I think we can all agree that failure is a pretty bad educational outcome. Doesn’t get much worse really. Of course, touting student failure as the new recipe for success is pretty trendy right now (seemingly riding the coat-tails of the “grit” movement) and seems to be everywhere promoted via pithy quotes from Thomas Eddison and Samuel Beckett. There’s no shortage of serious pundits either who talk about the need to let students fail. And of course they have a point. Everyone needs to learn the life lesson that we don’t always get things right on the first try; sometimes you have to keep trying before you get it right.
When thinking about the philosophy of teaching, there was one particular aspect of the text that struck me throughout the second half of On Liberty by John Stuart Mill, which continually resonates for me in the context of my own life: the need for balance while and during the act of expressing one’s individuality. Mill presents his notion of balance through the usage of detailed examples and within the context of living in a just society, but I am specifically interested in the notion of individuality as “a cultivation of self” and the ways in which the individual can achieve growth and progress within a democratic society that intrinsically embraces assimilation and conformation. I’m also curious about his ideas concerning the opinion of the majority and how he asserts that the voice of the majority is not necessarily useful for promoting individual freedoms, which of course (because I've written about it so often in these blog posts) leads me consider those implications on schooling.
In secondary education, many of us engage with “The Problem,” as we call it, on a daily basis. “The Problem” happens to be one that many educators have most likely considered as they have worked to implement their curricular ideas on students who seem less than engaged; that is, how do we, as teachers, aid students in learning for the sake of learning? Is the act of teaching students to practice acts of intrinsic autonomy possible? Are they developmentally ready to delve into conceptual frameworks that presuppose a familiarity with multiple perspectives? It is a conundrum, to be sure, made even more complicated when considering students who have diagnosed neurological disorders that cause them to learn differently from the so-called average student.
This post is from guest contributor Anthony Westcott.
photo by Shayla Beley
In the last few years, a good deal of dialogue has been generated in the media about the idea of introverts navigating a society that values extroversion. A best selling book by Susan Cain from 2012 called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking spotlighted the issue, and it was followed by a popular “TED Talk” of hers, as well as a raft of other books in its wake such as Laurie Helgoe’s Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life is Your Hidden Strength, and Jennifer Kahnweiler and Douglas Conant’s The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength; just in the last month, there was a New York Times op-ed piece written by Vanessa Barbara about living as an introvert in the highly extroverted culture of Brazil. And this has been good news for introverts such as yours truly. While I think my passions for reading and writing led me to a career teaching English, it may seem ironic to others that an introvert should choose to spend each day interacting with classes of high school students. However, as these books will tell you, many introverts learn how to develop a form of extroverted behavior to fit into a role that demands it. Just think of famous actors like Harrison Ford and Clint Eastwood who light up movie screens but are soft-spoken, even reticent individuals offstage. Indeed, many of my students would characterize my teaching personality in a classroom as dynamic but it’s the work of a performer, not the true self on display. The tradeoff for my psyche is daily lunch periods spent away from both colleagues and students solitarily plowing through books, recharging for an afternoon of more face time with kids.
Educators and school administrators appear to be split over the use of cell phones in the class room and in fact many schools currently have a difficult fight on their hands to enforce a ban they have in place on students carrying their personal phones to classes. Despite school policies requiring students leave their phones at home or leave them in school lockers, many students still insist on carrying them in their pockets. Asking teens to go without their phone is like asking them to go without a limb. If I had been asked my opinion of students carrying phones to class a couple of years ago, my answer would have been a resounding ‘no’, however I am now an avid supporter of embracing the technology that my students embrace. The new cell phones are convenient, user friendly and can do most things that a computer can do. They also have the advantage of being highly portable. At this time with the growing number of cell phone providers offering unlimited data plans for relatively little money, the average teen is connected where-ever he/she goes. I am not advocating that students should be entitled to run around with their phones all day doing as they wish, however it seems to me that they are a tool that can be used for the benefit of our students if we are willing to learn their capabilities and educate our students in the proper use of the technology for educational purposes.
Successful, ambitious young people armed with a 5-week summer training course drop into America’s less desirable schools. But who is it really helping? Critics claim that TFA recruits inexperienced people who are more interested in padding their CVs than making a real difference. There are also claims that school districts prefer hiring TFA teachers because they come in at the bottom of the pay scale and leave before climbing much higher. And if that weren’t bad enough, it appears that veteran teachers have been laid off to make way for the swelling ranks of “corps members” deployed on their two-year stints. Faced with such criticism, Teach for America founder Wendy Kopp defended the organization saying that it is a leadership development organization, not a teaching organization.
One of the many goals of any educational institution is to help shape students into educated, well-rounded, independent thinkers who will eventually become productive members of society. As such, it is the job of schools to educate students about various concerns related to social justice and diversity in the world surrounding them, since many adolescents often require some guidance in educating themselves in this area. This is especially true of boarding schools, which by nature incorporate students from a variety of geographic locations and backgrounds. However, educators often encounter difficulty with engaging students in discussions about social justice without falling victim to the adolescent perception that such issues are simply the focus of adults aiming to lecture about topics unrelated to the average teen. Literary critical theories can be an effective method of practicing critical thinking skills while also evaluating a variety of social justice issues within the secondary education classroom.