Us and Them

11 Jun

I used to wonder why there weren’t more parents in the school during the day–not just bringing a forgotten lunch, or jacket, or assignment, but  sitting in on classes, helping with classes, teaching elective classes of their own, teaming up with other parents to teach and learn skills and information that interest them. I used to wonder why there wasn’t a real LEARNING COMMUNITY in schools.  I still wonder, of course, but it seems strange, almost laughable, to be seventy-one and wondering about such seemingly obvious things–and getting it WRONG all these years.

I always thought parents were absent from school because they were “too busy,” or because they didn’t WANT to be there.

Yesterday, I learned of a third possibility: The school administrators and the teachers DON’T WANT THE PARENTS THERE–UNLESS THEY, THE TEACHERS AND ADMINISTRATORS  CAN BE THE ONES WHO DECIDE WHAT THOSE PARENTS WILL AND WILL NOT BE ABLE TO DO!

Wow! I have been thinking about this all day.

Of course, I have heard it said before: “Leave teaching to the teachers.” “To the professionals,” I remember hearing, once–as if the teachers and administrators are the only “professionals” in the community, the only ones who know what information needs to be “covered,”  what techniques and approaches, what “best practices,”  need to be used–or even considered.

My oh my. I have been a college professor since I was about twenty-three years old. I completed my Ph. D. program in 1979.  For many years, I was a member of an international organization whose business it was to “explore teaching alternatives,” and, eventually, to “explore teaching and learning.”  EXPLORE.  Isn’t that a wonderful word? It doesn’t mean ASSUME.  It doesn’t mean DICTATE, or IMPOSE.  It means “Look around. Look near. Look far. Work together. Work apart. Try to find out, try to see if, read up on, wonder, imagine, experiment. It means THE OPPOSITE of” Assume you have all the answers,” or “all the necessary or important answers.,”  It means DON’T ASSUME THINGS–at least not for very long.

So–I certainly do NOT assume that teachers and administrators are the only professionals in town, or the best professionals, or even professionals at all. I assume I should go off somewhere and reflect a little, perhaps for the umpteenth time, on what a professional might even BE, and if the word might be on its way to being judged archaic, or at least outdated, or oversimplified.

Of course if I must have a root canal, I want to be sure that the person doing this job has the necessary training, experience, and credentials to carry out this process wisely and properly. But when it comes to reading, writing, science, math, social studies–LIFE–who’s to say that Joe or Sylvia is more qualified than I am to READ in these areas, and to teach others to read in them, or perform in them? The lines between your qualifications and mine begin to get a little cloudy. Are yours better than mine? Significantly better? Does it MATTER?  How does one  wisely and fairly make such judgments?  Is there such a thing as “wisely enough” and “fairly ENOUGH?  And who would best know that? Or even “know that well enough”?

So you see, the waters become murky, and murkier. We don’t have the breadth and depth and pure reasoning ability to determine such things–for sure, right now.  All the more reason to explore and reflect and discuss and experiment and debate and question and consider and reconsider. After all, the lives of children are at stake. The lives of all of us are at stake, eventually.

Ever since I first heard of  the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and other, similar, inventories–somewhere around nineteen-eighty or so, I have wondered WHY there are so many SJ’s in the world, that is, Sensing/ /judging  types, and why so many of them go into public school teaching. Why do they value closure so much that they assume everyone else needs it as much as they do? Why do they accept entire systems and ways of doing things , seemingly without question and without even analysis–especially without their OWN analysis? Why do they not trust their own capacity to reflect and analyze more than they DO trust it, or , at least, SEEM to trust it?  Alas, I wonder and re-read, and discuss, at almost every opportunity, but I doubt that I am any closer to an answer.

Nevertheless, I would very much like to see more parents in the schools–parents, grandparents, all sorts of people, all sorts of ages, all sorts of life experience and expertise, all sorts of lifestyles, values, income levels, schooling experiences and degrees, etc.  I’d like to see a lot of non-parents there. I’d like to hear them–talking away, and really really  listening, and thinking about the way their own view stacks up against the views around them.    

I’d like to see schools become community learning centers–including excellent libraries– for people of all ages! Enough of  what we do now-dividing everyone  into learning groups based on ability levels, experience, age, family income, neighborhood, etc.  I’d like to see all kinds of learning going on–not just rote learning for state tests, but  many many kinds and qualities of learning–that are valued by the younger and older alike.–that are listened to by them, and thought about, and valued.

I think schools will evolve. I HOPE they will. I hope they will become meaningful and important enough to everyone–so that, eventually, everyone will become highly conscious, able, empathic, reflective, good at learning and articulating and sharing and just plain being and growing. Then, perhaps, there won’t BE an “us” and a “them.” Maybe there will just be US.    

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