Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Looking Towards Our Future

While Lisa Burman was engaging in quality conversations with groups of students in preparation for ‘the book’ (and as an extension of her love for ongoing research) she uncovered an interesting phenomenon. Lisa became involved with uncovering the underlying schema surrounding children’s views on intelligence. She believes that children are capable of expressing insights about these ‘big ideas’ but are not often asked to do so. In an informal setting she met with small groups of three or four students and asked “What do you think smart means?” and “How do you know that someone is smart?” Student response to the open ended questions prompted quite differing feedback from the students in kindergarten and first grade.

The young ones in kindergarten responded by detailing events and skills associated with the home and their lives outside of school. The things they considered ‘smart’ and deemed worthy of mentioning seemed to be inspired by motivation, curiosity and drive. The responses were 'from the heart' and not formulated to match any preconceived ideals of 'right' answers or predicting what Lisa wanted to hear and supplying it.

The first grade students (many in my class) replied to the same questions by listing academic skills; “smart means being a good reader", "Sally is smart because she is good at math" etc. There was no mention of who they are outside of the school environment.

Lisa brought this news to me and of course I was perplexed. In our conversation we began to wonder if schools are narrowing children’s perspectives on what it means to be smart. Does this narrowing perspective increase the longer the student stays in school? What happens to children as they transition from one grade to another? Why do they start to view themselves as ‘student's’ first without considering themselves as well rounded individuals capable of what Howard Gardner describes as multiple intelligences? Why is it considered smart to calculate the answer to a mathematical question but not to figure out a winning strategy in basketball?

I think back to my own education and the archaic design of schedules and structure that continues to pervade education as a whole. Schools still operate under a factory model reflective of the industrial revolution. Classes are regulated by bells, children are taught to sit in rows and raise their hands as they progress through stratified grades. It has the feel of an assembly line. In my most recent class (Ethnographic Studies) we spent some time grappling with this issue. America is so ingrained with this way of thinking about education that we cannot fathom breaking the mold and reformulating things to fit with the information age of today’s world. We are still operating under the one room school house mentality in many respects.

I am not sure how to address all of this. I am certainly not in a position of power to introduce changes even if I knew what they might be. I simply find it a shame that as children shuffle along in the system a bit of their personality, individualism and motivation is eroded and replaced by conformity and standardization.

Is this what we want for our future?


marxsny said...

I agree with everything you say here. I have never been a fan of pre-defined structure and standardization and in the case of education I'm not sure what the answer is, nor do I think I would be qualified to define the answer. I do know that all of your students will benefit from having you as thier advocate.

Joy said...

This sums up how I felt all through school! Which is, of course, why I never felt I "fit in". So much redundancy, so much emphasis on things that pushed kids into molds rather than actually seeing if they had LEARNED anything. The ol' regurgitation method.

Reading this I am so glad I never did "fit in" because my definition of my intelligence never centered around school.

You keep doing what you're doing, you know the kids in your classes always come out ahead - let's face it, how many kids their age have such all encompassing knowledge of the Greek myths - precisely. Talk about well-rounded individuals!!

And you, my dear friend, are a complete "Mr. Fucci".

(now I'll go back to writing my posts on my own blog instead of hogging yours!)

Sebastien said...

I've always had problems with the word 'smart' and what people think it means. People think of it in such narrow terms, I think there's all sorts of different ways to be intelligent, it spans everything, whether it be social skills, creativity, reasoning skills, apptitude for certain endeavors, ability to think about abstract concepts, blah, blah... and really, there are no ways to measure intelligence, I think it's silly to try to do that, I don't think it can be quantified...

But it's tough, I guess there has to be testing, for certain things, because it's true, people need to have skills to a certain degree... but I don't really like those tests, like SAT stuff, I feel like those tests insult our intelligence, haha!!! Seems like certain schools are moving away from narrow tests like the SATs, and I think that's a good thing.

J. David Zacko-Smith said...

Quite fascinating, isn't it? I have always thought it suspect when people tried to shove something as amorphous as intelligence into a box - or impose some structure or limits upon it. In my estimation that is all an attempt at control. I have a genius level IQ, did lousy in grade school, just OK in high school, decent in college and flawlessly in graduate school - but because of my low early performance many tried to keep me down - and now I'm getting my PhD!

Princess Haiku said...

This is an interesting discussion and one that bears close examination. I think the narrow focus on "academics only" is limiting to our children's self concept. I think they need to define themselves in relation to others also and in other ways. Complicated topic. Anyways, thanks for being a teacher. What would our world be without them?


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