stephanie jones

Archive for September, 2009|Monthly archive page

when children are philosophers

In creativity, families on September 8, 2009 at 1:38 am

Children see, feel, and hear things so differently from our own adult-ridden, de-sensitized, in-a-hurry ways of moving through the world. I’m always in awe at the philosopher-like manner with which many children engage the world. Many years ago a first grade child in my classroom who had been diagnosed with severe learning disabilities wrote a very simple book. I’ll write the words here (I memorized them long ago), marking the “pages” with line breaks:

This is a line.

It is straight.

It is gray.

The line is a letter waiting to be formed.

It needs a writer to be born.

Now if that doesn’t give you the willies, then you’re even more calloused with adult ideas than I am.

Of course. The line is in waiting, and it is waiting patiently, and yet it may never be born through the formation of a letter by a writer, but then again it might be born through a writer doing very important things – or perhaps unimportant things or even horrible things. And even after all those things have been said and written, there is still another line, straight and gray, waiting to be formed into a letter, to be born by a writer.

Some of my most intimate moments with my little girl are made of philosophy as well. Always a result of her contemplative ways, mind you, and rarely mine since I’m often preoccupied with getting things “done”: breakfast, teeth, clothes on, dinner, homework, cleaning.

Tonight I just wanted her to get to sleep.

That’s all.

Just close your eyes and go to sleep.

But then the philosopher in her stops me in my tracks and after an hour-long conversation she’s fast asleep and I’m writing at my computer newly awakened by her insights about the world, about love, and about living with fear knowing the fragility of each of us. Here are some snippets:

Mom, but sometimes I don’t want to close my eyes. Because as soon as I close my eyes time passes. And I don’t want time to pass because that’s the time I could have been spending with you.

And I know I don’t have forever with you (now her tears begin to flow – this is the other thing with philosophy, it moves you in ways that few other things can).

I just know there are so, so, so, so many ways I can lose you. And I don’t want to lose you. Ever. Not ever.

And sometimes I don’t feel that important to you. Like when my foot was really hurt at school last week and you didn’t come to pick me up.

(I talked here about how I continue to learn about how to be a mother and a person in the world and that this was certainly one mistake – among many others – I had made. If I would have known her foot was as badly hurt as it indeed was, because of a reaction to an ant bite, I would have absolutely picked her up from school. I really had no idea.)

So I tell her that I’ll make more mistakes and sometimes they will hurt her, and to know in the moment that it’s probably a mistake mommy’s making and I’ll be so sorry for it later.

And she continues,

I want you to know I’m really sorry for all the times I haven’t been as good as I could have been.

And I know she is, in this moment, deeply sorry. For her consciousness in these moments of conversation and contemplation have reminded her of the fragility of life and human relationships.

And her consciousness has also reminded me of the fragility of life and human relationships.

I’ll try to do better in the next moment, and living through the words of child philosophers reminds me to do so while also giving me guidance.

That’s all I can do.

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A terrific short piece on the purpose of the university…

In freedom, NCLB, stephanie jones, teacher education, teacher education resources on September 7, 2009 at 5:20 pm

Drew Gilpin Faust, president of Harvard, had a great piece in the New York Times Book Review Sunday – The University’s Crisis of Purpose

She writes “Universities are meant to be producers not just of knowledge but also of (often inconvenient) doubt. They are creative and unruly places, homes to a polyphony of voices.” I love this characterization of universities, and these are the very reasons why I love my job, and why I wanted my job in the first place. But it also creates a bit of a conundrum when I work collaboratively with people who are not in universities, but working in institutions where a polyphony of voices is not seen as creative and generative but dangerous. “Unruly” for many institutions (including K-12 schools) is often read as uncooperative, not a team player, and thus, not a practice that is rewarded. So when I’m sitting with a group of folks in various settings and begin to feel uneasy about the intense focus on the here-and-now or the “truths” of such-and-such practice, I live the impossibilities of the work we do in universities, “…to be practical as well as transcendent; to assist immediate national needs and to pursue knowledge for its own sake; to both add value and question values,” as Faust puts it.

Faust argues that perhaps the university has become too intertwined with the market world and the immediate demands of society and has forgotten about our work as “critic” and “conscience” for society. She refers specifically to the economic crisis and her wondering if “universities – in their research, teaching, and writing – have made greater efforts to expose the patterns of risk and denial? Should universities have presented a firmer counterweight to economic irresponsibility? Have universities become too captive to the immediate and worldly purposes they serve? Has the market model become the fundamental and defining identity of higher education?”

I wonder myself, and I also draw parallels with education.

Universities find themselves accepting contracts to write test materials, score tests, and engage with school policies that continue to narrow the nation’s public education curricula and “purpose.” We (broadly defined) are perhaps “too captive to the immediate and worldly purposes” of education and will droves of writers in ten, twenty, thirty years be wondering where we were and what we were doing while this crisis crippled our public school systems?

It’s very hard, at least for me, to figure out both how to be friends and colleagues with folks in the K-12 system, be supportive of public education as a parent and professor, and still do the “job” that I truly believe in, which includes intelligent, informed, and public research and criticism of a system that continues to fail droves of kids and families.

Sometimes I find myself acquiescing to expectations of the system that is broken – and I hate it. Sometimes I find myself engaging deeply with the kind of critique and critical consciousness work that is my passion, and someone else hates it (and sometimes this includes a friend or colleague who is deeply committed to and embedded within k-12 education) – and I hate that too.

Faust’s brief piece reminded me of why I love what I do. Even when my actions may seem and feel contradictory as I weave between and stumble among the important purposes of a university at large, and one faculty member finding her way.

Fear and Rage over Obama’s Speech to Students

In democracy, discourse, family-school relations, NCLB, politics, Standing up for Kids on September 4, 2009 at 12:28 pm

Fear not, dear citizens, for President Obama’s speech to public school students will not be the introduction of socialist values to public schools. Indeed, the very creation of public education did that for us all many decades ago.

And do not worry, respectable neighbors, that President Obama’s speech to students will indoctrinate young minds according to the whims of our federal government. One speech cannot outweigh the billions of dollars spent annually on federally-supported curricular materials to prepare our students to fill in the correct bubbles on federally-mandated tests. The indoctrination is well under way.

No fretting either, concerned parents, about the potential loss of freedom and liberty in our schools or society due to the President’s remarks next week. We incarcerate more people than any other country on the globe and we have (nearly) successfully handcuffed teachers to scripted classroom routines and rigid curriculum. There is nothing President Obama can say in one speech that will change this state of our freedom and liberty one way or the other.

Censorship teaches fear and extremism. Expecting that all people living in a democratic society can, and should, engage in informed and thoughtful dialogue around issues important to our local, regional, national, and global lives teaches one of the responsibilities of living in a democratic society.

If lively dialogue happens in schools and homes next week as a result of Obama’s speech, then we can all be relieved that our youth can do what’s necessary to resist indoctrination and remake freedom and liberty – and that our schools might actually be a powerful part of that educational experience.

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