Saturday, June 29, 2013

Maker Movement hit the underclass generations ago

Rich folks are discovering that the Maker Movement makes for good learning. They want their children to create new things, solve novel problems, to, well, think.

That this flies against what most kids do during most of the chunk of childhood time they wile away in school while the adults in the home drive off to places they'd rather not be doing things they'd rather not does not bode well for education.

The less economically blessed have been fixing things for a long time. Because socioeconomic status and school success tend to sink together, the "low" level academic classes often parallel economic class.

I teach science, or at least try to. I've long preferred doing hands-on lab activities with the lower classes, especially labs that require some true problem solving. (I'm not talking about behavioral issues here--but the few mild disasters I've had over the years add to the stories.)

I'm going to generalize now, using anecdotal evidence--feel free to call me on it.

Too many of my top students are afraid to screw up. We've trained them to be timid. I used to believe this was accidental, I'm no longer so sure.

Meanwhile, many of the kids from the wrong end of town attack labs, merrily screwing up along the way, encountering problems, fixing them, creating more problems to fix.

These are the kids who live cracked windows and duct tape. These are the kids who see adults around them patch things up, who know what it's like to wait in a disabled car, to live in a chilly home. They are a bit more immune to the learned helplessness we instill in our better students.

How many times are we we fed feel-good stories of the kid who made good despite the odds?
Maybe they are where they are because of the odds.

Please do not mistake my message--I am not advocating that we toss children into poverty for the sake of developing good ol' American know-how. No developed country does that better than us, and the overwhelming stress of poverty destroys far more too many children.

What I am saying, though, is this--before we get all starry-eyed over a population that pretends to have mastered algebra, how about we think about the myriad problems solved every time a child fixes a hand-me-down bicycle.

Maybe even acknowledge that children who can fix things have valuable skills too many teachers do not.

So yes, the Maker Movement makes sense in schools. Just be aware that a lot of your students and the families have been involuntary members of the movement long before the current fad started.

If a child is hungry, she's not going to learn anything except what "we" think she's worth.


Jenny said...

Yet again you have written so beautifully. And yet again it's your little footnote that sends me over the edge. Your footnotes should frequently be screamed from the rooftops, not written in tiny print.

GardnerLC said...

The 'learned helplessness' does seem to strike certain groups more than others; a bit like the educated ignorant. I absolutely agree with you about the fear of failure being a negatively learned behavior, but I find it linked with their definition of themselves, which comes from parents/teachers/society: 'smart' now means not struggling. How could someone not be slightly neurotic and fearful when something no longer comes easy? When their very definition of self is being warred against? Yet, it should be like riding a bike: everyone is going to fall down and crash the bike, so everyone just has to keep getting up again until they ride the bike. Struggle is relevant, but not unexpected. I also see a tangent of this with boys in elementary school. We go and do science nights and a standby is glue and borax to make bouncy balls; the kids have to mix it up with their hands. The boys almost freak about getting their hands dirty. I realize I'm being a bit stereotypical here, but boys should be willing to get their hands dirty; the girls certainly don't have a problem with it.

John Spencer said...

"Maybe even acknowledge that children who can fix things have valuable skills too many teachers do not."

I love that line. That was me in college. I learned to change oil and fix a busted pipe from working in an innercity non-profit.

Similarly, I learned alongside the students when we had old computers and we wanted to run them on Linux. I got into Raspberry Pi, because we couldn't afford classroom computers. Same with Linux. I had students learning programming, because they wanted to get old computers to work.

I think it's the elitism of maker movements that bothers me. It's the sense that a few experts in certain private schools have "discovered" maker spaces that bothers me.

It wasn't flashy at the time. It wouldn't have worked as an ISTE proposal. But, we were learning together - and often I was learning from kids who had the problem-solving and risk-taking skills that I lacked in my background.

doyle said...

Dear Jenny,

Thanks for the kind words. The footnotes are footnotes because screaming from the rooftops didn't work.

Dear GardnerLC,

'smart' now means not struggling. How could someone not be slightly neurotic and fearful when something no longer comes easy?

Very scary (and true) words. That any elementary kids are fearful of goop speaks volumes.

doyle said...

Dear John,

I thinks it's the elitism that bothers me, too.

Look at us, we can MAKE things while at the same time the kids in school wearing patched up or home-made clothes face scorn.

Odd culture we share.