Monday, July 20, 2015

Hedges on Education

Yesterday Hedges wrote on a profound relationship he had with a teacher who passed in December, and he had much of value to say about education:
Education is not only about knowledge. It is about inspiration. It is about passion. It is about the belief that what we do in life matters. It is about moral choice. It is about taking nothing for granted. It is about challenging assumptions and suppositions. It is about truth and justice. It is about learning how to think. It is about, as James Baldwin wrote, the ability to drive “to the heart of every matter and expose the question the answer hides.” And, as Baldwin further noted, it is about making the world “a more human dwelling place.”... 
Coleman had open disdain for New Criticism, the evisceration of texts into sterile pieces of pedantry that fled from the mysterious, sacred forces that great writers struggle to articulate. You had to love great writing before you attempted to analyze it. You had to be moved and inspired by it. You had to be captured by the human imagination. He once told me he had just reread “King Lear.” I recited a litany of freshly minted undergraduate criticism, talking about subplots, themes of blindness and the nature of power. He listened impassively. “Well,” he said when I had finished. “I don’t know anything about that. I only know it made me a better person and a better father.” ... Poetry, he taught me, is alive. It must be felt. It has a hypnotic power that, as Shakespeare understood, is a kind of witchcraft. And poetry, along with all other writing, is just a spent, dead force if you do not surrender to its spell. “If you graduate knowing how to read and write, you will be educated,” Coleman said.... 
I too am a teacher. I teach in a prison. My students do not, as I did not, learn in order to further a career or to advance their positions in society. Many of them will never leave prison. They learn because they yearn to be educated, because the life of the mind is the only freedom most will ever know. I love my students. I love them the way Coleman loved his students. I visit their families. I have met at the prison gate the very few who have been released. I have had them to my home. I have pushed books into their hands. 
Last semester one of my most dedicated students stayed behind after the final class. This is a man who when I mention a book even in passing will find it, take it to his cell and consume it. He was imprisoned at the age of 14 and tried as an adult. He will not be eligible to go before a parole board until he is 70. “I will die in prison,” he said. “But I work as hard as I do so that one day I can be a teacher like you.” 
In the Christian faith this is called resurrection.

Now our course content must be clearly tied to Ministry-approved curriculum to the point that we can show that every lesson and assignment is linked to a specific line in the ministry documents.

If students want to go off on their own tangent, there just isn't time. I have to cut off discussions to make sure I can get through the content. I can't imagine any student having time to read an extra book with all the busywork they have to do to prove they have mastered the essential learnings of the course, since they must have multiple opportunities to display each essential learning. I don't allow students to dictate content anymore or to debate for days.

And if I invited students over for dinner, I would be questioned for my motives, and people would think it's creepy.

Or I could say "hang it all" and teach the way I used to - changing lessons and units on a dime rather than having a clear, prescriptive outline of the course. And then when parents complain that I'm not following the guidelines (and they will), I can show them Hedges' article.


Owen Gray said...

There are teachers -- and there are great teachers, Marie. Obviously. Hedges knows what makes a teacher a great teacher.

Lorne said...

I remember all too well the excitement (for me, and sometimes for my students) when we would go off on one of those tangents that we never really had time for, even in my day, Marie. I often felt that was where the real learning was taking place. Those moments energized me and lifted all of us from the rather quotidian practices that were thrust upon us by the curriculum. The utilitarian bent of today's education that emphasizes skill development but not the human spirit is surely deficient.

Marie Snyder said...

Absolutely! The real learning often seems to be at the edges of the proposed lecture.