Excuse the extended snip, but I think it’s time for some Seymour Sarason goodness this new holiday season (boldface mine):
How do you capitalize on and nurture children’s curiosity and questions about themselves, others, and their social world? There is a related question: How do we connect those characteristics to issues, values, bodies of knowledge, and skills that we in the adult world consider necessary and desirable for productive living? How do you begin to connect the “two worlds”? And by connect, I mean the forging of a seamless web containing both worlds.
Traditionally (and unfortunately) we have not started with these questions but rather with a predetermined answer. We have not started with “where children are and what they are” but with a highly differentiated, complex organizational structure in terms of age and the calendar, grades, curricula, testing, levels of educational authority and responsibility, and encapsulated schools. The rhetoric of what I call the culture of schools is organized for one, and only one, purpose: to further the intellectual and social development of children. And those who articulate the rhetoric are well-meaning people who truly believe that the structure and rationale of school not only can achieve their intended purpose but is the best way to do it.
But these good people also know that their intended purpose is not being achieved for the bulk of students. And that knowledge has always initiated a tinkering process, e.g., change the curriculum, develop remedial services, involve parents, employ new technologies, beef up preparatory programs for educators, and increase in-service training programs.
One thing these people know for sure: “We are not reaching these kids.” What do they mean by reach? To me (and most people I assume), to reach somebody implies that you seek to establish a basis for connecting your world and their world. When these people say they are having difficulty reaching kids, what they mean is “we cannot get them interested in our world.” In practice–in the “real world” of schools–it is expected that students will conform to the requirements and purposes of the school world at the expense of giving expression to their world. So we have the situation where both students and educators know that there are two unconnected worlds (49-50).
My sense is that since Sarason wrote this about 15 years ago, that disconnect has grown (and continues to grow) because the abilities for kids to do productive learning on their own has exploded with the web. (And remember, according to Sarason, productive learning is learning which engenders “wanting to learn more.” Absent that, the learning is unproductive.) More and more, “our world” in school looks less and less like their worlds which are now stocked full of passions, interests, and things to create and make and share.
If you agree with Sarason that the overarching goal of school should be that when children leave us they should want to keep learning more about themselves, others, and the world, then our imperative is to keep lit that flame for learning they bring with them to school. Our focus can’t be to “reach them” with our stuff as much as it is to develop them as learners via their stuff, with “where and what they are.”
So, are you starting with the first question? “How do we capitalize on and nurture the questions and interests of students?” Everything flows from that.