One foot after the other–generally good advice, especially when you know the journey ahead is going to be a long one. Getting started is the hardest part. “What’s the use?” you wonder. Fortunately friends or circumstances are generally there to give you that much-needed kick in the …
Assuming you made the appropriate preparations the journey proceeds relatively smoothly at first. There’s always the thrill at the start. It takes a long time before you lose that thrill, wondering what’s behind the next corner. Long hours, less-than-ideal working conditions–not a problem. You know that much lies ahead and you want to get through as much as you can now.
Careers can be like that too. It’s so exciting being part of the ‘young blood’ knowing that your contribution, your impact is just ahead. You just need to march onward, gather strength, knowledge and skill. Soon you will be the one making the difference.
But the road is long and after a time you discover that there’s not a whole lot of room for deviation. The path is narrow and well traveled.
It also looks pretty worn.
Dad mentioned many times about how he got his early education–in his early years, the pre-great-war years of the last century in a two-room schoolhouse. It was heated by a simple wood stove and the students were expected to bring yaffles (armloads) of wood each day. They sat on benches and wrote on slates. Discipline was strict. Few stayed much beyond grade three, even less beyond grade six. So few went beyond grade nine that it wasn’t even taught at the school; students had to move away. Dad left home at around 14 or 15 and went 130 km away to finish at St. Bonaventure in St. John’s. And yet, so many insist we bring education back to those good old days. That’s how you do it!
Aside from the five years he spent in Boston during the 1930’s he spent how whole career teaching. He started around 1924 and retired in 1969, at the age of 65. Most of his career was spent in a small two-room school, not unlike the one he was taught in. He was successful; his students did well mostly through a combination of determination and plain old hard work. His thing–getting the students to do their work and making sure that he valued them.
In those old schools there was no gum-chewing and you had to remove your cap.
When I began teaching in the early eighties we were expected to get all students to remove their caps and not chew gum. I mostly did that. It didn’t help the students learn at all. In time I mellowed, came around a bit and focused more on teaching and learning and less on being in charge. A subtle change in direction that did not really require walls to come tumbling down.
One Monday evening about 10 years ago when my oldest was much younger he came home without his $40 cap. I asked if he had lost it–after all that was a lot of $$$. No, his teacher had confiscated it. I said nothing. He was to get it back on Friday. On Friday when he came home without it again I asked where it was. He’d neglected to ask for it in homeroom so, when he’d asked for it later that day his teacher said because he forgot they’d keep it another week. Again, I said nothing. But I could not help but judge. The hat was returned eventually when the teacher had decided he’s learned sufficiently. He’s in his mid twenties and still wears a hat. He can still be forgetful too.
The daughter of a friend of mine wears dental braces and has to make periodic ten-minute visits (they average $300 a pop) to the orthodontist’s office to have them adjusted. Though she carries a smartphone her parents cannot use it to let her know they are outside waiting for her. Instead they have to go inside. For security reasons they have to wait at the door; it is locked, and get someone from the office to page her. Students are not allowed to use smartphones during class time. Apparently we have to physically and electronically quarantine our students from the rest of the world during school hours. And yes, of course it’s true that for every invention you can create a teenager will find the most creative ways of misusing it and smartphones are no exception. But still…
A little story I heard a while back–probably all made up; you know how it is with these stories–but what the heck; it’s a good one.
A popular magazine ran a contest to see which reader-submitted pot roast recipe would be the best one. The finalists had a cook-of, broadcast live and the winner was chosen and interviewed.
Q–What’s your secret that gave you the edge.
Winner–I trim off the two ends of the roast before putting it in the roaster.
Winner–Because that’s what my Mom always did and I got the recipe from her.
The mom was tracked down–she did not live far away.
Q–Why do you trim the ends off your roast?
Mom–You have to if you want it to turn out just right. I learned it from my Mom and she made the best pot roast!
The grandmother, as it turned out, was still alive and not living too far away either. She was tracked down in the nursing home.
Q–Your grand-daughter just won a contest with her pot roast. We found out that you were the original inventor of the recipe.
Grandmother–oh, yes, I spent quite a few years working on that recipe. You have the list of ingredients and all I can add to that is to select a good cut of meat and to watch the oven temperature.
Q–but your daughter and granddaughter said that you also used to trim off the ends.
Grandmother–Yes, I did that too, for as long as I can remember.
Q–they said that was your great secret; the one that made your roast so much better than everyone else’s….
Grandmother–No, my roasting pan was small. Yes, I always did it but it was to make the roast fit.
Much was written this past year on twentieth Century Learning. Quite a lot spoken and written. Do a web search for yourself. You’ll see a lot about fluencies and skills: media, creative, collaboration, problem-solving and such. (This is not to imply that the ditching of core subjects is being advocated–it’s not). You’ll also see widespread agreement among the writers that there’s simply too much information out there for us to expect students to ‘memorize’ it. It’s far more important for them to adopt these fluencies so they are able to handle information; work with it.
Wearing hats is still frowned on. Chewing gum is not allowed in many classes. Many math teachers still insist that you rationalize the denominator in rational numbers and expressions. Cursive writing is considered by many as essential. Smartphones are still banned in many schools despite their tremendous capability.
Oh, and the chairs are generally hard and not adjustable. The ones for teachers are rarely much better.
That said, there’s light ahead. A recent article in the NYT described how some schools are moving away from the uncomfortable but cheap straight-back and toward ones that are more more ergonomic while still being affordable. Many districts are actively working on this for both teachers and students.
Besides, there’s plenty of evidence that the system works. Despite what some may think we’re still creating decent, productive young people who will go on to make their mark, hopefully to make a positive difference.
But it’s not easy. Here in Canada, there once was a time when we could expect the standard of living for families to almost double with each successive generation. Those days are gone. Reports such as this one show that we are making only very small gains in family income–around 5.5% in 33 years–and the gap between the rich and the poor is widening. In short, while we are moving ahead a bit, it’s getting harder and harder. We have plateaued for now, it seems.
But there’s light ahead. Economically, it looks like the worst is over. Socially and politically? Well, it depends on who you ask. The economists are a bit gloomy maybe but at least as was mentioned recently, not ‘doomy.’
The way ahead may seem set out for us. At first blush it’s hard to see the options. but look: it would not take much to jump that concrete barrier and go right. That wire fence; climbable; you can go left if you try.
There is a path ahead but it’s no trouble to get off it if you want to.
You may have to bog through a bit of slush to go one way or, perhaps you may have to wait a bit until the time is right if you wish to go the other.
2012 is behind us now. We have already brought in the new year. The fireworks are spent. It’s time to stop ruminating about what might be and time, instead, to just get on with it.
Perhaps it’s time to break off the beaten path for a bit; time to maybe search for a new one. To do that it may be necessary to challenge a few well worn ideas.