Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

In a perversely satisfying bit of irony, I was slapped with a civic fine on the day that I had decided to go and do a bit of research on anarchy. I was actually on my way to the big downtown library to find books on this man’s reading list, and I had only stopped for ten minutes at the university when it happened.

I know next to nothing about anarchism, other than the basic definition, but I wanted to learn more based on an article I read in the Globe and Mail about this guy named Denis Rancourt. He’s a  physics professor and self-described anarchist at the University of Ottawa who has been suspended from teaching, and banned from campus, for his alternative approach to education. His first crime was eliminating letter grades, because, as he explains, it is not his job to train students to be “information transfer machines, regurgitating facts on demand.” By giving everyone an automatic A+ he feels he would release students from the pressure of performance, freeing them to become “scientists, not automatons”. He went on to alter course content with the input of students, but not the approval of the university, a practice he calls “academic squatting”.

My curiosity is always piqued whenever an ivory tower insider dares to challenge mainstream ideas, so I checked out Professor Rancourt’s website. After his reading list I found this message:

Such are some bits and pieces that might distract you from the forced ingurgitation of your specialized program of study. May your discomfort grow and be amplified. May you be deeply perturbed and inspired to act. Or may these writings inform your actions and nurture your mid-action reflections. Otherwise, it’s wasted.

On that interesting note, I picked up as many of the books as I could find. I haven’t managed to crack any of them open yet, but I did find the time to scrape together some quotes from the internet:

  • Anarchism, really stands for the liberation of the human mind from the dominion of religion; the liberation of the human body from the dominion of property; liberation from the shackles and restraint of government.” ~ Emma Goldman
  • “Politics is a pendulum whose swings between anarchy and tyranny are fueled by perpetually rejuvenated illusions.” ~ Albert Einstein
  • “The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.”
  • “Anarchy is not chaos, but order without control.” »» David Layson
  • We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” »» Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” 1963
  • Anarchy is not just a desire to eliminate the State: it is a moral commitment to voluntary interactions and non-violent principles. »» Francois Tremblay
  • Today, nobody sees, or wishes to see, that in our time the enslavement of the majority of men is based on money taxes, levied on land and otherwise, which are collected by government from the subjects. »» Leo Tolstoy

And from the online dictionary, this list of synonyms for rancour. Kind of fitting, I thought.

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Jay (age 7):  Mom, do you believe that the Canadian warriors in Afghanistand (sic) are important?

Me: AfghanisTAN.

Jay: Yah, that’s what I said, Afghanistand. Well do you?

Me: Well, that’s a tricky question. It’s complicated. What do you think?

Jay: Yes. They’re important because they’re making peace. That’s what my teacher said.

Me: If a Canadian soldier kills an Afghani soldier, and that soldier was a daddy, do you think his children would like the Canadian soldier very much?

Jay: No.

Me: So it’s complicated. When you say that they’re fighting for peace, what does that mean?

Jay: I don’t know.

Then we had a discussion about peace and pacifism and fighting and protecting ideals. Now my little daughter is a whole lot less clear than she was when she came home for lunch, but I think that’s appropriate. I don’t think that a subject like war should be simplified, even for second-graders.

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Teachers have impossible jobs.

My daughter is in a multi-age grades 1-2-3 classroom, with 20 or so other children. One of them has Down’s syndrome, another has a severe learning disability, and the entire clump of kids in grade one are very not-school-ready little boys who clearly would be much happier running around than sitting quietly on the carpet listening to a story.

I spend Friday mornings there, “helping out”, and even that’s an impossible job. The teacher gives me a task, and a small group of kids, and I try to help the kids do what she’s asked. Trouble is, none of the kids are even remotely interested in what they’re supposed to be doing. They don’t know why they’re being asked to color in certain little squares, or why those squares are being glued onto a long strip of paper, and the connection with those papers and their height in centimeters is lost on them. Trying to explain the concept is frustrating, because none of the kids seem to be able to concentrate on what I’m saying, and although my intentions are good and my efforts are valiant, towards recess time I find myself doing the work for them, just to have it done.

The result of our work is me gluing paper into their math binders while they pretend to know why.

After recess, the next task is drawing three pictures of Things You Like and then writing about the pictures. Some of the kids spend most of the time looking for a pencil, others need their pencil sharpened, the noise level goes way up, it’s ten or fifteen minutes until most kids are seated, and then it’s a lot of looking at the paper blankly, or copying from a neighbor, or doing the actual work but not caring about it, and as I sit next to a few of them, helping with spelling and making overenthusiastic “Good Job!” sorts of noises, my heart sinks down into my stomach. It doesn’t feel right. If even one child in that whole classroom learned even one thing that in that entire morning I would be surprised. They were kept occupied, some of them tried to do what they were told, and the time passed. Then it was lunch, and then back to school for more of the same.

When it was story time, maybe two out of the twenty were in the mood for a story. The rest struggled to sit in their assigned “carpet spot” and not pester their “elbow partner”. I have nothing but admiration for the masterful behaviour management skills of the teacher, but given the ages of the children she was dealing with, most of the words that came out of her mouth were admonishments. Sit up and Eyes in front and Not now and You come sit next to me where I can watch you. The two kids who were in the right mood and mental space for a story about a badger who found an egg-shaped rock paid rapt attention, but the rest didn’t get anything out of story time except for practice in trying not to wiggle.

It is impossible for all twenty of those children to be ready for what the teacher has planned for them every day. She has to plan, because otherwise it would be chaos, and she has to try to get all of the kids doing whatever activity she has planned, but most of the kids are only half-heartedly going through the motions at best. Maybe one of the kids is engaged in any of the activities at any one time, and only by sheer luck, because that child is interested in that topic, and it’s geared towards his/her particular skill levels, but the rest just create the constant white noise of the classroom.

Lots of apparent activity, not much being done.

The other painful truth about the reality of a classroom filled with just-turned 6-year olds is that they are still very young children who really aren’t ready to fend entirely for themselves all day. When I go in to that classroom every Friday, my own little one finds any excuse possible to crawl into my lap and lean her head against my shoulder, and the teacher’s aide constantly has little hands clutching hers, and little arms around her waist. They’re like furry little baby mammals seeking closeness anywhere they can.

The teacher is supposed to be able to meet the emotional needs and learning needs of twenty little children, while keeping them from tearing the place apart.

It’s an impossible job.

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How are things going?  

Pretty okay, I’d have to say. I had some trepidation going into this homeschool year, with young Tee back from his brief foray into public school. I wasn’t quite sure whether he and I could make it work, to be honest. He’s a difficult kid to “teach”. He doesn’t take kindly to instruction, has limited patience for sit-down work, and has a very limited attention span for topics that he doesn’t find immediately compelling. He’s kind of flighty, kind of dreamy, and quite inward looking. Must have a rich inner life, I keep telling myself. The hardest bit is that he has never really been easy to manipulate. I don’t mean that in a bad way. Just that it’s been hard to find out what motivates him. Unlike others of my children, he has never seemed particulary fussed about pleasing me. Sure, he likes to please, but not if it gets in the way of something he’d rather have, or do. He takes my lectures with a huge grain of salt, and a barely suppressed ho-hum. In the past, this has driven me beyond distraction, and I was more than a little concerned that we were in for a personality clash this year.

Not to mention that little Miss Jay is his antithesis. She’s a model student, ever-eager, pencil sharpened, jumping at the mere mention of a project, hopping up and down in her excitement over doing something “school-like”. The more sit-down work, the happier she is. Hasn’t met a workbook she wasn’t eager to try. A challenge you say? Bring it on! A mere hint of disapproval in my glance is enough to stop her in her tracks. Easy to motivate, easy to please, easy to “teach”.

A recipe for sibling disaster.

And yet, not so.

Strangely, they’re getting along well. The two of them are a little team, for the most part. I don’t know if it’s because they know they’re in it together, or if Tee’s particularly motivated to make this work, or if they’re just getting older, or what. I like to think that this homeschool year will give them the opportunity to forge a friendship that they might not otherwise have had, provide them with some common ground that they certainly wouldn’t have had if they were separated in different classes in school all day.

As for me, I’m appreciating facets of Tee’s personality in new ways. Having him at home, out from under the dominating prescence of the two older kids, has given me a chance to hear his voice a little more clearly. I see his sweetness, his gentleness, and his idealism. His goofy humour. I’m getting a feel for his rhythms, and gaining an understanding of his moods.

Jay is much easier to homeschool, because she fits into the traditional model of what a student should be. I have a bit of a challenge ahead with young Tee, but I think I’m getting a hang of what he needs.

I am going to try to let him be the leader, because I think he knows where he’s going.

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