Sunday, December 6, 2015

Why wait?

It's probably the best question I've seen someone ask in weeks, and it will be my little energizer for the months ahead.

Why wait?

Bill Ferriter may not realize it, but he pointed me at this post by Chase Mielke and this sentence within it:

If an end goal of education is to create skilled, altruistic citizens, why wait until after a student's post-secondary training?

Mielke blogs at Affective Living; he's developed a pretty strong brand for himself, and he is a master of the kind of relentless positivity that would make him an easy target for mockery if it were not coupled with plenty of in-the-classroom practicality. And while his writing sometimes turns up in some places that I'm inclined not to read, he can turn a phrase, and I always respect a well-turned phrase.

This particular piece was dealing with real-world projects for groups of students, but you can see that this question has application far beyond that.

All too often we fall into the habit of thinking that we are preparing students for the future. "I touch the future," and so on. We get to thinking that we are loading up the students brains like little backpacks that they will eventually take on a big journey-- but for right now, they're sitting here in our classroom, their journey not yet begun.

One of my pet peeves is people who "only" student activities. "Don't worry about it," they'll say. "They're only kids. It's only a student production. It's only a high school concert." Why "only"? This is so often used as an excuse not to try, not to really back the students up, not to give them the kind of support we'd give a "real" project.

If we want them to become Life Long Learners, should we not now be teaching them to learn the way a life long learner does? And do life long learners learn by getting canned assignments from teachers that culminate in bubble tests with random attainments in life depending on the standardized test results?

If we want them to be intelligent, responsible, pro-active members of society-- well, is there any reason they can't be intelligent, responsible, pro-active members of society right now? Do we want them to grow up to be compliant sheep? Because if we don't, why would we demand that they behave like compliant sheep now?

If we want them to embrace their power and exercise it wisely and well, why would strip them of all power now?

If we want them to be leaders, why would we want to make them behave like followers every day?

If we have all these qualities and attainments and achievements and qualities that we know we want them to wield as they move through the world, well-- what are we waiting for?

Why wait?

Why not now?

I'm not saying hand a five year old an arc welder or put a twelve-year-old in charge of the confidential record-keeping for the district. But isn't odd how quickly and easily that, for our own comfort and convenience, we demand of our students the very qualities that we would never want them to display as adults and deny them the exercise of the qualities and capabilities that we hope they will carry through the rest of their lives?

They are citizens of the world, right now, today. If we want them to be altruistic, skilled, responsible, thoughtful, wise, and active citizens, what are we waiting for? We have more tools available than ever to connect our students to their world and to empower them to be real citizens today.

Why wait?


  1. Dear Mr. Greene:

    Yes, very true, and, as you all know, before we got into this “No Child's Behind Left” situation, we did important projects with students all the time. I created a Composting Project in the 90s which was done in two schools along with garden projects, so I have personal experience with teaching the cycle of growth and decay on which the whole planet runs with 7 and 8 year olds.

    On the other hand you've said THE PHRASE. I'm making a call here for a group order for bumperstickers. They'll say, “I Teach. I've touched the future. I had to wash my hands afterward!” Or the like, maybe “...EWWW! ICK! Never again!”

    I'm not kidding. I've got Bronchitis. I've missed 4 days of school this last week because I teach Elementary Art, and 5-6 year old students come up to me, wait for my attention, and when I turn to them, they cough in my face. Not complaining, just facts.


  2. Do you have a theory as to why this future and not present oriented mindset is so prevalent? Back in 1991 when I was knee deep in cooperative learning training sessions, I recall a situation with a third grade teacher who was also in the workshop trying to tell me what I should "put" during a round robin exercise. For a story grid, we were on the location column, and I said, "A beach in Sri Lanka" and she stopped me and said, "No, put foreign country." I was irked. This scenario relates to your question. Real world scenarios are harder for some people to manage. You can't easily control what students master. We all know that kids will integrate the experience individually. This scares a lot of educators. The teacher in my story was stressed out at a time when we were supposed to be having fun. Open endedness is inherent in real-world learning. There are too many people who can't stomach it. Kinda like liver pizza. Moreover, "capturing" that learning as a data point is nearly impossible. I guess I have my won theory as to why people say, "Wait."