Saturday, February 18, 2017

Lord of the Flies Art

I have said a variety of things about Lord of the Flies in the last couple years.  I lamented that standardized testing doesn't motivate us to capture some of the things that are really interesting about the book.  Likewise, here.  And here, some of the fun of the Chief-led class.

But today, some art, in the voice--as it were--of a student.  Both of these are by the same artist, and both are quite interesting and effective.



I like that we can't see faces, but can discern that the boys are mesmerized by something.  Is it the sun?  Or the hint of the "beast" barely concealed in the bushes?




The backs--rather than fronts--of heads characterize this piece, too.  I can't figure out why I like this piece so much, but I do.

Friday, February 17, 2017

More Student Art


For one assignment (in late November/early December, so after the election) in the Intro to Politics course I taught last fall at Pierce College, I offered an art option.  My instruction was to create a piece that expressed your thoughts, views, values, preferences, etc. about anything in "politics."  I use the quote marks there to indicate the fact that I told them that you could render almost anything as politics, or political.  Indeed, I noted, Marx was wrong...everything isn't economics, it's politics.  But that's an argument for another day.

This piece generated a lengthy and interesting discussion about identity, group orientation, the social politics in the US today, etc.   I can't remember all the artist even said about the piece, but I was grateful for the conversation.






Detail, from the bottom left corner.  Thank YOU, Hannah...I appreciate your work.



Post-Modern Education


I don't think I ever posted this, from last year.  It appeared in Christian Renewal last summer...screen shots from an emailed digital version appear below.

I should say that I'm still in public school, still want to be in public school...and I'm very frustrated with what is happening there.   

Indeed, I enjoy the challenge of trying to insinuate some of this post-modernity into my classes, but it's daunting challenge.









A lecture series at George Fox University last year asked participants to consider the ramifications of  Living in Postmodern America.   I was invited to give the talk on education, which caused me to ponder whether teaching, learning and school are, in fact, postmodern.  The simple answer to that is yes and no--yes, teaching and learning are postmodern activities, but no, education, as a system, is intensely Modern, and fundamentally hinders the process of teaching and learning.
Modernity is bureaucratic, which means it is organized, structured and numerated.  Postmodernity is, by contrast, situational—in other words, constructed, subjective and relational.  Education, the social and collective endeavor to deliver teaching and learning to students, is highly bureaucratic, and getting more so by the day.   The bureaucrats who populate those bureaucracies, and who organize and measure the minutiae of the activities of our lives and work, are the hallmark of Modern life.  And education bureaucrats (or, educrats, if you will) numerate and measure features of education that bear little relevance or connection to the complicated relational reality of teaching and learning.
Consider the push to create more thorough and comprehensive standardized testing.  This requires outcomes measured in numerable ways, which render evaluation and assessment both valid (that is, objectively measurable and comparable) and easy.  Along the way, of course, more standardized testing stimulates the inevitable, even if unintended, standardization of learning and curriculum, and this Modernization elevates and prefers assessment devices that can be easily compared, and numerated test results do precisely that.  And the infinite loop of bureaucracy’s self-fulfilling order runs on.
 Modernity’s impact extends beyond the practical problem of standardized testing to the philosophy of education, though.  The Enlightenment bequeathed us rationality, and a philosophy of science and an epistemology that elevate empiricism and the observable and confirmable above all other forms of knowing and understanding. If it can’t be observed (measured) and confirmed, then we don’t know it’s true.  The social science literature—from political science to organization studies—abounds with analyses of how bureaucracies fixate on concretely measurable things, which too often grossly misapprehend the breadth and depth of a situation.  This is true—and astoundingly so—of the growing education bureaucracy today.
 The culture in school is clearly that the data will show the real picture, data don’t lie, and good numbers will always be smiled upon.  So, Modernity hums along, having given us a rationalism and empiricism that tilt toward the accumulation of ever more (questionably useful) data.  And education—the social endeavor—marches in step with Modernity’s tune.
 Modernity’s grip on Education, thereby, infringes on and alters the relational activities of teaching and learning.  This reality gives (or, should give) Christian parents pause.  For people who take their children’s education so seriously, it’s no surprise that home schooling or private Christian school are so often preferred over the highly bureaucratized public school.
Christianity is about relationships—our individual relationship to God, through our relationship to Christ; our relationship to our neighbors and strangers; and our relationship to our families, not least of which is parents’ relationship to their children.  And a fundamental aspect of that relationship is the educating of those children.  


But many Christians “fear” Postmodernism, of course—it is thought to be the font of self-oriented, subjective, relativist philosophy from which flows every pathology of contemporary secular America.  But in the all too typical cyclicality of human thinking and endeavor, postmodernity’s ascendance looks plenty like a return to premodernity, and in ways that can be perfectly comfortable to Christians.
Where Modernity relies on an empiricism that repudiates truth claims that can’t be verified by rationalist science, the “Pre is Post again Modernity” emphasizes a reliance on language—not numbers.  Postmodernity’s emphasis on intersubjectivity focuses on stories, as told by people, akin to the way the Bible uses personal stories to testify to God’s and Christ’s work.
Moreover, postmodernism opens up room for a robust notion of theology, even if only unintentionally.  Where Modernity begat academic disciplines that have increasingly segregated both enquiry and understanding in closely guarded silos, postmodernity breaks down those disciplinary boundaries, encouraging knowledge and understanding to be applied across the range of human endeavor and understanding, similar--at least procedurally--to the way Christ-centeredness reaches into every domain of a Christian’s life.
The complex web of learning and thinking indicated here hearkens back to something like the classical education so many Christians have so long sought for their children.  Seeking wisdom from ancient examples (through the stories of the lives and times of those people) is something like a postmodern return to the premodern, and is completely unModern.
This brings us full circle, for the Common Core State Standards—and the accompanying testing processes—are fundamentally at odds with classical teaching and learning.  Where classical approaches value the knowledge and wisdom accumulated through the ages, the CCSS establish skills as the paramount virtue.  Finding the main idea (and identifying the passage that communicates that) is more important in the new philosophy of Education than pursuing any particular set of ideas and values.  Texts need not be prioritized for their content or meaning, rather each and all can be mined for quasi-technical elements like main point and supporting evidence…all the better for standardized tests that must be easily gradable in order to generate the required data that will tell us how Education in America is going.

As a teacher in the Modern system, I can attest that the bureaucratic endeavor called Education is going nowhere fast, especially as far as what Christians want for the teaching and learning relationships that comprise their children’s lives.  As a parent who sends his child to a classical Christian school, the possibilities for teaching and learning, which I have here described as postmodern, are still wide open, but not in a Modern public school.










Saturday, February 11, 2017

Where are US--oops, WE--going?



For one assignment (in late November/early December, so after the election) in the Intro to Politics course I taught last fall at Pierce College, I offered an art option.  My instruction was to create a piece that expressed your thoughts, views, values, preferences, etc. about anything in "politics."  I use the quote marks there to indicate the fact that I told them that you could render almost anything as politics, or political.  Indeed, I noted, Marx was wrong...everything isn't economics, it's politics.  But that's an argument for another day.

I liked several of the pieces that the artists presented, and I'll offer up some others later.  But for now, this one, which seems apropos in a particular and special way in this current political climate.

In fact, I won't even explain, interpret or analyze what you see...have what response you want.


Friday, February 10, 2017

If Donald Trump were a...


...character from Lord of the Flies, which would he be?

We--my 8th graders and I--are in the middle of the novel.  In case you forget (or haven't read it), a group of English schoolboys, ages 6-13ish, are stuck alone on an island...without any adults.  They elect Ralph as Chief, though nobody is quite sure why.  Piggy is the most sensible, but he's ostracized by the others because he's overweight.  Jack is the natural leader, but he's also overbearing...pushing for the authority he thinks is rightly his to have.  Simon seems weird (see below) because he's a sensitive introvert.

So, part way through (in the midst of chapter 6, if you know the novel that well), we talked about authority and character, and I asked for some thoughts on various aspects of governance.  One thing I asked was, which character most seems like President Trump and why.

Here are the answers (from those who gave them) of my 8th graders....


President Trump is like…
Jack, because he
Piggy, because he
Ralph, because he
Simon, because
·   only does what wants
·   is bad
·   may have some good ideas but he is somewhat stubborn and not the best listener
·   says what he wants to do
·   doesn’t care about other peoples’ opinions
·   makes decisions without really thinking about the consequences
·   is ambitious
·   isn’t very accepting or open-minded
·   is talking smack about everyone, with no fear
·   makes courageous and dangerous decisions, and will end terribly
·   biased
·   hard-headed and does everything his way
·   power hungry, rude and unethical
·   makes bold statements and doesn’t care what other people think
·   is demanding and does what he wants
·   does what he wants
·   he has to be in control of everything and blames others when he’s at fault
·   wants whatever whenever
·   has a huge ego
·   wants his way
·   likes to control people
·   is clear about what he wants
·   thinks he’s a better leader than he might actually be
·   he doesn’t listen
·   he wants to have power
·   he doesn’t care what he says as long as he gets to be in charge
·   he’s brash and aggressive
·   he doesn’t have a filter and he’s very argumentative
·   he’s confident and says what he wants
·   he’s demanding
·   he’s got a one-track mind (business) and he always disputes people
·   he’s selfish and demanding
·   he alienates people
·   he’s brash and headstrong
·   he is controlling
·   he does what he wants
·   he needs to make himself important
·   he gets savage toward those who disagree with him
·   he’s self-centered
·   he actually takes charge
·   he’s rash
·   he can be mean
·   he bullies

·   has good ideas but nobody sees it
·   is smart and an out of the box thinker
·   is trying to help; trying to control
·   can help
·   follows the rules and tries to make things right
·   thinks outside the box (and they both probably got beaten up at school)

·   Is a know-it-all and people are beginning to rebel
·   makes decisions and backs them up with evidence
·   smart, but demanding
·   is trying to maintain order but people keep ruining it
·   is trying to keep everything in order
·   is trying to maintain order
·   is the leader…and he’s demanding
·   has no idea what he’s doing
·   doesn’t know what he’s doing
·   thinks he’s the only who can be a leader
·   is demanding and straight up
·   is mean and influential
·   wants a lot of attention on himself
·   is not knowing what to do
·   doesn’t know what he’s doing
           They’re both weird in some way



Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Wendell Berry

The complexity of our present trouble suggests as never before that we need to change our present concept of education. Education is not properly an industry, and its proper use is not to serve industries, either by job-training or by industry-subsidized research. It's proper use is to enable citizens to live lives that are economically, politically, socially, and culturally responsible. This cannot be done by gathering or "accessing" what we now call "information" - which is to say facts without context and therefore without priority. A proper education enables young people to put their lives in order, which means knowing what things are more important than other things; it means putting first things first.”

And done rightly--according to this approach, it is very difficult to numerate, measure, count and standardize teaching and learning, at least not in the way we endeavor to do with the Common Core and the attendant testing process.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Flies, Redux

It's that time again.  I've written before about how my colleague and I let our classes elect a chief, as the boys do in Lord of the Flies.  It's an interesting, if somewhat frustrating, pedagogical "moment."  Every year--indeed, every class period--is different, but we have always found benefit in doing this exercise.

It replicates some of the aspects of youngters living unsupervised, bringing some of the themes of the book more obviously to life.  This happens most clearly when you try to look at the story through a thematic lens of human nature--what people are like in difficult circumstances.

It's satisfying when you see confirmed before you your expectations of which students will hum along just fine without any real supervision...about as much as it is strangely compelling when those students you think will completely exploit the system and do absolutely nothing confirm your worst fears.

I admit, it's also pleasantly affirming when the student chief stands before the class and explains his/her frustrations with what the students are doing.  We've heard more than one, "I have a new found respect for the teachers."

And then sometimes it's just fun.  Today, one class had a sit-in protest.  (We just did a unit on civil rights, and I think they got the idea from that.)  They succeeded in removing their interim chief (the regular chief is absent) for the remaining 9 minutes of the period.


I've lost track of how many coups we (my colleague and I) have had, sponsored or fomented.  Almost no classes make it more than 3 days without some sort of distress.  One year, one class finally got so annoyed with all that was happening that they held a new election...and I won, even though I wasn't running.  Like Sally Field, "I have to admit it...you like me.  Right now, you really really like me."

Ultimately, the exercise and the book are particularly worthwhile...and I'm sure they meet some Common Core Standard or other.