07 February 2007

thoughts on workshops... seed or not.

So I've just been reading over this email that David sent to the group. And... I agree with him, I guess. Especially coming from finishing a bunch of small workshops in Scotland. And, though, I realize that these workshops are to establish relationships with schools to then do further work in, I find myself arguing for the same thing each time: more time, repeated work, time for reflection, time for group talk, and most importantly for the teachers to take initiative because I'm only one person and I can't be everywhere at once... and because it can't be me who carries everything... it HAS to come from within. And so, in lieu of writing up my record of the workshops, I'm going to talk about this right now. Although I can't speak to the context that these words were originally spoken about, I think they apply to the more general thoughts. And so I will speak to them from my own (albeit limited) experience.

To quote David, "Discrete, standalone workshops give people a nice experience but that is all. Whenever we engaged in workshops, it was always in the context of a bigger engagement towards change. It was never to just do some workshops that do not have any chance to build upon each other and to make a real change."

This is true. Standalone workshops are simply standalone. Yeah, it may introduce people to things, and yeah it may spark some thing for some short time, but the real learning doesn't come in there. The learning and deeper thoughts come in through reflection and repetition. It comes when the students are working on something they care about... when they try something and it doesn't work so they try again and try again. And if you want to talk about construction, why construction and hands-on projects are important, then talk about experience and the fact that experience only comes through time and the fact that there are things you can only learn through experience. People are going to have experiences, regardless... life is a string of experience. Our jobs are working with others, finding the strengths of all, and localizing for the best possible experience, but to also be realistic that things take time.

In my situation with working within the Scottish school system, I'm using these shorter workshops as a way to gauge the teachers for their own initiative... to try find someone to work with while I'm not around and to set up something that can continue without me around. It's hard working within the school system. No joke. For the teachers to give me even a day with the kids, they have to ask all the teachers who would have the students that day and agree upon it... in addition to the head teachers. So until I gain the trust of the teachers, it's hard to have more than just a short workshop. I'm pushing hard to not let it stand at short workshops... but if the teachers themselves don't take some initiative, then I will just go to other schools. And, you know, I've actually been pleasantly surprised by the thoughts of some of the teachers I've met. At the ones who've thrown away the list of curriculum for their classes and who've gone for something more. You can see it in their students. If things here stayed simply at the level of short things that don't go deeper, I'd feel like I'd failed, because there's potential for so much more.

But some of the teachers here, oh man, they look completely miserable, and I find myself wondering if it's possible to convince them of the ideas... to reignite some sort of spark in them. Some of them, though, will sidle over and ask quiet questions when they see the kids working... you can tell that they're dubious at first, but a few of them start asking more and more questions. At the schools, I try to invite everyone in to see the work that I can, so they can see/hear for themselves. Hm. Maybe I should get to some point. I guess what I'm saying is that in this (my) situation, I think the short guerrilla workshops are maybe more for the teachers than the students... to see what can be done and to hear what I have to say. To spark some ideas in them and to get them talking with each other. To have them carry an idea forward. And to get them to place some trust in me for longer times with their kids and themselves... to get them to try things themselves.

Ok. Back to more points from that email from David: "time is short, needs are huge, and doing nice little things that have minimal impact is not how we should use the privileged positions that we have. Our obligation is to do more."

Right. But, then, I agree wholeheartedly to the idea that I was introduced to at a young age "ab illo cui multum datur multum requiritur" -- to whom much is given, much is required. And I truly believe that we could bring about some great change. But, again, I know that there's only so much I can be doing in a given amount of time. It would be great if our group were bigger, or if there were more people working on this. Which is where I think we should be... enabling other people to do this. And I don't know that I can necessarily "do more" within the timeframe for my master's, but I can certainly do more with my lifetime. I guess I didn't really realize how huge needs are until coming over here and seeing them firsthand. Here's Scotland, a developed country, and a country that's struggling to move past the monolithic curriculum that's been set up. There are teachers here who are meeting together and talking about great ideas and who I really want to succeed. But then you meet some of the other teachers, and you realize just how far there is to go.

Again, back to David's email: "There are plenty of nice little projects in the world, that give a nice little experience, but do not add up. There is far too much dissonance in the educational world between expressed philosophies and actual activities. We cannot be part of that. We have to be honest, with others and with ourselves."

True. But how do we build up a critical mass for change? Connectivity is key, as well as breaking the enforced mediocrity that curriculum provides. Education shouldn't just be about the minimal amount of achievment to get by (both by students AND teachers). Life isn't separated into subjects, either. We should encourage people to find their strengths and use them. An education that's locally developed for the strengths of the students, teachers, and community, but an education that can still address main key topics... I guess the main topic being communication of ideas ... which is math and building things and writing and talking and music: they're all forms of expression/communication.

And, I guess the last bit that I have questions about: "When I hear of projects like on climate change, or on alternative energy, there is nothing real that kids can construct that gets deep enough to demonstrate the value of construction. There is no use of computation and computational thinking. They are nice little science fair projects. But everyone does those. we are not needed in this regard. we are needed to bring the ideas to life that we have, that are important, that are different, and that others do not get."

True, everyone does science fair projects. And everyone must believe that doing them has some value, else they wouldn't be doing them. But I'm just wondering what's considered something "real", something "deep enough". Where do the values of construction come in? And, I realize that within the context of the email, climate change and alternative energy has one meaning, but is it possible to get "deep enough" with those topics? If a school worked on alternative energy and managed to get their school off the grid -- is that deep enough? If a classroom studied climate change and managed to change something in their community -- is that deep enough? I mean... I guess what I'm saying is that maybe it's not deep enough to just introduce the idea that there's alternative energy and look you can make models of it... but if they actually start figuring out how to apply it to their lives? I guess I'm just not sure where you define "deep enough"... or is there ever really an enough?

Anyway. Just some off the cuff thoughts not overly censored.

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