Friday, July 25, 2014

"I want to expand a child's world!"

Aside from my knee-jerk reactionarism to anything that smacks of missionary politics, I do wonder why so many of us assume that we need to "broaden horizons" of young human beings who have lived lives thus far unknown to us. This human stuff goes both ways, or should, anyway, especially since the youngters in a classroom have been coerced to show up.

So, a crank's view of common classroom practices.

New teacher: I want to show my kids the world!
  • Do not show photos of galaxies to kids who have never seen more than a dozen stars under city skies.
  • Do not read Blueberries for Sal to a child who has never picked fruit that goes directly into her mouth.
  • Do not impose a microscope into a child's universe until she has had time to play with a magnifying glass.
  • Do not make them do a project on some foreign mammal roaring in some foreign land.
  • Do not allow calculators until a child has a need to shave.

New teacher: But I want to expand a child's universe!

Old fart: If you want to expand a child's universe, you're going to need to make a child know a little bit about it first hand. This may cause you, Mr. New Teacher, a little bit of time, money, and comfort:
  • Schedule a night class trip to a meadow beyond the city lights. An evening of stars, lightning bugs, and even mosquito bites will last a lifetime longer than the latest fancy NASA photo of Stephan's quartet quintet.
  • Find a damn mulberry tree (or whatever equivalent can be found in your neck of the universe) and let the kids munch a few berries. If you can't do berries, find a few dandelions. Or, heck, take another field trip.
  • Buy a class set of magnifying glasses for under $15, less than you'll spend for that motivational poster telling kids that they're geniuses. 
A local critter--easy to keep!

  • Collect some local  critters that fit in a mason jar, and let the kids care for them. With any luck, they'll learn something about copulation before they stumble on it "accidentally" through a classroom chromebook
  • Keep wooden blocks, abacuses, slide rules,compasses, rulers, thermometers and all kinds of other digital devices that require no more power than provided by the hands and brains of their operators.
Not saying you shouldn't do the stuff on your "Expand a Child's Universe" list--just saying you introduce them to the one that exists before tossing them into the one defined by teachers.

Make sure the life you're trying to save is not just your own...


Unknown said...

A little pushback here:

I use the term "expand a child's worldview" often and here's what I mean:

I want to see students think deeper about life. I want to see them ask hard questions that break against the dogma that they've experienced. I want to see them wrestle with questions. I want to see them delight over seeing a "bug" and really seeing it and then sketching what they see and then asking tons of questions.

I don't see anything wrong with expanding a child's world. What I object to is limiting a child's world to a series of ones and zeroes and telling that child that the world is as flat as the screen they are holding in their hands.

That's not expansion of a worldview. That's compression.

doyle said...

Dear John,

No problem with anything you said--but I will ask this. Where does that dogma come from? Home? School? Our towns? Our country?

I have no problem with expanding a child's view--my problem is the belief that showing pictures or videos of something completely outside of a child's experience has much (or any) validity.

Unknown said...

I think the dogma comes from all of the above -- and isn't necessarily all "wrong" so much as off or incomplete. I'm referring to students who think that creationism is science or who believe that immigrants (sometimes their own classrooms) are out to ruin their way of life. Sometimes, the source is school: the obsession with grades, the belief that there are "good" and "bad" kids, etc.

I have a hunch we agree more than disagree in this -- but that the language we choose is different. I see a garden as a way to expand a worldview. I see a Coleman-styled closed reading exercise as a way to limit a child's worldview.