Sunday, August 20, 2006

"I prefer to finish my education at a different school"

And I'm not talking about Oxford. I was rereading Thoreau's "A Life Without Principle" just now for my American Literature class and found a passage that offered me a powerful reminder of what constructivist education is:

"We rarely meet a man who can tell us any news which he has not read in a newspaper, or been told by his neighbor; and, for the most part, the only difference between us and our fellow is that he has seen the newspaper, or been out to tea, and we have not. In proportion as our inward life fails, we go more constantly and desperately to the post office. You may depend on it, that the poor fellow who walks away with the greatest number of letters, proud of his extensive correspondence, has not heard from himself this long while."

I am at least as guilty as my students when it comes to trusting "authoritative" voices before trusting my own. I push my students to question information that is "fed" to them and to listen to the weight of their own voices, yet I often find myself a hypocrite in this regard. After returning from England, I have found myself increasingly critical of American culture...I find myself sucked into a system that values the neatness and ease of homogeneity over the messy authenticity of individualism. With my Starbucks in hand and SUV in the garage, it is my copy of Thoreau that seems out of place in my Mizuno bag.

We are countering something huge here.


Blogger Karl Fisch said...

"a system that values the neatness and ease of homogeneity over the messy authenticity of individualism" just about sums up so much of what American education has been about, don't you think? Not always intentionally, of course, and I don't mean to demean the hard work and caring of countless educators - but an industrial, assembly line system of education can't help but try to reign in the individual for the sake of efficiency.

So what do we do about it? Well, as I somewhat self-consciously (okay, very self-consciously) said to Anne, Brad and Brian just before first period on the first day of school - "Change the world." We can do it. One teacher at a time, one student at a time, one classroom at a time, one school at a time. Don't accept excuses - from others or from ourselves. We continue to ask the question: "What's best for our students?" and then do our best to make that happen. We won't always get it right, and we won't always win each battle, but we have to enter the fray.

So toss the Starbucks, trade the SUV for a Prius, and buy a canvas sack . . . well, okay, keep the Mizuno for now. We wouldn't want Thoreau to be carried around in anything less than style.

9:00 PM  
Blogger Michelle S said...

Don't despair, a little rebellion is healthy for everything. If it makes you feel any better, the education I've received at Arapahoe has been anything but conformist so far. It truly is amazing to me how my mind has been stretched out. Keep Thoreau, he always has interesting ideas about fighting the system. Another thing I've noticed is that on the surface, a lot of people's greatest fear is of not fitting in all the time. But if you get to know them, most people worry about other things that are far from superficial.

4:39 PM  
Blogger Ashley M said...

I agree with Michelle. It seems to me that the easy way out is to just go along with the crowd and fit it. The thing that takes to most courage is to stand out and be completely yourself. And because of that, people get scared of attracting "unwanted" attention, fearing that it will cause them to stand out in a bad way. Appearances are not the only way of standing apart from what seems to be popular at a given time. I think the only way to truly be an individual is having your own thoughts and opinions, and being so passionate about a topic that you are ready to defend it and debate anybody about it. Individualism doesn't have to be something that is outwardly visible. The strongest and most important way to avoid confrmity is to educate yourself and form your own opinions. True, you can learn from others and base your opinions on theirs, but once you really think about it, they become your own, special beliefs. With that, you have truly overcome those voices that always seem to tell you what to do, buy, or say.

Sorry if that makes no sense, but to me, that is what I value individualism to be, and I think that is what Thoreau is trying to say in that quote. Ever since your class, I have loved Thoreau's writing and thoughts. I even got a bookmark that I use everyday that has one of the best quotes of his I have found: "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams!" I think those are truly amazing words to live by. Thank you so much for introducing him to me.

5:33 PM  

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