Wednesday, July 6, 2016

I Seem To Be A Verb...

I have recently become more familiar with the life and times of Buckminster Fuller. When I think deeply about the spirit of inquiry, I find it useful to learn about those who personify it, and Buckminster, or "Bucky" as he was oft referred to, had to be a premium example.

In his 1970 book I Seem To Be a Verb, he wrote,
I live on Earth at present, and I don't know what I am. I know that I am not a category. I am not a thing—a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process—an integral function of the universe. Buckminster Fuller
This quote reminded me of  Robert Sylwester, another individual that beyond a shadow of a doubt for me, personifies the spirit of inquiry, I think mostly because of the Buckminster Fuller reference to "being a verb." Verbs connote actions, or movement. In another post here I explained that we (human beings) are in constant motion; traveling in simultaneous physical, psychological, emotional and cognitive realms. Robert Sylwester characterizes this need to be in motion ...
The planning, regulation, and prediction of movements are the principal reasons for a brain. Plants are as biologically successful as animals, but they don’t have a brain. An organism that’s not going anywhere of its own volition doesn’t need a brain. It doesn’t even need to know where it is. What’s the point? Being an immobile plant does have its advantages however. Plants don’t have to get up every day and go to work because they’re already there. 
On the other hand, if an organism has legs, wings, or fins, it needs a sensory system that will inform it about here and there, a make-up-its-mind system to determine whether here is better than there or there is better than here, and a motor system to get it to there if that’s the better choice – as it is, alas, when we have to go to work.
I think that learning can be described as movement; multiple journeys over a lifetime in the simultaneous physical, psychological, emotional and cognitive realms. I believe the process of inquiry provides us with opportunities to travel the most engaging pathways on these journeys, perhaps fortunately, the ones less traveled by.

Buckminster Fuller and Robert Sylwester both present learning as a process that does not stand still. Young children certainly understand that learning doesn't stand still. They have a hard time standing still for any reason. Moving and evolving (aka learning) is a natural state for kids. In another post here I addressed the natural learning tendencies of preschool kids. Kids have massive learning potential in the first five years of life before educators even meet them in kindergarten. Kids are curious, inquisitive and unafraid for the most part to make learning mistakes. Play is learning for them in these formative years. Virtually everything they do at this stage of life teaches them something. It seems like Buckminster and Robert are on to something

My friend Michael Josefowicz (@toughloveforx) is another inquiry addict that exemplifies the inquiry process. He is often heard using the term "groan ups" to describe adults who have lost the curious, inquisitive and 'unafraid to make a mistake ' perspective that kids display in the preschool years. Those among us who have abandoned this innocent and effective kinetic learning perspective for more logical, sensible and appropriate adult 'stand still' learning paradigms are disadvantaged in my opinion. They have lost their childlike perspective toward learning, and the magical world of questions without obvious and filtered answers becomes foreign, unsafe and anxiety inducing. They don't want to travel there. This is rather sad, I think.

Those among us who have maintained a rather innocent, some may say unsophisticated inquiry perspective are privileged to travel to the magical world of questions without obvious and unfiltered answers whenever we want. And those among this lucky group who are doubly fortunate to work with kids as they journey to the same place find it easier and more natural to learn with, and teach kids. They are like open minded travel agents of learning. They get to collaborate on the travel itinerary with their subjects, and go on the trip as well.

I think it's very important that we "groan ups" stay in touch with our childlike perspectives toward learning and teaching like Buckminster Fuller, Robert Sylwester and Michael Josefowicz have. Doing so provides perpetually clear pathways to unencumbered and open inquiry where mistakes and 'being wrong' set us off in new learning directions as opposed to dead ends. and where we can more effectively connect and relate to the little people who are already traveling there. They are the ones getting to work, as Sylwester says, using their brains to very naturally be the verbs that Fuller imagined himself to be.  

Monday, July 4, 2016

Fair Isn't Equal; Equal Isn't Fair

adjective \ˈfer\
  • agreeing with what is thought to be right or acceptable
  • treating people in a way that does not favor some over others
  • not too harsh or critical
"Fair." Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.

adjective \ˈē-kwəl\
  • the same in number, amount, degree, rank, or quality
  • having the same mathematical value
  • not changing : the same for each person
"Equal." Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.

If something is to be fair according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary it has to be 'right' and 'acceptable,' and it has to avoid favoritism and overtly directed criticism.

If something is to be equal according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary it has to be measured in 'sameness' and cannot change.

Seems pretty simple. What I'm thinking about a lot lately though, is the lack of simplicity in these definitions as they move from Merriam-Webster to practice in the world. In many cases it appears  that something can be perceived as very fair, but perhaps not very equal. It also appears that some things can be perceived as very equal, but not very fair.

Another word that inevitably enters the debate around fair vs. equal to make matters even more confusing is 'equity.'

noun eq·ui·ty \ˈe-kwə-tē\
  • fairness or justice in the way people are treated
"Equity." Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.

Equity reflects what we do. It's a noun. Equity is what results when we're able as individuals or groups to treat people fairly and in just ways. Because fair is not necessarily equal, I think that we can say that equity may contain elements of being equal, but being equal is not required to create equity.

When it comes to schools, few would argue that kids will thrive when allowed to learn in fair and just environments, especially if we're to accept that it would be very difficult to ensure that all schools were 'equal' in the way they operate on a daily basis.

At question is how we can ensure our schools are equitable when we know they can't be equal. There are many things about how schools operate that teachers and others who work in schools don't have a great deal of control over. On the other hand though, teachers and others who work in schools have a great deal of control over the ways they interact with kids, how they support them, teach them and how much they care about them. They have a brilliant opportunity every day to care in conscious ways.

conscious caring
  • the act of deciding how to treat people in fair and just ways so things can be righteous and acceptable

The depth and sophistication of care for kids in schools depends largely on how 'conscious' we who work in them are about the ways that we deliver this care. In order to do this effectively and positively, we need to learn the stories behind our students' stories, what I call their "learning stories."

When we make the effort to learn about a student's history we gain a sense of "so that's why we see what we see..." or "it makes so much sense now..." in the present. This insight provides clues and intelligence regarding the child's present state of learning, but more importantly, how and why that state is evident. It takes the guessing away from the process of assessing kids, and it levels the playing field for them as a result of us ceasing to make assumptions about their present learning capacity that invariably could be very wrong without the background evidence. We make these assumptions in schools, and it's not good practice.

We make assumptions about variables like family background, capacity to learn, social dynamics etc. and how they affect a child's ability to learn, often without investigating them thoroughly. We discriminate against kids at times because of these assumptions, and in doing so, restrict them from optimized learning. I've heard statements like "his brother was bad so I think I'm in trouble next year with that one." When such assumptions go mainstream we get stereotypes like "boys don't learn that way," or "girls don't learn that way," or "kids in this community will never achieve as high as the ones on the other side of town." These assumptions and stereotypes are barriers to maximum levels of learning for any student victimized by them, an any student can be victimized by them at any time if we aren't totally committed to preventing this from happening. This is why the 'EDUkare' imperative is so important. Any child at any time can be considered at risk of diminished learning potential if we make assumptions about how they learn (or not) and why (or why not) learning is occurring in the absence of evidence and data to support the perspective. Invariably then, without evidence, any child can be considered "at risk" when unsubstantiated assumptions are made about their learning story. These assumptions create a learning environment that is unstable and based on opinion as opposed to objectivity and fairness. This is the basis for the term EDUkare, "educating kids from at risk environments, and EDUkare learning contexts can take many forms as long as the raison d'etre is optimized learning for every single student.

So I think the pathway to practicing fairness and equality as educators is to believe that all kids can learn no matter the variables and no matter the risk, and to deliver pedagogy that celebrates equally every single one of the diverse learners we are privileged to teach. This conscious caring forms the framework perspective to support equitable teaching and learning. It helps us pursue the answers to how and why learning is, or is not occurring. So here's the formula where 'E' is equality (the same and not changing for anyone, aka totally conscious levels of care for every child), 'F' is fairness (righteous pedagogy that does not discriminate) and 'Eq' is equity (a completely just and supportive learning environment for every individual learner.


Sunday, July 3, 2016

Exclusion Is Like A One Way Window...

Exclusion by Gabriel Kronisch, on Flickr
"Exclusion" (CC BY 2.0) by  Gabriel Kronisch

I'm feeling pretty down today. I haven't written here in a very long time, but today I feel like I have to in an attempt to understand what is really, really bothering me on the deepest levels of my soul; exclusion, and the heartache that goes with it every time.

It's hit me pretty close to home recently on different levels, but no more powerfully than during the past few days when the most caring, dedicated and accepting person I know on earth has been crushed through a single act of exclusion committed by a person who would have previously been considered a very unlikely perpetrator.

I have always thought of exclusion as the absolute most insidious form of bullying. I've been victimized by it myself many times, and so have many people I love. If I do one thing as a husband, father, teacher, mentor, coach etc, I strive to ensure that nobody has to feel the emotional pain and stress that accompanies being excluded. Once it's already happened though, it is so hard to know what to do in support of healing and recovery.

Excluding another human being in whatever form is nearly every time perceived as an indictment against the person being excluded. People tend to look down at those who are placed on the outside, some starting there and remaining there, others pushed out from the crowd who were once accepted. This is so wrong. Individuals and groups that exclude others are those who should be indicted because their form of bullying very often goes unnoticed, or occurs in an unspoken manner. It's like a one way window... on one side is the exclusive person or group, their inclusion on display  totally visible to everyone. If they had labels hanging from their wrists, they would say "I belong." On the other side of the one way window are the excluded. They have labels on their wrists that say "I don't belong," but their feelings of rejection are magnified by the fact that nobody even sees them. They suffer in isolation and stare longingly through the window at the others.  The people on that side of the glass go about their business without any taunting, rumor mongering, physical abuse or  taking any other obvious and identifiable actions toward the excluded, but it is heartrendingly obvious to them that they are not welcome or appreciated. They don't get mentioned, invited, hung out with, called on the phone, photographed... they remain silently aware of their isolation. It's all done so quietly. Others are often unaware. Something needs to be done.

To speak about specific personal circumstances where I have felt the pain of exclusion, or about other situations that I try to help others deal with will serve no purpose here. I only wish to vilify and condemn this form of bullying, one that happens everywhere, and is committed often by what many would consider the most unlikely of perpetrators. I believe, perhaps naively, that the underlying cause of bullying by exclusion is insecurity. Feeling a part of something, a relationship, a group of friends, a team or any other inclusive context is a healthy and necessary aspect for us humans. We are a social species. However, when we do in fact belong to one or more of these inclusive social contexts, but at the same time feel like we are threatened by others from outside of them, this has to be a sign of insecurity and fear. When we become defensive and proprietary about these contexts, it seldom turns out well for us or anyone else whether inside or outside the group. Relationships lacking trust, authenticity, honesty and diversity result.

To those feeling excluded, as hard as it is to accept your pain and your unanswered questions about why it's happening, know that people care. Know that there are many who have felt your pain, but most importantly that your feelings are normal and justified. It's not your fault. You are you and that's good enough for anyone worth your time and attention. Share your feelings with those who matter. Objectify your feelings and move on, as hard as it seems that might be to do, at least for now. You are supported.

 We have to learn how to appreciate the unique contributions that every single member of humanity has the capacity to make, respect each one, include each one and care for each one. There's enough room for everyone.
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