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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?

8 comments

  1. My post sure stirred up a lot of interesting ideas. The funny thing is, I don’t disagree with what you, Jabiz, or Jerrid wrote, but I also still believe I am right. I don’t see this as a “one or the other” kind of thing.

    I didn’t really explain my reasoning for creating a learning community online. I believe we need to create an awareness of the humanity of people in other countries. Like the conquistadors thought the Incans were less “human” than they were, I think our nation tends to elevate our citizenry above those from other countries.

    I also believe that familiarity breeds understanding (not contempt as the old maxim suggests.) It is much harder to be hateful to people that you know than ones you don’t. Think of this as a Marshal Plan with attitudes instead of money.

    Finally, I think our students need to understand the cultures and customs of other countries not because we will be competing with them economically, but because we will be partnering with them.

  2. Wow! What a post. Wow! I have read the whole thing twice now, and I still don’t know what to say. I know that this paragraph really stuck out for me:

    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.

    More and more I am seeing kids that maybe don’t need more technology, but need much much less, or maybe they just need to learn how to use it effectively when they do, but who am I to teach them that. I too am still trying to learn how to balance my life with the connections I have made.

    Somewhere along the way, I learned the power of a sunset, of swimming with a whaleshark, of driving in the middle of now where Africa, the ocean! In short, I learned how to live.

    Where are these kids learning these things? If I had my way, I would take a group of kids, bus, and six months to get lost in the world. But in the meantime here we all our in our traditional models of schools, so how do we bring the world to them?

    I agree we work with what we got, the one thing that makes us all human. We focus on building authentic relationships with the people we see everyday.

    I am rambling, I am sure this conversation will be going on for a while….

  3. Thanks for the great post.

    As I read these technology and global integration posts, I cannot help but feel that they are all still in search of the magic bullet that will save us from ourselves. We do need to take the time to make clear in our own minds what the top 3 problems are. Currently, these are problems of heart and spirit, not of method and tools. Changing how we do things is meaningless until we change why we do things.

    I think we all know this, yet we keep getting caught in examining and measuring the hows instead of the whys. It seems lazy, the easy way out. We don’t have to put ourselves on the line when measuring the hows, but when comparing our whys we are totally exposed down our core beliefs. Being challenged at that level can shake our foundation loose from under us.

    And, in a way, that’s what we need. We need the foundation to fall out already. We need it to come crashing down. The foundation that pushes competition over cooperation needs to be seen as antithetical to meeting our top 3 problems.

    To me, how we respond to situations comes naturally, organically out of why we do things to begin with. So I won’t worry about the how, only about the why.

  4. While I agree with you on many things, I have to say that this is one area where we disagree. I do not believe that teaching students to be prepared for the future comes at the expense of teaching them the virtues your hold dear. I do find it worrying that classes today are geared toward a stronger economy, but I do not believe that soup-making or plumbing or being able to fix old products is the way to go either. That sounds like simple Neo-Luddism.

    The technology we have is making the world a smaller place. Eventually, the world will be your small community, but I see no reason why a relationship with someone in the same school or the same city is any more valuable than one with someone from across the world. At least, when communicating with those who are very different from oneself, we can learn a great deal more than from those who share similar viewpoints and background.

    On happiness: Students should be able to choose between happiness and greatness, rather than being pushed down one road or the other.

  5. Great post Paul. I enjoy reading all your posts.

    I understand from the onset that you see both sides to this “debate”. I understand your main point in this is the building of relationships in your classroom is important or the soup. However, I see a contradiction here.

    Any detailed look into your work, clearly shows wikis, blogs, twitter, facebook, podcasts and more are important to the overall education of your students. You get the need to expose your students to the larger world, yet the work is really built by the relationships you build in your classroom. We all have to do both.

    We have to give our students a learning community in the room and then show them the window to the world and the larger stage. In most classes they will never see this world. They will see pencils and paper. They do not experience the world as it is changing in most school, but they do everywhere else outside the building.

    I think a quality education explains and shows the importance of both of these worlds. I often ask my students about how they want to be described when they are 80. They talk about begin good people, kind, helpful, caring, etc. They get that, but we also have to show them the world they will have to achieve that in.

    Your posts from the east coast and my typing in Ohio, show the power of both worlds. I have never talked with you, but I know you. I respect you and learn from you. You posts help me be a better teacher for my little classroom in Ohio, but without this ability, my classroom learning community would be something less, the soup without the meat.

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