Friday, January 22, 2010


flickr CC image via ms. Tea

Uncontrolled Thoughts on Control:

Students don't often fit very well into the assessment categories we have established. They develop at their own pace, reach milestones on their terms and hold a perspective that is theirs alone and impossible for us to decipher, yet when we are pressed to evaluate their progress, we do so in comparison to benchmark standards that we as educators have subjectively designated.

When educators prescribe standards of achievement that target a classic Gaussian Probability Distribution, or bell curve outcome, we are essentially rejecting the quantum possibilities that originate within the standard deviations that fall outside the curve.

Virtually any black swan event in history that I'm aware of originated outside the curve, so to speak. Genuinely earth shattering ideas don't often originate somewhere in the mean.

Perhaps in our quest for ultimate control over student outcomes, we have actually lost control... that is, any amount that may have been within our grasp in the realm of learning and its infinite possibilities.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Gender Equity?

The original post here was published on January 19, 2010. Much has changed since that day regarding the way we perceive gender and how that impacts people in schools. I have updated the post, and invite any and all feedback...

Today as I sat listening to Dr. Leonard Sax, author of "Why Gender Matters" and "Boys Adrift," I found myself reflecting on the issue of gender equality in schools. I struggle to understand what the term 'gender equity' should mean to education; what are the pedagogical implications of this term? Is our goal to preserve an educational environment that produces equal proportions of academically successful boys and girls, or should we be targeting an educational environment that promotes optimal academic performance of both boys and girls in a gender specific context without worrying so much which gender is 'in the lead'?

*Today, January 17, 2022 roughly 12 years after this post was written, much has changed in how we perceive and approach gender issues in schools. Gender equity now includes a myriad of gender identities beyond the gender binary perspective we were relatively locked into back then. Regarding "equity" in schools, we are now responsible to recognize and ensure all people are represented with a requisite and consistent degree of respect and acceptance.

It's not a mystery that boys and girls are different. Gender differences are obviously very prominent within the human race. Generally speaking, boys and girls think, speak and act differently... in my opinion this is a reality worthy of celebration. A diverse environment that combines both the male and female perspectives seems to me to be one that would lead to some really good creative and integrative thinking. In the education system however, I'm not sure that we celebrate gender differences.

*We certainly did not; not even when we basically recognized gender binary as the only norm. Today we recognize that there are multiple representations of gender among the people we share our time and space with in schools every day.

The pull toward the mean in education is an omnipresent reality. This  principle seems to overshadow how we look at the achievement of boys and girls exclusive of each other; we judge them both by the same criteria... we target an achievement curve based on a curriculum that doesn't delineate between the achievement of boys compared to girls; we teach and judge boys and girls on the same criteria. I think we may be doing a disservice to both as a result. What if educators were to know more about how boys and girls learn differently, and understand that because of this, they also need to be assessed differently? Would this new awareness lead to improved practise and more vibrant teaching?

*Updating my perspective on the above, I believe that people learn differently... no matter what they identify as, no matter what their pronouns are, all need to be understood on their terms so we can work most effectively in support of their learning needs.

Something Dr. Sax said this morning is resonating with me. He said "if you understand gender differences, you can then break down gender stereotypes." I believe teachers need to be more aware of the differences between boys and girls, how they learn and how they should be assessed. This 'understanding of gender differences' would serve not only to break down gender stereotypes, but also to facilitate the diverse, creative and integrative learning environment I believe we should be moving toward. Perhaps we should be less attuned to the gaps between performance based on non-gender specific outcomes, and more concerned about teaching in a gender specific context that recognizes and celebrates the nuances of the male and female perspectives. We should be taking measures and making adjustments to accommodate both boys and girls in school, and then observe how these efforts alter the achievement gap between them.

*In today's terms, the above should read... Perhaps we should be less attuned to the gaps between performance based on non-gender specific outcomes, and more concerned about teaching in a gender specific context that recognizes and celebrates the nuances of all gender perspectives. We should be taking measures and making adjustments to accommodate everyone in school, and then observe how these efforts alter the achievement gaps between them.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Black Swans...

The "Black Swan"  by Nassim Nicholas Taleb is one of the most thought provoking and brilliant books I have ever read. Taleb uses the term 'black swan' to describe a highly unpredictable event that, having occurred, is treated as if it was highly predictable. Often we will say about this sort of occurence that "we saw that one coming," or "it was bound to happen sooner or later." We seem to have an intense need to justify, predict and control everything that happens in our chaotic world. If contemporary, western society was to make a summative statement intended to describe our point of view within the realm of science, our scientific raison d'etre, I believe the statement would read something like, "control; that is our science."

 Random Thoughts on Randomness:
  • The perpetual urgency we feel to understand, rationalize, analyze and manipulate our world may very-well be the element of our consciousness that is preventing us from truly and deeply understanding our world.
  • Re. the "order" of our world... what if disorder is actually the natural order and our compulsion toward control and manipulation of everything is what drives us further and further away from this naturally occurring "disordered" state?
  • Releasing our compulsion toward controlling everything may very well create an environment where we are open to possibilities previously considered impossible.
  • Transformation is possible, however, change that transforms is impossible when we operate in a context of right and wrong... true intellect is the willingess to admit that we know little, and that we have everything to learn. The space between right and wrong, and perhaps even more importantly, the space beyond right and wrong contain the undiscovered truths I'm interested in finding.
  • Assuming the world exists in a random and disordered state, positing that this is actually the natural order of our world elicits a cosmic irony.
I'm a teacher, and my intent with this post is to initiate a dialogue exploring the spectrum from randomness to order.

Traditional educational models include many practices designed to control outcomes of the teaching and learning continuum. This is our 'order.' Every day I'm confronted with the responsibility and necessity to evaluate student progress. This may very well be the ultimate challenge for teachers. We continually ask ourselves what our students know, and how they can prove it to us so we may make a statement about what they have achieved; how much knowledge they have absorbed. All of this is juxtapositioned against the standards we have established for this knowledge; our curriculum. By doing so we're essentially establishing control over what students learn, how they learn it and how they display their learning. What if this particular form of order and control process is the wrong way to do it? What would be the alternative? I don't have the answers to either of these questions, but perhaps you do...

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Why is it always about the funding?

flickr Cc image via Images_of_Money

In the business of teaching and learning it seems to always be about the money. Whenever a desire to improve the practise or quality of the education system emerges, it isn't long before the calculators are fired up and we're attempting as quickly as we can to put a price on the reform. Not surprisingly, government funding sources propose the cheapest way to achieve the reform goal, and teacher unions demand maximum financial support. This continuum perpetuates every year at budget time and the battle of wits begins; the ministry wants the biggest bang for their buck, and the profession cries foul in its claim that the job can't be done without more cash.

Understanding that politics is politics, (party agendas, personal political aspirations, fiscal realities and the never-ending quest for power are obvious factors that affect not just the funding of education, but every publicly funded institution,) when it comes to education reform, I'm left pondering a different consciousness. What if those of us who are passionate about teaching and learning purposefully asked ourselves what could be done to improve education that wouldn't cost a dime?

Obviously funds are required to support many elements of the education system. Teachers need to get paid, resources need to be supplied and schools need to be built and maintained, however, when it comes to ideas supporting better practise, I would submit that perhaps the best education reforms require no financial support whatsoever.

As intelligent professionals who know tacitly what works and what doesn't in their classrooms and schools, teachers typically integrate and synthesize their philosophical thoughts in an effort to reform their personal practise and refine their craft. I've also had enough professional conversations with my teaching colleagues to know that collectively, we also have a lot to say about how these efforts can be extrapolated to a broader education reform context. I want to hear from any teacher who believes they have an idea that could improve the way teachers teach and students learn, and that doesn't require a penny of funding to do so.

Please share your ideas here, however simple or complex, or you can respond by following me on Twitter @graingered

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Brilliant Words of Prof. Herbert W. Vilakazi

flickr CC image via Dave_B_

Unifying values and practice in child and youth care programmes:

"The problems of children and of youth, giving rise to child and youth care programs, can only begin to be solved in that society of humankind’s dream; a more collective-oriented society than at present, when the father of the child shall be every man as old as the child’s father; when the mother of the child shall be every woman as old as the child’s mother; a society of responsibility of the entire community; a society without poverty; without the inequalities of society members, based upon race, class, or sex; a society without the use of violence against other members of society; a society without any exploitation and oppression of any group by any other group; a society of equals; a thoroughly democratic society; last, but not least a society that shall have, once more, incorporated productive labour into the educational process."

The notion that children are our future is undeniable. It is from the minds and souls of children that every future discovery, every idea, every solution and all hope will come. Herbert Vilakazi's opening address to the National Association of Child Care Workers 1991 Biennial Conference ( in South Africa provides brilliant insight to how we need to think and act if we are to support today's children as our gifts to the future.

We cannot know where the next Beethoven, Einstein or Mother Teresa will come from. Great things are possible, and probable as human history has proven. Educators today need to support children's natural curiosity and spirit to learn in ways that don't stifle or restrict their potential to do these great things. The world we know is changing, and it always has, but not at the rate or in the manner we are witnessing today. Today, in the midst of what amounts to a perfect storm within the social, political, geographical, technological and economic realms of the new global society, transformational change is inevitable. To deny this would be ridiculous. To deny that we as citizens of the emerging global society must be proactive to ensure the transformation is managed effectively, and results in an improved society, would be even more ridiculous. 

Within his 1991 address, Professor Vilakazi touches on what I believe to be the key to managing the transformation of our world. With respect to the issue of caring for children he states that,
We are not further along, than peasant culture, in our knowledge of child psychology. What we should do, in our efforts to increase and improve our knowledge of child psychology, is not only to study what our specialists child psychologists have written, but also to go out to learn, and collect, and record, and collate carefully, the psychological and psychoanalytic theory of childhood contained in peasant cultures, and to integrate or synthesize the two. This applies to all spheres of knowledge.
I believe Vilakazi is saying that there is contemporary wisdom to be gained through modern scientific processes that will help us continue to learn and develop insight into how to maximize our support for children, but also that there exists timeless wisdom yet to be acknowledged by contemporaries about how caregivers have effectively supported children since the beginning of mankind. It is the integrative nature of combining the two spheres of wisdom that would allow us the largest capacity to package our 'gifts to the future' so the promises we intend them to offer will be fully realized.

Our human tendency to debate opposing ideologies without apology until one is accepted by a majority resulting in a "winning" idea or concept is counter-intuitive to progress. On the contrary, the integrative mind understands that within the current change climate we find ourselves immersed in, our viability as a global society will depend on a synthesis of ideas that should not be considered dichotomous, but rather complementary to one another. By taking two or more perspectives on effective and positive child development and combining their best elements into a synthesized hybrid of all of them, a new paradigm is born, and those who brought each perspective to the process no longer operate independently and in defense of their point of view, but rather interdependently in support of each other and the best possible course of action.

I believe that our children will be best prepared for the future when we as KARE-givers are able to move to an interdependent and proactive paradigm of child development that acknowledges and celebrates diverse thoughts and theories no matter where, and from what point in history they originate.
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