Sunday, January 31, 2010

Seeds of Knowledge

A few weeks ago I cut up an avocado for a salad. Leal, my two-year-old, was helping to put the pieces in a bowl. When I threw the skin and seed into the compost bucket, he started to protest.

So I took them out and put them back on the counter.

With incredible attention and focus he studied the leathery skins and showed me with amusement how they were different on each side. Then he set those down and picked up the seed with a huge grin. “Ball!” he said, and cradled it so carefully in his hands. He looked at that seed with what I could only interpret as awe.

I had to dust off my imagination to see through Leal’s uncluttered eyes what would make an avocado seed worthy of such a grin. It didn’t take long to remember that it is kind of a miracle to find an almost perfectly round hard brown ball hiding in the midst of that squishy yellowy green flesh covered by that thick bumpy black skin.

Leal played with that amazing seed for about an hour, talking to it, showing it his train, reading it a book, hiding it and finding it again. Eventually we balanced it in a jar of water. We’re waiting for it to grow. Every morning he asks to have his seed sit with him for breakfast. I imagine this is because I’m always telling him to eat so he’ll grow. He holds it and looks it over, pointing out changes. I’ve seen him try to give the seed eggs, but it’s never been very responsive to breakfast foods.

Since the arrival of the avocado we’ve planted other kinds of seeds, and they have sprouted little green leafy heads that also must make their appearance at the table. Leal likes to pet them and talk to them. “Seed! Seed!” he demands as soon as he arrives in the kitchen each morning. We take them down and with great ceremony appreciate their beauty.

When I think about the trajectory of our discoveries together since Leal first found his seed, I marvel at what teachers and students could learn if they had the same freedom of time, imagination, and curriculum.

I set out to make a salad – but together we found the magic of seeds. What wonderful things like this are being missed each day because we focus so much on finding the things we know, and not on the things our children can teach us?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Whole-Child is hard, but can we stomach the Part-Child approach?

I’ve never met a teacher who didn’t agree that teaching the “whole child” is important. Talk to anyone who has been in the classroom for even a few weeks and they’ll be able to give you myriad examples of the physical, emotional, and intellectual growth – and needs – of their students.

But nearly every teacher I know has struggled mightily with the notion that she can actually create a classroom environment that fosters growth in all these areas equally.

The pressures of the school system are one huge obstacle.

The challenges and demands of life outside of school, both for the students and the teacher, present another.

There just doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day, or enough hands on deck, to ensure that every child gets what he or she needs between when the first bell rings and the last one stops ringing.

So is it an impossible dream?


But like anything of value it takes time and effort to make possible.

I have met teachers who:

  • Incorporate movement into every class period even though what they teach is high school Chemistry.
  • Meet individually with every student each week to conference about reading, even though they have well over 100 students.
  • Put responsibility for class rules and expectations in the hands of students, even though the students are only 4-years-old.
  • Achieve the highest test scores in the school without students ever knowing they were preparing for a test.
  • Strengthen classroom community by eliminating desks, even though they’re teaching middle school science.

Teaching is not an easy job. If we put a very benevolent spin on current trends in education we can say that decision makers are attempting to make the job easier. The further we move away from teaching the whole child, the less we have to do. Teaching part of a child is certainly less work.

But in the future will we be okay with the knowledge that our schools only partially educated our society? If we succeed in teaching all of our students how to do well on these tests, will they also do well on the tests of life – tests that rarely have fill-in-the-bubble answers?

And if such forward thinking makes us uneasy today – is it not our responsibility, and indeed our opportunity, to find a way to do things differently?