Thursday, January 3, 2013

January Excerpt: Paradigm Lost by Emmanuel Williams

Paradigm Lost
Emmanuel Williams
ATM in the Alps, Switzerland
PHOTO: bigbirz

Most of our ways of doing things–our priorities, processes, and systems–are increasingly dysfunctional. We face huge problems environmentally and economically, and we don’t seem to be able to collaborate to solve them, or even agree that they exist. We urgently need to break our habits, to disrupt our patterns. We need a new paradigm.

I’ve spent nearly 50 years working as a teacher with all age groups in countries all over the world. For most of my life I have, like all teachers, been working to create the future. I now believe that if we are to have any future at all then two things must happen:

There is a worldwide, spiritual revival.

We revolutionize our schools.

A worldwide spiritual revival is God’s business. A revolution in our schools is way beyond my aegis, but I do want to talk about it. I don’t have major answers to propose; I intend rather to raise some issues, consider some possibilities, and include ideas I’ve come across in my reading.

Currently I work as a poetry-teacher member of California Poets In The Schools. Most of the schools I teach or have taught in are organized and run in ways that no longer work. The factory-style school is obsolete. As Diamantis and Kotler suggest in Abundance: “The industrialized model of education, with its emphasis on the on the rote memorization of facts, is no longer necessary. Facts are what Google does best.”

Children learn best when they have at least some freedom to decide what they are doing, when they’re interested in what they are doing, and when they feel safe and valued. Most schools, however, give students little or no freedom to choose what they do, and most students most of the time aren’t interested in what they’re doing in the classroom. (According to the research, boredom is the primary factor behind the rising drop-out rate among American high school students). Most teachers like their students (if they don’t they shouldn’t be teaching!) but at the middle and high school levels particularly, because of the increasing size of their classes, they are unable to give individual students the time and attention they need. Also, most teachers I talk to are less motivated than they used to be. Their freedom to choose what they teach according to the abilities and interests of their students has been drastically curtailed, and their effectiveness as teachers is measured largely by test results, a totally inadequate criterion. Additionally, children are spending more time in the media-rich, addictive world of cell phones and video games and TV than in the much less stimulating environment of the classroom with its tests, grades, and homework assignments.

So our schools aren’t working. I believe that even if they were working within the parameters imposed upon them by schemes like No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top, they’d be failing, because the parameters themselves are no longer relevant. Our systems of education are based on what Sir Ken Robinson, in Out of Our Minds, calls: “… one dominant way of thinking–the verbal, mathematical, deductive and propositional…. intelligence as a linear process of rational thought.”

If you would like to read more of this article in Empirical, the January issue is now available at your local bookstore and online at our website.

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