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Philosophical Meanderings

The Hard Path, Part 3

This quote from Kirsten’s post about causing trouble sticks with me.

The most important people in the school building are students. Their needs, their concerns, their desires, their lives should be what drives the institution. It should be student biorhythms that determine school schedules, their intellectual profiles that create its learning climates and activities, their feedback needs that form its assessments. Yet what I see are educational institutions largely designed around the needs of adults, around taking care of adults, and adult needs for predictability, order, measurability, quantifiability, compliance.

I want to limit my response to one question:

Why don’t we have schools that make kids happy?

Please comment below. Challenge the question. Take issue with its premise. Share the ennobling and uplifting work of which you and your kids are part.

Maybe we’re on the hard path already, all of us who are by any measure complicit in our schools and the incumbent frustrations thereofthe inequities we perpetuate and pass off on one another each day – the endless relay race of blame run by students, parents, politicians, and ourselves.

Maybe we’d all be happier, saner, and learning more if we stepped off the path and – instead of pursuing approvalpursued what makes us happy.

About Chad Sansing

I teach for the users. Opinions are mine; content is ours.


35 thoughts on “The Hard Path, Part 3

  1. Isn’t there a quote that says, “You can’t please all of the people all of the time.”? That’s what instantly pops into my head when I read your question. I have been stuck in a pessimistic viewpoint for a while, and I am trying hard to dig my way out of it, but that is one notion I haven’t been able to shake quite yet. I love teaching. I love my students. I love to feel like I’m making a difference. But, I don’t feel like it’s my job to make students happy. Maybe I’m not reading this quite right. I would like them to be happy and enjoy education, but learning is hard work. There are struggles. There are concepts you just have to slog through as a student until you get them. I don’t think even the greatest teacher can make a student happy who isn’t making that choice for themselves. Maybe our focus should not be on making schools make kids happy, but on empowering students to choose their learning attitude, and if something isn’t working for them, to give them the keys to fix it (with our help if they need it).

    Posted by Angie B | April 29, 2010, 4:00 pm
    • Angie, thanks so much for your perspective. I’m so glad you commented!

      I suggest we take a stand against the slog. Let me ask a few questions in general: Why slog? Why not offer students choice in everything? Why not pursue personal meaning over standardized curriculum? Why deliver content when students can discover it?

      When I find that things have slowed to a slog, I try to stop and just talk with the slogging student about what’s going on in the lesson, at school, and in their lives. If it’s the lesson that’s slogging, I ask how what the student would rather be learning. I ask how the student would rather be showing her learning. If it’s the class that’s slogging, I ask myself what messages I’m sending verbally and non-verbally through what I say, how I act, and what I ask of kids. If it’s life that’s slogging, I try to listen and offer the student a chance to speak with their closest caring adult on faculty.

      I don’t mean that we should work to design lessons that keep students happy every minute of every school day. However, after sticking with a challenging task task that carries personal meaning, a student should feel happy and fulfilled by his or her learning. We shouldn’t slog towards more slogging. We should ask “How far?!” when a standardized curriculum says, “Slog!”

      Instead, I argue that we need to design schools that engage human beings’ natural love of learning and contribute without fail to the well-being and fulfillment of children and their physical, emotional, intellectual, and social lives in their communities and world. I very much agree with your suggestion that we empower “students to choose their learning” and “give them the keys to fix” what’s “not working for them.”

      If school makes a student unhappy, we should help her fix that.

      What do you think, Angie?

      All the best,

      Posted by Chad Sansing | April 29, 2010, 6:33 pm
      • You don’t know what you don’t know, and maybe as an educator, taught by traditional educators who, themselves were taught (etc.), maybe my problem is I just don’t know HOW to do some things in a manner other than slogging. It’s not that it’s what I want for my students, but sometimes you reach that point, especially in the normal constraint of things being what they are, budgets, time, etc.

        I mean, I can think of a specific examples from my own teaching, : Irregular preterit verbs and their endings (Spanish). I have lots of fun, engaging activities to help students learn Spanish, and we try to give them authentic communication situations, but still, we don’t have the time, and they are not in the situation (authentic environment 24/7) for them to be able to practice using it until they get it, therefore, slog- practice, use flashcards, practice on your own time until it’s committed to memory. Who would that make happy doing that? Me, because I love learning Spanish. But, until schools no longer have counselors telling kids, “Take Spanish because it’s required for college.” or, parents saying the same thing, how many students are in Spanish class because they love it? Maybe 10 out of 150. At that point, how do you make slogging anything other than it is. And, not only is the rote memorization a slog, but even the games and interaction become slog because you’re dealing with students who aren’t happy just by means of stepping through the door. I get building relationships, but I still have the students who come in and visit during lunch time, because there’s a relationship, but are disengaged from class because they don’t care about Spanish.

        As I began, you don’t know what you don’t know, and I don’t know how to get rid of slog. It feels bigger than me and a bit overwhelming.

        Posted by Angie B | April 30, 2010, 8:51 am
        • Angie, you are right: challenging the slog is daunting, but I’m really impressed and grateful to you for your thinking about it. The care you have for teaching, learning, and students is so clear.

          I remember struggling with the traditional expectations of teaching and learning Spanish, as well. Before my degree and love of Latin American literature stopped counting as “highly-qualified,” I taught a few sections of middle school Spanish. It was an expectation at that school at that time that students on the “honors track” would take a foreign language in 7th and 8th grades. I remember acutely participating in the slog you describe.

          If the expectation of kids is that they “take Spanish,” can a teacher maneuver within that general expectation and subvert the curriculum? Can some students read Latin American literature in English? Can some cook Spanish food? Can others make a role-playing game like the World Peace Game that asks players to create a lasting peace between Spain and Basque separatists? Between the US and Latin America? Between Mexico and drug cartels? Can students read some of Neruda’s odes in facing-page transition and make their own vocab lists? Write their own odes in English or Spanish depending on their readiness? Can they research vocab and grammar and make over-the-top 90s-style music videos for songs by Maná? Can students choose what units to tackle in what order and negotiate products that demonstrate their learning? Can they blog in Spanish? Skype? Translate their tweets and status updates?

          It’s not any one project that will help us avoid the slog. I think it’s just a matter of questioning and questing with students and whatever admin support we can muster. It is a hard path, but a different one from slogging.

          What do you think, Angie?

          Thank you for this conversation.

          All the best,

          Posted by Chad Sansing | April 30, 2010, 11:26 am
  2. I’ve often heard that great teachers adopt many roles – they’re not only teachers, but also live entertainers, motivational speakers, social workers, and law enforcement. They have to keep spirits high while also keeping the peace. They help students with life outside the classroom when it affects life in the classroom. Lately, and also in light of this post, I’m wondering now if maybe that’s all wrong. Maybe the only role teachers should take on is the role any young teacher is loudly warned against: the role of a friend.

    I think we get warned against it now because the traditional classroom is all about control and beauracracy, and let’s face it, friends don’t force restrictive, demotivating, dehumanizing systems on friends. In an education system that actually reflects how people learn and are motivated though (e.g. without grades), I really can’t think of any other role that would help everyone be as happy or productive. It would be like being friends with your boss at a small start-up. You all want to do great work and expand your abilities. You’re all on the same side.

    Those are my thoughts anyway. I’d love to hear someone passionately disagree with me. 🙂

    Posted by Chris Fritz | April 29, 2010, 4:06 pm
    • Chris, thanks so much for your comment!

      Certainly the most important thing we can do for a child is to build and maintain a positive, trusting relationship with her built on shared learning. We need to be caring adults that model gently, but constantly, the belief that a student can learn, the belief that a student loves learning, and the expectation that everyone in the classroom will work on learning together as a community. It has to be clear to students that we take responsibility for being positive forces in their lives, and that we realize and rectify our mistakes when our actions betray our principles.

      We need to show our students that people who care for one another expect the best from one another in care and learning, accept their failures as opportunities for learning, and forgive one another their missteps in their relationships.

      We are all on the same side. Well said. We are accountable to students. Their life-long attitudes towards school are repayment for the energy we invest in them and their learning.

      All the best,

      Posted by Chad Sansing | April 29, 2010, 6:47 pm
    • Chris, I just want to jump in here. I love the idea that “we’re all on the same side.” I think that’s a very important idea, and in DIRECT OPPOSITION to the way many factions in conventional public schools regard the folks they are in the building with.

      Posted by Kirsten Olson | April 30, 2010, 7:22 am
  3. Chad,

    I think the answer to this question is difficult because of the diverse numbers of stakeholders involved. I think most kids come to school with an urge to socialize (as they should) and slowly throughout their years of schooling they lose a passion for learning. For every kid, school is a pressure-cooker with constant pounding from all sides with different expectations. They sit in the middle and then teachers, administrators, parents, peers, counselors, and even college admissions beat on them from all angles all demanding something different. There is simply no way to cater to each of the demands that every stakeholder wants. I really think that these are the forces that cause kids to hate school.

    Which of the groups that I mentioned above is the most pliable, the easiest to alter, or the most adaptable to an individual kid? I can tell you which of them tend to NOT be: teachers.

    Couple that with the fact that the (usually) most pliable and interchangeable group is their peers and now we can see why kids give in a lot to peer pressure.

    What say you?


    Posted by Aaron Eyler | April 29, 2010, 6:52 pm
  4. I think teachers should definitely be mindful at all times of the impact of their decisions on students’ learning and attitudes toward school. Our classrooms and learning opportunities should be full of relevance and engagement 😉

    At the risk of pulling an Eyler and ignoring the opportunity for a Sansing (What if…?): I don’t care about the wants of the establishment.

    It’s well past time time for public schools and their leaders to stop playing stakeholders’ games. It’s time to advance students and their learning, not political careers. School should be a sixth column, not a proxy for elites debating fiscal and domestic policy.

    I do care that parents think our schools help student live fulfilled – and not just safe – lives. I do care that communities think our schools help solve community problems. I do care that students leave school grateful for the experience, not hateful of it.

    To that end teachers and their leaders should support one another in customizing schools to students’ needs and wants. This will win over parents. This will involve community volunteers, service learning, and internships. This will reassert local control of education beginning with a student’s input into her schooling.

    What say our students?

    Posted by Chad Sansing | April 29, 2010, 7:23 pm
  5. Chad,

    I don’t care about the wants of the establishment.

    I’m waiting for the day for everyone to scream this at the top of their lungs! Here’s an example: I love how educators (admin and teachers) talk about “acting in the best interests of the students” and then we have every kid take the same damned class, the same damned year, at the same damned age. How much less can we “act in the best interests of the students” than that? Other than forcing them to take Latin from K-12 I can’t imagine anything worse.

    I do care that communities think our schools help solve community problems

    Here is another aspect that our schools do a miserable job at. No matter how many community projects our schools work on, we still do a terrible job. Why? Because every experience in school should relate back to improving the community, as a whole, for every citizen who lives there. It should also be every community (local, state, national, and global) that students contribute to and improve.

    The question becomes: why don’t they?

    My answer: they aren’t given the opportunity because the people who work in schools now never had the opportunity to do it when they were in school. They perpetuate the same system that made them successful.

    Did you know that the same pieces Mozart played that were considered “impossible” are capable of being played by kids as young as 5 & 6 today? A lot of teachers hate that. They hate that kids today are capable of reaching an audience beyond the scope of the classroom. They became teachers because THEY wanted to be the sage and the all-knowing adult. They wanted to “make an impact on kids”. What they don’t realize is that the real way to make an impact on kids is to provide them with the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of OTHERS.

    As subtle as this seems, try getting it through the heads of a lot of people that stand at the front of the classroom or never think of community projects beyond coloring in obnoxious bubbles with little letters in them.

    So here is the other thing I’m tired of: school.

    The structure itself. They offer a reclusive environment and allow for people to never venture from their rooms. All doors should be taken off the hinges and donated to some other organization.

    I even have an idea for what to do with the extra bricks: give one to each teacher. This way they can hold it in their hand and reminisce…all while their kids are out learning.

    Posted by Aaron Eyler | April 29, 2010, 8:22 pm
    • Aaron, this is crucial:

      “The question becomes: why don’t they?

      My answer: they aren’t given the opportunity because the people who work in schools now never had the opportunity to do [community service projects] when they were in school. They perpetuate the same system that made them successful.”

      Our school system and the “innovative” models it holds up to the light of filthy lucre are all geared to deliver the same message: you are worth something if you can get out of a place mainstream society considers worthless. Look at traditional college prep schools. Look at KIPP. Look at TFA. Look at “career and college ready.” Virtually no one is charging students with the mission to stay put and solve the problems your parents haven’t. How long can we preserve even a nominal democracy while this goes on and on?

      Public education and the models it holds up to the light of filthy lucre are not meant to address our problems in constructive ways. The market exploits problems; it rarely solves them.

      So let’s ask students what they notice about people’s needs and share the design of curriculum around that.


      Posted by Chad Sansing | April 29, 2010, 9:00 pm
  6. Ok so now here’s my serious finish:

    I just want teachers to realize the “new reach” of what kids can do. Stop selling them short and start realizing that they (kids) can make an impact well beyond what teachers experienced when they were in school.

    And I also now know I am terrible at HTML. lol (Hence the terrible “blockquoting”)

    Posted by Aaron Eyler | April 29, 2010, 8:24 pm
    • Absolutely, Aaron. Especially for wounded students, we need to show them how far they can, in fact, reach out to learning, to their peers, to their teachers, to their families, to their communities, and to the world. Our job can no longer be to describe for students the limit of their lives. It’s time for learning to escape geometric solids like classrooms and for learning to shoot off the page like an asymptote rocket. I think. Somebody call a math teacher.

      Check later this week for more on leaving the classroom, at least virtually.


      Posted by Chad Sansing | April 29, 2010, 8:42 pm
  7. What if the purpose of the institution, in some insidious ways, is to explicitly limit what might be regarded as the far potential of our students? That if that was what they were designed to do? (That this is no accident…) For most of the kids in the vast middle of the bell curve of public school thinking, imposing limits on their sense of possibility about themselves is largely what school is about.

    Why? Who is served by this?

    Chad, Aaron. Let’s go deeper with this.

    Posted by Kirsten Olson | April 30, 2010, 7:27 am
    • Why don’t we have schools that make people happy? That asks too much of any institution and I think society has as much right to the place of primacy in education as young people do. There is ephemeral pleasure and then there is the life well lived. We build for the future ever mindful that the quality of the present should not be sacrificed. We have our excuses for the strictures and narrowness of the schools we work in. Some of them are very good. Despite our earnest intentions we may not unravel the knot and create a coherent system of learning that satisfies the need for happiness we all have. Yet we need to remain critically reflective. The question must always be, “whose interests are being served by this?” When we become complacent with the status quo or argue vigorously for radical change, the question remains the same. The answer will not be simple because educating a generation is complex. We know this. Kirsten Olson is spot on with her comment about explicit limits. Too much of the educational industrial complex is structured around a scarcity of educational resources. What is making this enduring structure tremble is the transformation of information access. There is no scarcity and the commodity is being traded freely. For those with access, learning has become viral. The predictable response is to see the open sources as cancerous and the resulting learning suspect. The “real” knowledge, the “safe” knowledge and modes of learning remain controlled and limited. The dispensing or management of information remains the province of specialists. The independent learning of young people (and the rest of us) is patronized as extracurricular or marginal. There are too many who do not learn but the connected learning around us is phenomenal now. It defies our careful, well considered curriculum and measuring the resulting learning moves us out of our comfort zones. We don’t always know what we are seeing. Easier to narrow the visible spectrum with standardized assessments. Those assessments speak of benchmarks rather than normative curves but always manage to maintain the all too useful ranking. Elitism and merit are rewarded by the result. Society does have a stake in education. It is a stronger, healthier society if the outcome of education was whole people approaching their potential. Happiness comes from having our needs met. It is not simply “fun”. We need our physical needs met, security, empowerment (achievement? power?), a sense of belonging and a chance to be who we think we should be. Old ideas now, but I think if we keep this in mind, the young people may reflect back on their school experience as happy.

      Posted by Alan Stange | May 1, 2010, 12:21 am
      • Points well-taken, Alan. Thank you for your thoughtful and passionate response!

        However, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that schools make kids happy, or that teachers stop being afraid to have fun and find their work pleasurable. Fun is a need; why discount it, as our broken public education system does? As Ira notes, there are effective schools that make learning joyful; we just don’t believe in them. Why not? They work. Why choose grimmer alternatives? Because jobs aren’t fun in the real world? Well sure, especially when school precludes you from getting the job you want, from leading the life you want. Shouldn’t we be educating students to know what makes them happy as part of helping them explore their potential? Wouldn’t we have a stronger, healthier society if it was happier? If it was more joyful? If life was more fun because we enjoyed our work and communities deeply?

        I’m not after “ephemeral pleasure;” I’m after kids feeling happy that they attended their schools. I’m after kids saying that learning can be fun. Our culture and schools more often than not make kids feel and say the opposite.

        Is it okay for schools to be unhappy places so long as kids aren’t abjectly miserable?

        While a life well-lived might include sacrifice, it must also include joy. Why does a joyful present preclude quality or a meaningful future?

        This tension between fun and work reminds me of the engagement debate. I’ve heard many teachers say it’s not their job to engage students. I’ve heard many teachers say that engagement is superficial. I’ve heard many teachers say that engagement is not real learning.

        I’ve heard teachers say similar things about technology.

        No single approach, method, practice, or tool fulfills everybody’s needs, but we know how disengaged, technology-poor, unhappy classrooms look and feel in every combination thereof.

        Should we really throw up our hands and give up on fun?

        Alan you close with this:

        “Happiness comes from having our needs met. It is not simply ‘fun’. We need our physical needs met, security, empowerment (achievement? power?), a sense of belonging and a chance to be who we think we should be. Old ideas now, but I think if we keep this in mind, the young people may reflect back on their school experience as happy.”

        For some kids fulfilling those needs sucks. It’s is a pain in the ass or a wound in the heart. It’s a living hell. They have homes that provide shelter, but are in disrepair or seem grossly impoverished next to those of their peers. They have safety now, but past experiences make them suspect of it at all times. They fulfill their empowerment needs by lashing out in the ways they’ve been lashed. They belong to groups that ridicule their creative, emotional, and intellectual gifts, or maybe they have to care for parents or younger relations that they love and want to keep healthy forever despite ailing health or substance abuse. For kids in these situations, needs are met, but met dysfunctionally.

        Asking these kids to examine their lives and plan for the future is important to help them break the cycles of dysfunction in their lives, but it’s an anxiety-laden and harrowing enough experience that I don’t think we should begrudge them a joyous school experience that offers some hope for a life-well lived in the midst of a life of emotional – and sometimes physical – pain.

        Having fun at school won’t magically fix any of the problems these kids have, but maybe if we recognize fun as a need and let ourselves and our students meet it, then these kids will stick around or at least tell their children that school is a good thing, a happy thing, a fun thing that shouldn’t be hated.

        No matter how much we value education, if it’s not fun, kids will value it less.

        Even if we experts and gate-keepers are unwilling to grant fun “full-need status,” even if fun is “just” a want, a fringe benefit, I would ask:

        Why are we opposed to meeting kids’ wants at school?

        Who does that serve?

        Deeply engaged – thank you, Alan –

        Posted by Chad Sansing | May 1, 2010, 7:20 am
  8. I love asking cui bono?

    Help me with a summary of your conclusions from Schools as Colonizers.

    I think we should also invite Ira Socol (@irasocol) to this conversation.

    I also think of Farley’s book and blog.

    My initial response: capitalists. Capitalism is much more deeply ingrained in our national identity than democracy is. We are socialized to it from such a young age, as we are with violence.

    The deeper we go into this work, the more I appreciate Adam’s perspectives.

    I’ll check back throughout the weekend and send a tweet Ira’s way.

    All the best,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | April 30, 2010, 4:09 pm
  9. “learning is hard work. There are struggles. There are concepts you just have to slog through as a student until you get them.”

    One of the biggest problems with Anglo-American education is its absolute commitment to the Calvinist idea of work. Things which do not make kids miserable are simply not valued the way “the hard stuff” is.

    I have friends who say to me, “I know, it’s been all downhill since the Reformation” and I laugh, but this is largely what I believe. In Protestant theology joy is valueless, pleasure is the Devil’s work, and the only proof that you are worthy (“the elect”) lies in your soberness and commitment to joyless labour. Our schools, modelled on Protestant churches and built for a white, Protestant society, share this view.

    Sure, its capitalism, but only insofar as (as Weber says) Capitalism and Protestantism cannot exist without the other. Both celebrate work over both life and art. Both celebrate labour over joy and accomplishment, because neither can function without those hierarchies of values.

    Why can’t learning be fun? It, in fact, usually is for kids until they come to school. Kids learn language and symbol systems, science facts, and sports in a joyful rush which ends abruptly when they pass through the schoolhouse door. Now, instead of matching this symbol to hamburgers and that to cool cars, and that to places where toys are, we insist on unrewarded “work.” And kids learn that learning sucks.

    So I’ve been in horrific Brit Lit classes and I’ve been in ones where we laughed and laughed. I learned more laughing. I’ve been in awfully boring math classes and joyful, experiential math courses, and I learned more in the latter. I’ve sat through endlessly horrible grammar lessons and taken nothing away, but then listened to one very funny prof/friend in a bar one afternoon and picked up a great deal.

    It is a funny thing – I’ve seen joyful education at every level, from pre-school through universities. It is not only possible, it is far more effective. But we don’t do it because we do not – fundamentally – believe in it. Heaven is hard work in our society, grab your bootstraps, try harder, and get that nose to the grindstone.

    Posted by Ira Socol | April 30, 2010, 4:48 pm
  10. Thank you, Ira – you’re right to point out that we live in a society that devalues fun and play and pretty frankly differentiates them from school and “learning.” Your post reminds me of this NPR piece my sister-in-law shared on Facebook today.

    When I started implementing self-directed learning this year, at first I felt tremendously guilty because the planning, resourcing, and conversations involved with it felt nothing like work.

    However, I’m sold on it now. Creating play time with student’s self-selected long- and short-term goals as constraints for learning has radically changed our classroom culture and completely re-casted our conversations about learning – about getting better at what the students want to improve.

    Now instead of having the conversation about why we “have” to do things, we have conversations about how to accomplish goals.

    I teach this kid who began the year giving up on everything – even on projects he designed – whenever he got to a step he didn’t already know how to do.

    Today he’s modeling ICBMs in Google Sketch Up as we study the Cold War. He’s reading and watching tutorials. He’s writing down his goals and explaining how he reached them each day or why he didn’t. He’s using the vocabulary of the geometry he’s studying in math to articulate how pissed he is that he can make a pyramid for the warhead, but can’t figure out how to make a cone. Two days ago he called me over to show me he figured out how to make a cylinder instead of a box. Next he wants to export his model as a .tif so he can import it into his Scratch Cold War animations, in which he’s already used X and Y coordinates to define the movement of his placeholder missile. He’s helping other kids do what he already knows how to do.

    It’s really good to have fun at school and to feel happy that you’ve solved a problem that’s meaningful to you.

    This kid is having fun. I wish teachers would let themselves have it, too, or maybe demand that it be part of their job.


    Posted by Chad Sansing | April 30, 2010, 8:12 pm
  11. I love this. I just wanted to say thank you! What a great conversation. Also I think we should all read An Ethic of Excellence by Ron Berger. One of my favorite books. I think his voice would help to ground some of this conversation. Plus any reason to read the book would be welcomed.

    Posted by David Loitz | May 1, 2010, 2:48 am
  12. >>”I just want teachers to realize the “new reach” of what kids can do. Stop selling them short and start realizing that they (kids) can make an impact well beyond what teachers experienced when they were in school.”

    Amen brother! But taking the role as devil’s advocate here… Many educators are desperately trying to make learning interactive, meaningful, and student-driven. We try daily to bring relevance, excitement, and energy to our lessons and share that with our students. However, it is no secret that teachers are held accountable by the almighty test score. This means that, while we do all we can to teach ABOVE the test with interactive technology and strategic pedagogy, ultimately teachers do feel pressured to “drill and kill” students with facts that they can spit back out in multiple-choice form. We KNOW it’s not best practice, we KNOW it’s not meaningful, we KNOW students will not hold onto this information because it is not anchored to something that is meaningful to them, but we also know that the test score the form of accountability with which we are measured. So, how do we get off of this carousel?

    Posted by corriekelly | May 1, 2010, 7:46 am
    • I think we follow-up on the conversations and invitations ideas running throughout the blog in recent weeks. I imagine a process like this:

      1. I talk with my principal and any other administrators I need to in order to do due diligence in sharing my objections to standardized testing.
      2. I listen to my administrators’ expectations of me.
      3. I ask begin negotiations – by multi-year contract or evaluation plan – to excuse me from professional activities related to improving test scores, accepting whatever scores my students earn as reflective of my teaching of the curriculum.
      4. I establish with my administrators common expectations for what my students will demonstrate and produce from their learning throughout the year. I envision taking on extra duties like planning and facilitating parent education nights on standardized testing and multiple expo nights.
      5. I establish with my administrators common expectation for how I will share out reporting on student learning to the school and parents. I plan to beat traditional grading/report cards in terms of the depth and utility of my reporting.
      6. I teach in a way that I think best serves students
      7. I collect a body of evidence binder for every student using their work from the year.
      8. I invite my administrator, school division, and state to audit those binders after testing.
      9. I accept whatever formal consequence has been established for my students’ test and binder scores.
      10. I take what I’ve learned about how to best serve students and use it to help plan next year.

      Then we see what happens.

      What do you think?

      Posted by Chad Sansing | May 1, 2010, 8:50 am
  13. The more deeply I read all these thoughts, the more I’m thinking…

    Alan says, “The question must always be, “whose interests are being served by this?”’ and so, history again, the primary design interest of our US educational system, both as imported from Prussia and as homegrown here, was and remains “decatholicification” – the training of young people for compliance and for a single, straight-line system of thought which views authority as unchanging and unchallengeable. I’m more or less “quoting” everyone from Henry Barnard to Elwood Cubberley in this synopsis.

    Those who’ve read my stuff before know that we don’t even expect kids to “be on time” for school or class for any other reason than the fact that industrial revolution shift work required people – for the first time ever, really – to be “on time” for work, and school had to be a training ground. Classrooms were miserable and boring because work in mills and mines was miserable and boring, and we were preparing labourers. The age-based grade system and increasingly irrelevant and uninteresting classwork was created specifically to get 80% of students to drop out and join the underpaid underclass – a filtering system for preserving the power elite.

    School is not fun because it was intended to be a training ground in life’s misery. A rather stunningly Calvinist concept.

    “whose interests are being served by this?”

    Walmart’s. That’s who’s interests. Our schools today are traning students for the worst jobs. After all, if I walk through “the best employers” – from Google to Mozilla, Microsoft to automotive engineering centers, I don’t see either misery or people who hate their jobs. I see people pretty joyfully at work which feeds their minds and souls. I also don’t see set schedules, or seating rules, or dress codes, or, or, or… all the “Walmart Skills” we teach in our schools.

    So, if that’s your goal for your students – go to it. I just hope they revolt.

    Book Recommend: Erica McWilliam’s Pedagogical Pleasures

    Bring up “pleasure” at your next staff meeting or PD day. Watch the total confusion. Interesting, right? Never have more been so committed to the lack of joy.

    Posted by Ira Socol | May 1, 2010, 8:16 am
    • It’s key to note the confusion here. We need building- and/or systems-wide cultures of joyful learning. Imagine a kid’s confusion – and the power struggles and resentment it breeds – when she goes from a class she considers “fun” to one she “hates” because two “effective” teachers hold such different philosophies about the nature and practice of teaching and learning.

      No wonder we wrongly mistrust “fun;” the people coercing us the most want us to believe it has no place in pleasing them.

      Who’s gonna write the first fun charter?

      Posted by Chad Sansing | May 1, 2010, 8:55 am
  14. Damn right Ira. Well said.

    Great conversation here, thanks everyone for offering your voice and thoughts.

    In general I try to frame questions of this nature using the word satisfying rather than happy. Happy can never be a constant, the human condition is far to complex to use happy as the quality we assess for at any given moment. It can be a long-term assessment tool, but again so many factors affect happiness…and hell people today have no idea what makes them happy, more shit from the mall, touch pads, and nose rings, Hummers and Coach bags, so what kind of school day would make the average American person happy? A day at the mall followed by an episode of Fox news, a few beers and a BBQ?

    Satisfaction as its own limitations as well. We certainly don’t seemed to be satisfied by much either, always needing bigger and newer…but I do think we can find its application in learning, perhaps easier than happy.

    Corrie discusses her love of learning Spanish; when any of us are motivated to learn something intrinsically, it satisfying to slog through rote information because we want to, we value the additions to our vocabulary, or enhancement of our understanding of historical timelines. However, the process may be filled with frustration, again fueled by our own motivation we push through the frustration, our desire bigger than the obstacle of frustration, and in the end will we say we had fun? Maybe. Will we say we are satisfied more likely.

    It’s a game of semantics that may be pointless in the end. We might arrive back that happy is easier to qualify than satisfaction…nonetheless a fun exercise for me and maybe I ruffled some brain feathers, and others will want to get their brain back in order by expressing their thoughts.

    Posted by Adam Burk | May 1, 2010, 8:47 am
    • Adam – let’s rewind that question: “what kind of school day would make the average American person happy?”

      How about, “What kind of school day would make a kid happy enough learning so that he or she isn’t satisfied by being average? Isn’t satisfied by accepting something just because others say it is so? Isn’t satisfied by unhappiness or its mask, our bloated materiality?”

      Help me picture that school day. We can help it happen.


      Posted by Chad Sansing | May 1, 2010, 9:00 am
  15. Alan expresses a few sentiments that I would like to reflect on. He mentions the “whole child.” This idea of wholeness is intrinsic to any discussion of happiness, it must be.

    How can wholeness be addressed by any human designed model or system? Again human beings are far too complex for one system or model to meet all the needs of all people. Even Waldorf designed purposefully with the spiritual development of human beings as its backbone can’t do this. In fact I don’t think any school can do this. I think we have jump up to a higher level of system thinking to begin addressing this idea, and that level is community.

    No human being will ever be satisfied or happy to be in one building 8 hours a day. Its the farce of our entire modern infrastructure and economic design. Evolutionarily we are built to move, to explore, and yes to sit and focus, but not like the demands we put on our selves today. While we might deem what we have as “progress,” just look to the Gulf of Mexico or the Arctic to see the costs of our “progress.” We are on schedule to continue wiping out the biodiversity of this planet at increased rates until our 200 year hiatus of “progress” is replaced by the most grueling human experience perhaps ever had. Billions will be without clean water, millions will be refugees as rising seas and changing landscapes push people out of their homes. We are out of balance, and we will continue to feel this increasingly so.

    Returning to community…I think we need to build safe and engaging communities in order to achieve the vision of education we seem to be articulating on this blog. Its never going to happen where real-life experiences are replicated for educational purposes in a school. Life is learning, we each know this, and we need to be able to live in order to learn, rather than learn to live. A school would become a resource hub, where anyone-infants to grandparents-would find connection to what they need to meet their needs. Sure there would be mentors/teachers, and classes, but they would not be the primary activity. People engaging in meaningful activities that contribute to the wellness of the community would be primary. This would be anything from “babysitting” (enjoying babies and their unique gifts and developmental struggles) to hospice (again enjoying human beings but now at the end of life still with unique gifts and struggles, and everything that comes in between. Add in there some gardening, cooking, machining, creative arts, forestry…

    That’s my rough sketch. Can you help me draw in the rest?

    With hope,

    Posted by Adam Burk | May 1, 2010, 9:39 am
    • Adam, I sent you a link to a white paper one of my mentors and I have been kicking around for months about community schooling. I’d love your feedback on it. It might help draw in some of what a school and school day could be, as well as prompt more discussion.

      I’ll see if I can work some of it into a smaller post somewhere for more folks to respond to soon.


      Posted by Chad Sansing | May 1, 2010, 1:54 pm


  1. Pingback: » The Hard Path, Part 3 « Cooperative Catalyst - May 1, 2010

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