No soup for you…

soupWilliam Chamberlain wrote a post that I knew I wanted to leave a comment on right away…instead I left the page open each day and just left my mind to wander as I considered what I was going to say. My comment grew from a simple thought agreeing, to this post.  This was not written to disagree with William because the problem is I agree and disagree with the same amount of passion…so I started to examine why I disagree…started questioning what I do…kind of the other side of the story.  Of course, after I wrote my post I went back to look  at the comments that were posted since being published and found that Jerrid Kruse and Jabiz Raisdana left comments  a week ago that I will now feel guilty about because I simply echo some of their thoughts with a much more haphazard use of the English language…especially since their writing is tight, and mine tends to sometimes wander from the point…but I will publish anyway 😉 If you haven’t already, stop quick and read William’s post because the two quotes from the post that made me think are probably used in my post a bit out of context, then come back… my rambling post with 43 questions buried in it will still be here and possibly make a little more sense.

“No soup for you!” If you are around my age and live in America you surely remember that line from Seinfeld.  I love soup.  We make it from scratch all the time in my house.  Right know I am eating pea soup.  I made it myself.  I grew every ingredient, including the pork.  There was not much technology involved in getting this incredible meal to my table.  When I think of the things in my life that are most valuable, the times in my life that were most valuable, they don’t involve any high tech gadgets or experiences made possible by technology.  Yet I am suppose to be using technology to get my kids ready for the “future?”  To do what with it?

What am I getting my kids ready for?  Sometimes I feel as though I am being tricked into getting them to create new cheap plastic and electronic gadgets so that they can earn an income that will allow them to purchase cheap plastic electronic gadgets.

William  Chamberlain wrote:

Most classrooms are like the Incan empire. They are isolated, not realizing what is outside their classroom. They assume they are the masters of learning using the same techniques that have worked for generations. They do not even know that they are being passed by.

I am supposed to be getting my kids ready for the 21st Century.  21st Century skills.  21st Century tools.  21st Century creativity.  21st Century information.  The 21st Century, where thinking with you head, seems more important than working with your hands.  The 21st Century where it is more important to focus on creating a new cheap electronic gadget rather than on how to repair what we have.  The 21st Century where it is more important to be creative and earn a glorified living working in your head, so you can pay someone else to work with their hands.

To be fair to William, I am sure he was referring to the “same” techniques that weren’t working in the past, are still not working, so why are we still using them?  When I read it I thought of all the techniques that worked just fine, have always worked just fine, ever since people stood on street corners in togas to be educated.

I sometimes tell my kids  “I don’t want to get you ready for the future.  I want to get you ready to create the future. ”  I wonder if we are so busy preparing our kids for the future that we have become blind to the fact that the future we are preparing them for might not be the future we want to have.  Is it the future we need?  Are the problems that exist today created by technology? Are the solutions to those problems technology based?  Go ahead…list the top three problems.  How many of those need a technology fix?  If you are disagreeing with me in your head just stop for a second…how many of those technological fixes you thought of are needed because we cannot make society or cultural changes instead.  How many of the technological fixes you thought of are easier to “create” because it is easier to make a new gadget than change human behavior.  How many of the technological tools being used in classrooms today are not in response to classrooms needing technology to keep them from being passed by, but used instead because of the inability of the teacher to get the kids to be creative and thoughtful without it and adding the tool lets them feel like they are not being passed.  Are students learning that they “need” technology to create, collaborate, and communicate?  Glogster and skype will not save our schools.  In fact they might hide flaws.  How many classes use skype to talk to classes 3000 miles away to hide the fact that they can’t talk to a classroom 3o feet away?

Maybe I should let my classroom get passed by…maybe I should start right now on giving them a 22nd Century education.  One that is based on honesty, trust, respect, friendship, love, sharing, and needs…not wants.

I see more and more kids being prepared for the future.  I see more and more kids being prepared to use technology to create, communicate, and collaborate.  I see more and more kids that I would want as a business associate.  But I see fewer and fewer kids that I would want as a neighbor and friend.  I see fewer and fewer kids that I could rely on for help in the basic day-to-day needs of a human being…emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual.  Fewer kids that can help themselves with those needs.

This year my wife asked the kids to make their Christmas list using a different approach.   Name one thing you want, one thing you will wear, one thing you will read, and one thing that you need.  Guess which one came back with no answer?

Each year we have to come up with a list of items for our social studies budget…not that it gets ordered, but we still have to go through the process.  I can think of things I want, but it’s very rare for me to list something that I “need.”  Do I really need laptops to talk to people across the world? What is the lesson I am teaching them by focusing on using technology to communicate, collaborate, and create with people across the world? Is it a problem that 1000s of people across the globe know me and kids but not a single other kid or adult in my town really know what goes on in my room? What is the subliminal lesson they are learning about the value of communicating, collaborating, and creating with the person sitting next to them, or in the classroom right below us?

William Chamberlain goes on to say:

I think that we must not only expose our classrooms to other classrooms, we must find ways to create learning communities with them. I am not espousing “quick hit” projects where students work together with others for short periods of time. Instead I believe we need to create long term communities that share knowledge and innovation through longer periods of time.

That really made me think about the “learning community” that we have in our classroom.  Do we do a better job of working, sharing, and learning from people outside of our walls than from those within?  My students are apart of a learning community, but for some, the kids that they spend 8 hours a day sitting next to are not even in it.  Are we using technology to strengthen long distance ties at the expense of local ones?

So what am I getting kids ready for?  My kids are destined to grow up paying someone else to change their car oil, cook their food, raise their food, repair their sink, cut their lawn and install their pre-fab shed. They will grow up buying products that are expected to be replaced in a few years, expecting we should treat health problems and not prevent them, and that hard work is done in their head, not with their hands.  My kids are always shocked when I tell them that their shoes were once alive in a field…ok, maybe standing knee deep in a feed lot.  They are amazed when we put seeds into pots in the spring that plants come out a week later.  They can write better than kids could when I was their age.  They know more about the world, math, science, and current events than kids when I was their age. Kids have become better students, but does that translate to better humans.   I wonder if they lack the knowledge, connections and skills to deal with their most basic needs.

As my students and I  attempt to not let the world pass us by, I only hope that we can become more connected to one another, the present, our immediate surroundings, and the emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual needs of those that we spend our time with everyday.  I only hope that we find some balance in our quest to prepare for and create the future.

A couple hundred years ago where I live each community was somewhat self-sufficient.  Each person in the community needed the community to survive.  There is this myth of the small self-sufficient farmer,  a check of records left behind shows clearly that that any person might be in a web of 75 other families that they all relied on in some way for survival.  This ended when people realized that their neighbors were “passing them by” and acquiring new technologies and material things that then they also felt they “needed.”  In order to keep up with their neighbors, communities shifted to looking outside their normal connections, and communities far beyond their borders and shifted the products they produced so they could buy new products that others started producing.  This led to massive shifts in gender equality,  roles of family members, skills needed to survive,  products they produced, how and where they marketed their products, how many days and hours kids went to school, and the quest for luxury items that now were becoming “needed” in order for families to keep up their status amongst their neighbors.  All of the roads to progress and their new future led away from their family and community.  There was this feeing that if they did not get on the road with everyone else, they would soon be passed by.  Eventually they no longer needed to even know how to make soup, they could just buy some in a can from people like Joesph Campbell.  They no longer needed their community.

Some days I wish I could put up a wall and let the world pass us by.  Some days I wish we could all just focus on making “soup” together.   I can survive without google docs, skype, glogster, blogs, and wikis…but I can’t survive without my “soup.”  Someday I think we will look back and realize we missed a chance to teach what is really important, the chance to teach things that really make a difference, the chance to create the future.  In our quest to not be left behind, we will have missed the chance to create a future in which fairness, love, and happiness prevail.  Technology is simply allowing us to supersize what we are currently doing.  Why are we trying to get our kids to be more creative?  Have better math skills?  Improve their reading comprehension?  So they will be more marketable…so they can create products for the market?  I am suppose to produce students who will have the knowledge and skills to create new things that can be sold to make someone money and keep our economy going. Every class and skill that does not directly lead to that possibility of improving the economy has been removed from the curriculum.

I am not suggesting we should let the world pass us by. But maybe we can take a different road to the future.  A road to becoming better humans, not better students, not better employees.  I do try to incorporate field trips down this alternative road to the future for my kids as much as possible.  I do keep it’s location off the map for fear of it getting blocked.  When my kids leave me they will be put back on other roads to race to the future and will have to attempt to not let anyone pass, it’s all about being in the lead…being first…racing to the top.  If they pull over for a nice bowl of soup and meet someone who says “No soup for you,” I hope they will turn, laugh, and remember there is another road they could travel, a road on which there are people walking, sitting, helping one another along.  A road in which doesn’t lead to the top, but leads to fairness, love, and happiness.  Pinch me…am I dreaming?

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