This story involves divergent points-of-view common in American society. Often oversimplified as political opinion.
The political aspect is about how freedom should be defined. As a right accorded everyone, or an opportunity for those trained and working to achieve it.
High school principal Jack is in the “opportunity” camp.
To him, all actions result in reactions. Life is challenging and schools must prepare students to react well.
Cause and effect.
To Jack, reacting well is using effective techniques in a disciplined manner. Those who react well are trained thoroughly and possess the self-discipline to use their training effectively.
Like football players. Their cause is winning, so the effect is a team that uses fundamentals well.
Losing is the result of not staying true to fundamentals. Of allowing someone to forget or reject them. Or get too creative.
Jack used that philosophy when he coached football.
The “teacher as coach” principle was advocated by Ted Sizer in his Essential Schools model. But only in the context of ensuring no student is allowed to fail.
To Sizer, fundamentals are fluid and interactive. Not sacrosanct truisms.
They can shift when new strategies are needed. Created by both leaders and followers when circumstances require different ways of thinking and acting.
If following fundamentals causes a team to lose, it is time to think differently. To be creative. To face a different challenge in a novel way.
This is the essence of 21st Century living. This is the reason we need a new learning infrastructure.
Creativity and following fundamentals are not opposing curricular principles.
Constructing curricula that proves that point is the challenge facing Barbara and those serving on the language arts subject area committee.
Barbara Guides Discussion Toward a New Level of Discernment – Part 13
Jack’s comment at the end of yesterday’s meeting lessened the enthusiasm. Before his remark, connecting technology to language arts sounded like a way to open the door to creativity via project learning.
I asked Jack to elaborate on his position. He looked apologetic and said, “I didn’t mean to shut down discussion, because I do understand the importance of creativity in a curriculum. Many teachers in my school agree. They use project teaching and learning activities in their classrooms.
“My comment comes from a concern. Are we lowering academic rigor our graduates need to compete in post-secondary programs and higher education?
“As important as creativity is, there is still a need for competence in basic skills and knowledge areas.
“If the pandemic proved anything, our society needs more technicians, carpenters, electricians, mechanics, plumbers, and IT specialists.”
Jennifer, the technology specialist, said she couldn’t agree more.
“But” she added, “technology is evolving in ways that require insight and an ability to communicate effectively.
“The real world of work is not a static thing. It probably never was.
“Workers do not robotically do the same thing every day in any vocation or profession. Upgrades in devices and processes are constant, making the need for education and training ongoing.
“What is true today may be different tomorrow. I’m excited about the possibility of more project teaching and learning, mixed with technology as a baseline for many subjects we teach.
“In fact, I think we should use technical reading and writing as a baseline for our language arts curriculum. Which may require us to modify those terms.
“The standard definition of technical writing offered online by Your Dictionary is this:
‘Technical writing is a type of writing where the author is writing about a particular subject that requires direction, instruction, or explanation. This style of writing has a very different purpose and different characteristics than other writing styles such as creative writing, academic writing, or business writing.’
“Based on that definition, what I suggest may sound crazy. But I think all communication is explanatory.
“Technical writing does indeed ‘explain,’ but the same is true of creative, academic, and business writing.
“Creative writing requires an ability to explain so readers can identify with the storyline, which is a departure from reality. The writer must explain a new reality in ways readers can intellectually or emotionally grasp.
“In other words, creating is never totally disconnected from human understanding. There must be a link someplace.
“Academic writing is typically founded in research activities or findings. Academic thinking is influenced by both its findings and hypotheses that initiated scholarly investigation in the first place.
“Proving a hypothesis through rigorous investigation is especially challenging if that hypothesis comes from an intellect stimulated by seemingly untethered curiosity.
“Business writing ranges from the preparation of tech manuals to memoranda. I have read hundreds of them. To me, the most effective are those that use stimulating verbiage, relevant examples, and a convincing writing style.
“In fact, much business writing is now found on social media and web pages that creatively inform through use of graphics, videos, and other entertaining visual effects.
“All effective writing, technical or not, directs and instructs readers. It guides them toward new ways of thinking and behaving.
“How to use tools is a direction or instruction. But so is writing that tells us how to better appreciate ballet, paintings, music, government, philosophy, and other elements of human learning.
“Reading what is written is valuable only when it changes us.”
We stared at Jennifer. Her arguments amazingly thought-provoking. Board member Bryon looked at the ceiling. Jack doodled on a legal pad.
Finally, special educator Joan spoke up.
“You know,” Joan said, “what Jennifer said resonates with me as a special educator. Students categorized as special, whether gifted or cognitively challenged, need tangibility. Something concrete to connect their learning to. An idea that makes sense. A piece of knowledge or skill that somehow gives them intellectual or emotional comfort.
“In fact, we all need to respond that way for the sake of retention. If learning is the impetus underlying changes in behavior, as John Dewey believed, our curriculum must be written and taught with that objective in mind.”
I asked everyone on the SAC what they thought.
Music teacher Don said, “My head hurts. If we move in the direction Jennifer suggests, my courses in music appreciation will be dropped in favor of developing playing and performance skills.”
I asked SAC members to pursue that idea a bit further in music and all other subjects, with language arts at the core.
Not an easy decision. Some on the committee were obviously confused or overwhelmed.
©2021 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved