if they are over-scheduled with building their resume for college entrance or held after school to complete work that is entirely irrelevant to them but required curricular content aimed at the imaginary “average” student? How will they learn how to be decent, healthy human beings if they are consistently directed toward and overwhelmed by human doing?

It’s crucial for us as a society that each one us know ourselves as deeply as possible and take individual responsibility for our own lives, as a priority above and beyond any sense of belonging to a group we might also naturally feel. “Us and Theming” is one of the problematic paradigms of our time, that through which we interpret the world and that which informs our notions of tribalism, identity politics, political correctness, free-speech, mental health, addiction, education, parenting and much more. How can you know you belong to a group if you don’t know, firstly, who YOU are as an individual? How can you “know” that you “know” who you are if you don’t understand the nature of “knowing” or what forms of “knowing” exist?  How can you understand human nature if you don’t understand your own human experiences? How can you answer, What is the “right” relationship of the individual to society if you don’t understand what it means to be an “individual?” How do you figure out what “right” means? Perhaps we need to shift our focus from developing intellectuals to developing ethical and wise human beings.

Through real life stories of ordinary people, the Landscapes for Learning podcast is meant to illustrate and concretely demonstrate the value of many other forms of learning and teaching that happen outside of school environments– across the landscapes beyond formal education. The podcast also places special emphasis on discussing with guests how they explore and travel their inner landscapes, which is learning about oneself throughout life. Learning about one’s inner life, about one self, finding and living according to wisdom and one’s moral compass is also a lesson in what it means to be human and therefore how to understand and connect with other humans, other individuals who are like you, but not exactly you.

In addition to the podcast, the coaching curricula and support I am creating and plan to offer on the site soon is meant to assist parents and students in designing individual education plans to better balance the aims of schooling with the more authentic value of learning, including more curriculum focused on teaching individuals how to explore their inner landscapes through journaling, employing the principles of yoga, metacognitive reflection, and other techniques.

If you are interested in finding ways to help your student, your son or daughter, or an educator you know engage in an important and ongoing conversations about learning, the need for a shift in values, and a re-balancing of priorities between schooling and learning, or if you would like to contribute to the development of this site and its mission, please subscribe to LandscapesForLearning.com below where you will receive regular updates in your in-box (not too many!).

Sincerely Yours in Learning,

Maureen

 

 

 

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Restoring Balance: Too Much Schooling & Not Enough Learning”

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.

 

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Teaching & Learning About the Places That Scare You

The following quotes are taken from The Places That Scare Us by Pema Chodron where she describes the exploration of the inner landscape that I believe is sorely needed as part of kids’ education more than ever before:

“We’re encouraged to meditate every day, even for a short time, in order to cultivate this steadfastness with ourselves… As we continue to sit we see that meditation isn’t about getting it right or attaining some ideal state. It’s about being able to stay present with ourselves. It becomes increasingly clear that we won’t be free of self-destructive patterns unless we develop a compassionate understanding of what they are.”

How can young people learn to nurture and guide their own lives, to take responsibility and learn to be honest, if they don’t spend any of their time or attention getting to know who they are—or to their interior world, which includes both their bodies and their minds and the union between the two? Are they too over-scheduled? Are they too distracted with social everything– media, their friends, socializing, bullying, copying, and comparing– to travel their inner landscape?

“One aspect of steadfastness is simply being in your body. Because meditation emphasizes working with your mind, it’s easy to forget that you even have a body. When you sit down it’s important to relax into your body and to get in touch with what is going on. Starting with the top of your head, you can spend a few minutes bringing awareness to every part of your body. When you come to places that are hurting or tense you can breathe in and out three or four times, keeping your awareness on that area. When you get to the soles of your feet you can stop, or if you feel like it, you can repeat this body sweep by going from bottom to top. Then at any time during your meditation period, you can quickly tune back in to the overall sense of being in your body. For a moment you can bring your awareness directly back to being right here. You are sitting. There are sounds, smells, sights, aches; you are breathing in and out. You can reconnect with your body like this when it occurs to you—maybe once or twice during a sitting session. Then return to the technique.”

Kids who sit in hard chairs all day get bored, restless, and fat and inflexible. Very little attention is paid to their bodies, as schooling is about the development of thinking and acquiring information; it’s a busy day of processing data and internalizing it long enough to show that you “know” it on some sort of assessment. The body merely carries you around from class to class.

“In meditation we discover our inherent restlessness. Sometimes we get up and leave. Sometimes we sit there but our bodies wiggle and squirm and our minds go far away. This can be so uncomfortable that we feel it’s impossible to stay. Yet this feeling can teach us not just about ourselves but also about what it is to be human. All of us derive security and comfort from the imaginary world of memories and fantasies and plans. We really don’t want to stay with the nakedness of our present experience. It goes against the grain to stay present. These are the times when only gentleness and a sense of humor can give us the strength to settle down.”

The mindfulness movement and meditation being incorporated into schools is great– I hope it helps; I bet it already has; however, when meditating becomes another activity in service of schooling, that is– achievement, performance, and grading then it’s inauthentic and counter-productive. I hope schools don’t co-opt a very helpful opportunity for kids to explore the inner landscape in order to get them to settle down, behave, and perform as a high achiever — to meet the expectations set for them by some well-meaning or some ignorant adults.

It’s important that adults not steal such uncomfortable experiences away from kids as they grow and mature into adulthood, but instead introduce and mentor them with this more interior form of education. We could educate teens about the important life-long processes of cultivating a steadfastness with oneself, understanding our self-destructive patterns (thought-patterns, emotional body responses and reactions to stress etc), developing compassionate understanding of oneself, learning about oneself in order to understand what it means to be human and therefore be better and more equipped and insightful about other people.

Rather than controlling the external environment to prevent trial and error learning, rather than relying on safe spaces where scared victims remain for protection and see the world through fearful eyes, students need to practice facing inward- toward themselves and all of their catastrophe– as a more authentic curriculum, as a more authentic and foundational learning experience for life not merely for succeeding at school.

 

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Podcast: Grace Tempany, Multi-potentialite and teacher-extraordinaire

Grace and I discuss our desire to begin a conversation about teaching as moral and teaching with courage and integrity. We discuss the need for more authentic forms of teaching and learning in school, so that kids can embark on their individual journeys toward the self rather than just trying to find the right answer for an A on a test or college admission. Enjoy!

Check out Grace’s wonderful work at GraceTempany.com