Writing is an Itch. This is a place to scratch.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Education as Soul-Craft: Supplement to previous post: Resistance is Better Pedagogy

Based on some comments to my last post, both here and via email, I make the following comment which may help to clarify and supplement the point I was trying to make in my previous post: RBP: Resistance is Better Pedagogy.
R. Rivera

Having taught for almost 14 years, I can prove that teachers can captivate, engage, and even revolutionize, positively, the souls of young people with little or no technology use at all, and without needing to transform education into cool and trendy edutainment. Among my most successful teaching strategies utilizes the ancient Socratic question - answer method, and uses, or needs to use, little technology. The only requirement is a brain.

I love the wonderful things technology can do just as much as anyone, and when appropriate I use it in the classroom. But just because a technology or trend is new and popular does not mean it is good of itself, nor that schools and teachers should accommodate it. Conversely, just because something is old doesn't mean it's bad or outdated for teaching methods.

Now let me say something even more dangerous. I do not think that education in America should primarily be about meeting the needs of the market (to keep America strong and on top of the world, which is what I keep hearing from politicians and the business community), or accommodating to youth trends as the way (we are told) to educate them most effectively.

I concede that education should prepare young people to succeed in a world constantly being changed by technology and market trends. When certain jobs are doomed in America and shipped overseas, it only makes sense that young people know this and seek skills appropriate to those changes.

But a central feature of education should be similar to what the ancient Greeks thought of as soulcraft: the development of people who know the world in something approaching accuracy, who hold a worldview in something approaching honesty, and live by an inward character in something approaching charity.

My concern in education is that our culture is largely not conducive to education as soulcraft (unless there are conscious efforts to do otherwise). Education as soulcraft is, I would argue, even more important than trends adaptation or being technically savvy. What good is education that makes a person who knows all about what's cool and may even create the next technological or cultural phenomenon, but functions as if he/she has no knowledge the golden rule?

Norman Rockwell, "The Law Student." What I find interesting in Rockwell's rendition of a law student, are the pictures that surround the humble study space: Abraham Lincoln. This indicates that becoming a lawyer was, for this young person, more than about the lucrative living to be made. It was about truth, justice, and liberty. It was about serving not just self but others. Whatever you think about Lincoln, it is the motivating idea that I am trying to point out here. Here we see in one picture, what I mean by education as soulcraft.

Believe me, I've read those who argue that schools should eschew attempts at education as soulcraft. And yes, I am well aware that every generation complains about where the current generation is headed. I even see some merit to arguments that amount to "When in Rome..." But the Roman Empire is no longer around, and the results we are seeing from current trends don't appear too promising.

I'm reminded of the old definition of insanity (attributed to Einstein): namely, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.


Kelly said...


I understand what you're saying and agree!
Sadly, what the world is lacking these days, is soul.

We need to find a way to bring it into the forefront of all our actions and thoughts and then, perhaps, the world will improve, let alone the educational system.

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Here here. No matter what, I intend to deliver soul food to my students and I am determined that as they pass a year with me, they are going to get it, whether I have to squeeze it in somehow between the Promethean board and all the other technology toys they are exposed to! EXCELLENT POST!!!!! Moi

Jacqueline said...

Jacqueline and Gretta say AMEN! Your voice, needs to be heard!

Nezzy said...

I am retired Special Ed. now, that's a horse of a different color. Each and every student has his or her own IEP and my motto was...whatever it takes. Now, this Ozark Farm Chick can be very creative.

Whatever works baby!!!

I think the trend I see happening that disturbs me the most in regular classrooms is teaching for the proficiency tests. I see teachers flyin' through curriculum and the student not getting the repetition they need to store a new concept in their long term memory. Just sayin..........

Ya'll have a remarkably blessed day!!!

David Kim said...

Ruben, as a student, I greatly appreciate your past two posts. A group of us actually went to see "Waiting for Superman" and had a fantastic discussion afterwards.

What concerned me most about the film was the animation of the teacher opening the students' heads, pouring in "knowledge," and closing them. This "banking model" of education, as Freire calls it, reduces my human agency. Why does the teacher get to "fill" my mind with information without challenge? Who validates that information? Why am I not a legitimized contributor to the learning process?

When I reflect on my experience in the public school system, I feel robbed of authentic education. Even at college (Bethel), I often find myself distraught with the irony of "Christian higher education" that costs 37k a year and often produces the same or arguably more complicit drones of capitalism that secular institutions do. Dialectical thought is implicitly forbidden; to read James Cone-the giant of a theologian-is a marginal activity, despite the fact that we both claim to serve Jesus Christ. The censorship of curriculum that occurs in these spaces is anti-educational; I would go so far as to say that if students are not exposed to the pockets of dialogue that occur here, the experience for them is one of indoctrination, not education.

That said, here is my question: How do we, as students (and sympathetic staff/faculty) seeking education for critical consciousness, create spaces for our development, especially considering the forces that would seek to prevent us from doing so? In other words, because "Resistance is better pedagogy," as Ruben said, how do we make "soulcraft" happen? Because as long as I do not have it in abundance, I will suffer.