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Philosophical Meanderings


In my mind, this is fitting to follow Zoe’s post on idealism.

I’ve been struggling with our perceived and practiced project based learning. Don’t get me wrong, it’s super. It’s way better than what we’ve been doing. But is it enough. Are kids owning the learning, or are they owning a given/suggested learning. And in that case, are they owning it to the max. And in that case, are we believing/promoting that we’re doing something that we’re not.

The biggest push back for all this crazy thinking is .. that we need some sort of structure, some sort of basics.

I posted the following on our lab connections site shortly after a skype convo with James…

Insight from James Bach aka @jamesmarcusbach :
What is structure..

I think structure means pattern.

But when people say it pointedly they often mean a pattern that is imposed.
Sometimes, they mean a pattern that they can see, or name.
And sometimes they mean a pattern that directs and confines.
So when people say – I like structure, I like to check whether that means
“I like to be told what to do”
“I like to tell other people what to do”
“I like to be able to explain and justify what I’m doing”
Each of these are different.

The thing is
all things have structure!

A room full of kids has a structure
even without telling them what to do.
They will be structured by their feelings toward each other,
and toward the objects in the room,
and their beliefs about justice and fairness,
and their cultural expectations,
and the roles they choose for themselves,,
and what they had for breakfast,
and whether they had a fight with their siblings before school,
and prior agreements,
and what happened yesterday,
and the things adults do that they witness,

We watch the kids,
feel what’s going on,
diagnose problems, if any,
provide support if requested.
If the kids are constrained by a lot of imposed ideas, that disturbs the system and makes it hard to see what’s happening.
It’s as if you were trying to understand the psychology of a child solely
by watching them play chess.
That’s a lot of structure.
But chess is not a very expressive experience.
I think basically, the problem for a lot of us is that we just don’t believe kids are healthy humans who instinctively seek their own growth.
But one thing is that one person’s organization/structure is another person’s muddle.
We can’t know what’s really happening for the kids
inside their heads.
We do have to trust in the wisdom of the growing mind.

Great post and comment by Zac Chase @mrchase in regard to this here:
I’m not sure where it’s going or what it will become.

And great post and comment by Kate Fridkis @EatTheDamnCake in regard to his here:

You can’t be captured. You can’t be rated. You can’t be conveniently categorized.
If someone tries to do these things to you, they clearly don’t understand very much about being alive.

And sage advice to stoke our boldness factor from Ewan McIntosh @ewanmcintosh here:
In the UK, we have the world’s least happy children. In the US, the number prescribed Ritalin is growing to frightening rates, and correlates to standardised testing. In Finland, home of Western Europe’s ‘best’ education system, we see its highest suicide rate (note the ranking of South Korea & Japan, too).
We have an ongoing contentment problem, and the answer to it lies in helping young people discover what their passions are, giving up the artificial reins we as teachers, parents and governments use to strangle those passions and the  creativity that lends itself to their growth.

Try to experience a bit of abandon this week. Try to dabble a bit in finding you.

Looking forward to my next read, A New Culture of Learning, Brown & Thomas

and working on a fluid, flexible, malleable, … structure here.


About monika hardy

experimenting with the intersection of city and school.


9 thoughts on “structure

  1. To me , right now, after a scuffle with my teenage son, where i insisted he sit and revise for 30 minutes, structure meant a sort of order, ritual …in the house where the child follows a routine that can be comforting and hopefully helpful.

    Posted by Naini Singh | February 12, 2011, 1:09 pm
  2. “We just don’t believe kids are healthy humans who instinctively seek their own growth.” So true, Monika. We don’t need to make it happen. We need to allow it to happen.

    Posted by Tom Altepeter | February 12, 2011, 5:41 pm
  3. Monika, I’m intrigued, if I understand what you are saying. What I think you are raising, at the beginning of the post, is the problem that we haven’t dealt with all that well on the progressivist/alternative/free school side. If we believe that kids are automatically programmed to learn (and I think pretty much all of us here do), and inherently love to learn (and most progressive/alternative/free school people do), then if you take away state frameworks, and curriculum maps and the necessity of acing the MCAS, how to you get kids thinking about what is rigorous, what is really powerful, what is well-sourced in terms of ideas, and how do you (student) tell?

    By way of explanation, at an AERO (alternative schooling) conference once I was having an wonderful conversation with some free school founders, and they talked a lot about how kids can do anything and can totally determine what they do every day…and how fantastic that is. (A Sudbury Valley School model.) Then one of the folks, someone who was also studying the school for a doctoral thesis, took me aside and said, “You know, we’ve never really solved the problem of rigor at the school.” For instance, some project may be personally awesome, but is there value in holding it up to standards of awesomeness in the field, in the outside world? If so, how are you doing that? Making that a habit?

    Also, if there is a body of knowledge associated with your student’s project–certainly too populated and produced by high status white males–but that body of knowledge still exists–does your student know about it? Do they know the history of the ideas they are playing with and producing with? How do you ensure that that happens?

    Is that what you are talking about? And if it is, I think this is one of the most important questions folks at the forefront need to be thinking about.

    There are lots of ways that people are dealing with these problems. How are you dealing with these problems?


    Posted by Kirsten Olson | February 14, 2011, 10:21 am
    • hey Kirsten..

      i would suggest that if rigor is absent.. ownership hasn’t been actualized and/or optimized.
      that could be because of lack of trust more than anything. people could be saying – you own it. or you could be saying – i own it. but unless all parties truly believe that, there’s great potential for the appearance of slacking. there’s also the issue of – what’s worthy of rigor. i think that game has changed the most. a lot of new options.

      i also think optimization will most probably take time. we have lived in such an un-trusting atmosphere for so long. i’m not saying people have been evil, we are just caught up in assumptions of who holds the cards… who gets to judge rigor.. and what is worthy of rigor.

      i don’t think we’ll realize rigor until we abandon to imagination and play. i’m thinking deep tinkering can/will get us to a rigor we have little experience with.

      how are we dealing with this..
      finding more space and trust and time. protecting their work from those who want to improve it.
      listening to and learning from the likes of you.

      Posted by monika hardy | February 14, 2011, 8:32 pm
  4. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas on this subject matter. I am a student in Dr. Stange’s EDM310 (Microcomputing Systems) class at The University of South Alabama.

    I agree that structure is an individualistic perspective. It will not look or work the same for everyone. I also believe that students are able to construct their own structure based on their surrounding environment. While some structure is necessary for safety, we must proceed with caution to ensure that our students reach their full creative potential.

    My complete reaction to your post can be found on my blog
    I can also be contacted through Twitter @NicoleWilson2

    Posted by Nicole Wilson | February 14, 2011, 6:57 pm
  5. Hmmm…I just made my wife a belated Valentine’s Day dinner and I don’t think that I have the capacity to respond fully to this. So, I’ll just offer a hmmm…head to bed and regroup in a few hours!


    Posted by Stephen Hurley | February 15, 2011, 11:22 pm


  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention structure « Cooperative Catalyst -- - February 12, 2011

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention structure « Cooperative Catalyst -- - February 12, 2011

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