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Learning at its Best

I Want a Humble Revolution

After reading a previous post, I’m not sure I agree with the distinction between progressive and populist with regards to the reform movement.  I don’t see myself as either populist, if populism means class warfare and an outright rejection of all “the elite.”  We’re in a dangerous place when we define ourselves by being different than others (which I suppose I’m doing right now) and attempt, even for a moment, to speak for “the people.”

I can’t speak for the oppressed – not loudly at least.  I’m still learning from my students, trying to understand their culture and trying to make sense out of our community.  If populism means attempting to speak “for the people” rather than “alongside the people,” that’s not where I want to be.

I can’t call myself progressive, either.  Political progressivism and the belief in a utopian paradise got us into two world wars.  If we define progressive educationally, I’m still a skeptic.  Yes, it’s the tradition of Dewey and authenticity, but it’s progressive education had its share of “white man’s burden” and well-intentioned stereotyping.

If progressive means innovative, I still can’t go there.  When we push forward with technology and new ideas and amazing breakthroughs in STEM schools, we create the AstroDome effect – glossy, amazing, technocratic and new.  Then, at some point we see it as plastic, outdated and as dangerous as the Astro Turf that injures players.

If I have to choose a category, can the category be humility?  To me, that’s the real issue.  People aren’t willing to listen to the teachers and the students and the parents.  And honestly, that’s my real problem.  I become an awful teacher when I lose sight on humility.  I start lashing out in sarcasm and demanding my rights before parents and turning disagreements into battles.

But the murals, the documentaries, the debates and the writing conferences, the innovation time and the inquiry days – those began in humility.  I also know that people listen to me more when I’m vulnerable.  It sounds like weakness, but I swear, I grow closer when I’m not trying to tower above others with a megaphone. I admit that I have no data to back this up, but it seems to me that sustainable change begins with humility.

I want a humble reform based upon nuance and paradox.  I want to wield the hammer that tears down the injustice, but also chisels something beautiful from the earth.  I want to move forward and experiment while recovering some of the vintage ideas buried under the industrial carpet of standardized schooling.  I want to embrace and criticize technology.  I want to speak loudly and listen well.

I want balance over ideology.

I want sustainability over progress.

I want wisdom over expertise.

I want democracy, (the small-d kind, that comes from shared values and open dialogue) over populism.

I want a humble revolution.

About John Spencer

I teach. I write. I live. I want to do all three authentically.


3 thoughts on “I Want a Humble Revolution

  1. As I’ve become older, I’ve become more interested in pragmatism and less interested in ideological and theoretical positions.

    Of the concepts you identify, I find paradox especially interesting. Students need individualized instruction, but they also need communal education. I am a lead learner, but I am also a real-live expert in the subject I teach and in teaching generally. These tensions, when approached with humility, are the source of deeper learning.

    To sustain democracy requires a shared experience and a demand that we do more than follow our passions: it requires listening and engagement with those with whom we disagree.

    Posted by Mark Kilmer | July 25, 2011, 12:49 am
  2. It is true that one must not speak for but alongside the people (when it was not so, e.g., the English repuplic got seen as a regicidal dictatorship and the monarchy was reinstated, the French revolution was followed by the reign of terror, the Communist revolution did ot last in the USSR), and that students need both, individualized instruction and communal education; but pupil. Students, schools, and the society need also good teachers because to sustain democracy considerably depends on the teacher-student, teacher-parent, teacher-community relations (as a columnist put it about a hailed, late, teacher, “Sometimes one man is a great school, and sometimes a great school is one man” and to that extent that is part and parcel of being what all of the concerned majorly regard as being a truly progressive and the lasting welcome effect sometimes even of one individual great teacher –good teaching has to do with good teachers, and great teachers can raise schol-pupils and students that make both the state and the nation proud, not only by speaking alongside the people but also by coping with and managing that most important intraction, relationship, as do great teachers, with all of the concerned) –this is everywhere being so, e.g., this may be useful and inspire:

    Posted by eoa | July 25, 2011, 9:03 am
  3. Beautiful post as always John.

    Progressive can be a noun and an adjective.

    “Progressive” as a noun is commonly political code for a liberal, someone who advocate for social ideas over economic ones. This is at least what that word connotes for me.

    But it is also an adjective. “Progressive” is something that takes a series of steps, moving forward in some direction. I WOULD describe human(e) and (d)emocratic education of the humble kind you describe as progressive.

    It’s not the speed that’s important. It’s not the length of our leaps or the reverberations each breakthrough makes. It’s not even innovation in the sense of radical new ideas. I’ve constantly been inspired by your willingness to put the harness on all of us (including yourself) by reminding us that which is astroturfy isn’t gold. That it’s the human relationships that matter. I constantly lose sight of this. Weekly conversations about Homebrew, indie music, and gardening with you would help : )

    I think it’s safe (but still “progressive”) to say that a more humble revolution takes this step. Not seeing the issue as a crisis or an emergency, but rather working with communities the same way you describe towards our collective happiness.

    I deal with the same paradox, having ideas but being humbled by realizing they are my ideas and not the ideas of the community I’m trying to work alongside.

    Thanks for being a hell of a teacher John.

    Posted by mrsenorhill | July 25, 2011, 9:09 pm

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