"Truth calls us to submit ourselves to the community of which we are a part, to fidelity to those bonds of troth in which our truth resides. (Palmer, To Know As We Are Known pp. 67-68).
Palmer has within this quote the role and effects of truth within our concept of who we are and what we are. One of the fears attending those who really strive to change, refine and improve who they are, is whether their developing character, persistence and clarity of vision will sustain them in this endeavor through their lives. The first fear I felt at that moment, when I realized I was experiencing a form of illumination and insight unique to human experience, was whether I could remain true to that vision and then exemplify the obedience to that truth, that would prepare me to again receive such a life-clarification experience.
Who can not be separated from the principles and truths that give meaning and direction to my life. As I refine and become this person I believe myself to be, then that awareness dictates expectations that guide me in how and what makes meaningful and truthful in my life. When a teacher focuses on the expression of learning without a appreciation for how the learning defines the learner and without a respect for compassion for who the learner is then the learner will experience a deterioration of his / her self-identity.
This deterioration may be reflected in a short story. In an elementary class, a teacher held up a self-portrait of one of her students. This student was shy, seldom spoken or participated in discussions, was not well-treated by other students and at other times, basically ignored. The teacher wanted to show the effect of negative comments and changes could have on a child.
She started by telling the children she had a story to tell about the person in the picture. When the student got on the bus, the bus driver grew up at her and said hurry up, I'm late. The teacher tore off a piece of girl's self-portrait. When the student got off the bus, a boy bumped into her and said, "Why do not you look out where you are going?" The teacher tore off another piece of girl's self-portrait. When the little girl went to place her coat and bag on a shelf, another student said, "You can not put your stuff there, that's my place!" The teacher tore off another piece of girl's self-portrait. During the reading class, the teacher asked the shy girl to question, but she was slow to answer, so the teacher ignored her and let another student respond. The teacher then turns off another piece of girl's self-portrait. When the children went to lunch in the school cafeteria, an older child bumped into her and knocked some of her food on the floor and then someone yelled at her, "Clean that up!" Another piece of the girl's self-portrait was torn off. By now, there was not much left of the little girl. At the end of the day, the little girl began to cry, and a classmate said, "Do not be a cry baby." Something inside the little girl was just a bit bit whenever her self-portrait was torn away.
The class became very silent. They felt the pain. They did not like the feeling. They knew it was not right. The teacher then led a discussion on how each student could do his / her part to restore the little girl's self-portrait and the the self-image of what she is and the role she might assume in the class.
Palmer implores us to heal the wounds that society inflicts upon its members. Teachers should be experts in healing the wounds of personal identity, of nurturing and sustaining a child's vision and / or belief in what she / he can become. How I view myself allows me to give space to others that they too may view themselves. Part of who they are I can see, and part of who they are is inside of them and I can only see that by what they choose and reveal to me. Many are afraid to go inside them because others graduated and marginalized who they were becoming. I need to create a space that allows them to recognize their place.
As I was growing up and learning to make friends, I realized that the people I knew had one of two influences on me. They either influenced me to care more about life and its various activities. This idea has served me well over time. The influence of this class, our discussions and the increased skill we are gaining in expressing ideas, truths and identities, has led me to another realization. This realization impacts our ability to sustain those positive attributes and features of our identity, especially under duress.
The people I associate with continue to have one of two influences in my life. They either expand and enhance my identity or they diminish and marginalize it. This principle is experienced in our schools everyday with substantial negative effects on student's identity and their social role. This realization is similar to an observation skill I learned while studying and enjoying photography. When I looked at a person to take their picture, I noticed that their facial symmetry was not exactly balanced. Each person's nose points either to the left or the right; I do not know which way dominates. I also realized that a feature of beauty occurred when a person's facial symmetry was more balanced.
What does facial symmetry have to do with expanding or diminishing who we are? Philosophically, I have been able to refine a previous principle, and in the process heightened my awareness of how our interactions influence and affect our identity. This principle is important in how teachers and persons in positions of authority magnify or marginalize other people, especially students.
This paper is about the importance of identity for all people, adults and adolescents, and how this affects the quality and kind of interaction between teacher and learner. It provides a philosophical basis and understanding of the adage, "I do not care how much you know until I know how much you care!" I also hope to demonstrate by a few experiences how education's lack of full vision or misunderstanding of the importance of individual identity and social role is frustrating the learner and corrupting the learning environment.
II Space / Leaving Some Things Unsaid
An experience happened this semester that helped me to understand a person's identity and how I could enlarge it, yet challenge the person's role as a learner.
Walter, not his real name, was in one of my classes and having difficulties. These difficulties addressed him in distracting the large group teacher and getting in trouble. We got all right in the small group because I was able to interact with him more easily because there were fewer students and the rapport in the class was different.
Later in the semester, he was having some difficulties again. While the class was busy with a group activity, I invited Walter to visit me to the side of the classroom. He came over, sat down, and tensed up his demeanor. He was ready to be reprimanded for his disturbance. He was ready to experience another negative teacher-student private conference. He had heard it before and would probably hear it again.
I smiled at him. He looked at me, a little confused. I asked him how things were going in his other classes. His face lighted up and the tension seemed to go out of his body. I talked to him about him. I encouraged him. I did not act like his teacher and I did not treat him like my student and it made a difference on the inside of him that shined on the outside, through the tone of his voice, the attentiveness of his eyes and the smile on his face . We felt good together.
I became a better person / teacher because I recognized this was a moment where place to learn and space to have one's identity acknowledged happened. I left an expected thought unsaid and reaped the cooperation and good will that was thought. I learned to be a teacher by being a positive influence in his life and giving him a role and place in our class.
III October Sky: How Choices Reveal Who We Are
Philosophy provides a variety of observations and views of what we are (ontological) ) and what we value as beautiful (axiological). Reading October Sky and then developing it into instructional material has taken me on a path that reflects the principles of identity and truth in learning.
I will explain the meta-cognitive process I've traveled to see something very familiar, in a totally different context. First, I read the text and realized it would be interesting for other students to read. I thought of the novel as an English teacher, then next as a reading teacher. I started asking myself what we should be learning from this story. What principles can we derive that can influence how we act and think? In conversation with a few students in another class, I am about the role of rebels who bring about social change. This progressed until I had a "Big Idea", which was social change. But I did not have a time reference. Various reference materials and historical events led me to identify social change as it occurred between 1955 and 1965. Granted, October Sky was not written during that time, but it is based on true events that occurred during that time, focusing on the launch of the Russian satellite, Sputnik, on October 4, 1957. I came up with a multifaceted integrated plan that completely changed what I thought about the book and how it could be used to teach the truth and help define who we are by these truths. My perspective went from a single, specific resource to a global vision of what could be chosen, learned and accomplished.
The amazing part for me was how my vision of the instructional process changed. Initially, I wanted to share and teach the story October Sky . Next, I wanted to use October Sky as part of the materials students could access to study social change. Then I realized there were different ways I could teach the materials, emphasizing different types of intelligences. These intelligences were 1) verbal / linguistic, 2) musical / rhythmic, 3) bodily / kinesthetic, 4) logical / mathematical, 6) intrapersonal, 7) visual / spatial, and 8) naturalistic.
Then I realized the many different genres available for learning, which included radio broadcasts, speeches, videos, period novels, sports, newspapers, magazines, history books, social history, personal accounts and rock and roll music. How would students interact, individually, in dyads, small groups, or as a whole class? I realized that different activities would occur in different settings and in different groupings. Next I considered how students could represent their knowledge. This led me to realize there are so many ways to show learning and to make meaning. By this time, I had lost my focus on the novel October Sky and was totally refocused on providing choices to the individual. For a visual image of this new perspective and orientation to the individual, look at the graphic supplement at the end of this report.
This transformation of how learning occurs represents many of the philosophies we have studied. John Dewey expressed in his time an incredible buffet and variety of instructional subjects. He saw learning as not classroom bound. He saw learning as an adventure, as a discovery, as interesting and revealing to both student and teacher. Learning was wonderful just for the sake of learning – and for the enlightenment it brought to educated minds. Dewey's optimism was reflected in his acknowledgment of who and what the human spirit was, which dwindled to insignificance as represented by Charles Dickens in Hard Times.
Different philosophies of learning can be characterized in how they recognize or not recognize the role of the learner in making meaning. Essentialism disregarded the individual in favor of organizing and accumulating the world's body of knowledge according to separate and discrete disciplines. The focus became the target content. Perennialism wanted to stimulate both intellectual and spiritual development, but the subject matter remained the focus, rather than the child and his / her interaction with the content. My approach to social change allowed for non-lock steped, sequenced instruction, contrast to the most past and present models of effective educational instruction.
Postmodernism restored the likelihood of student making meaning by linking personal experiences to classroom knowledge and theby asserting to have found or realized some type of truth. It emphasized the role of learning as a factor in the individual taking on social and moral responsibilities in society. Classroom knowledge represented current opinions, but not necessarily truth. This body of classroom information was to be deconstructed of anything that was not altogether explicit.
Constructivism comes much closer to my model of encouraging learner choice. Constructivism condemned pre-digested instructional materials and emphasized the readers needed to interact with the text to discover and conceal the information that would refine and delineate the student's identity. The learner became equal partners with the text in making meaning.
Today there is an emphasis on multi-cultural education. This can not happen when educators are apologetic about the influence and role of white-European-Caucasians in the construction of our country, its freedoms and ideas. There needs to be a synthesis of principles that identify the individual and the individual as a community builder. Although many of these communities are ethnically diverse, individual, family and cultural needs and expressions are more alike than different. These similarities need to be highlighted, not the fact that the variety of human experiences are different because they occur to different races and nationalities.
I think Ivan Illich (Deschooling Society) might be encouraged by the amount of home schooling that is taking place. I think he might be encouraged by the questions and challenges that new graduates in education are posing to the administrators of their schools. I believe Universal Design Learning has the potential to integrate and build community among heterogeneous and diverse groups of learners, if the teacher can gain the spirit and vision of UDL that recognizes learner choices. I do not think that most current teachers have the psychological aptitude nor the skills and strategies to implement differentiated learning. Now there is no influence for them to transform them into focus and respect for the knowledge to that of the whole individual that describes an education of truth and obedience to truth.
I believe there is a gravitational force that brings the obedient observer of truth into contact with more truth and knowledge that sustains the power within us. I believe it is my duty to provide a space that encourages the learner to look back in time to the place where experience birthed meaning that awaited the space to be recognized and integrated by the obedient knower of truth. Compassion and love are the attributes that keep us focused on the "who" and to match it with the "what" that supports the development and realization of who we are becoming.
IV Diminishing Identity
This situation occurred in a reading and study skills class at BSU. There are three main participants in this story, the student, who will call Jane, the teacher and the teacher's supervisor. The semester had progressed through the 4th week. One of the class requirements was for each student to buy 100 index cards and start collecting unfamiliar vocabulary from their content classes, which could include the RSS class.
The first 25 cards were to be reviewed by the teacher. Upon looking at Jane's cards, the teacher noticed the words "mathematics, history, and language." He asked the student about the words and basically challenged the fact that they constituted vocabulary words. The teacher had been teaching non-native speakers of English abroad for the past ten years and a vocational study was an important and integral part of the curriculum. The teacher was somewhat confused as to how or why native speakers would choose such words when non-native speakers would know that such words do not measure unfamiliar vocabulary words. Her feelings were hurt; she felt embarrassed and decided not to come back to class.
After a period of three weeks and having not attended the large and small group classes during that time, Jane confided in the large group instructor what had happened and how she felt. The large group instructor, who was also the supervisor, then spoke to the teacher at great length on the matter. The teacher said he would speak to the student and try to rebuild the teacher-student relationship.
The teacher had a thirty-minute meeting with Jane and apologized and expressed his sincere and deep regret at what he had done. He also explained how these things happen and that they are rarely intentional, yet such an experience is just as painful and embarrassing.
As a result of this conversation, the student returned to her class, completed her assignments and passed the class. In this case, respect, rapport and a closer, more helpful relationship was restored between that teacher and his student, Jane.
At the end of the semester, the supervisor reviewed the situation with Jane at great length again. He extrapolated that this was indicative of the teacher and that he might lack the sensitivity and rapport to continue in his duties. The supervisor was not interested in how the problem was handled and resolved, nor asked for more information on why the problem occurred in the first place. The teacher accepted the negative evaluation politically and honestly and believed that it was the end of the incident. But it was not. The incident was expressed to another higher authority who indicated that if that was how the supervisor felt, then sometimes the teacher should not be kept in his current position for the next semester.
The teacher began to think about the situation, about the evaluation and the implications of how it characterized him. The teacher knew that this characterization was not correct, but why did it happen? What precipitated the difference of opinion between Jane and her teacher over what constituted a vocabulary word?
The teacher had learned a lot about his identity from Parker Palmer and Wendell Berry. He had learned principles that allowed him to look for an explanation and a different interpretation of the events with Jane. He found some of them.
First, the voluntary assignment was made by the supervisor instead of the teacher. Second, the question of what constituted a vocabulary word was not discussed and agreed between the supervisor and the teacher. Third, the students did not have the direction or guidelines that could have replied in a closer match between the intent of the assignment and the student's interpretation and expression of the assignment. Lacking these conditions, misunderstanding and mismatch between assignment, student interpretation, teacher's expectation, and the supervisor's evaluation sentult.
The teacher, because of his belief in and understanding of his identity and the role of obedience to truth, was able to understand and interpret the events more honestly and clearly than previously done. He had benefited from the supervisor's comments, but felt the implications lacked a more complete understanding. This same insight that helped him clarify the situation also helped him remember Jane's feelings and encourage her to successfully complete the class.