From Harper’s magazine, September 2011 issue, which arrived in my mailbox this week. “Getting Schooled: the Re-Education of an American Teacher,” by Garret Keizer. I checked the Harper’s website, but I didn’t see the article up there yet, so I don’t have a link.
In the essay, Keizer writes about returning to teaching in a public high school in Vermont for one year, after a 14-year hiatus, and reflects on the differences between then and now, and also on some of the similarities.
A long essay, but well worth every word. Timely reading for me, as we gear up for another year of homeschooling. Some excerpts:
I’m a bit surprised by…the number of students who readily identify themselves as “attention deficit”. If such a disorder exists, as I’m inclined to think it does, I’m glad there are medications to treat it, although hearing someone say “I’ve got ADD” in a culture of such vast distractedness is a bit like having a fellow passenger on an ocean liner tell you that she feels afloat. Who doesn’t?
During one of the first staff training days, the district superintendent tells us that 10 percent of all high school education will be computer-based by 2014 and rise to 50 percent by 2019, the implication being how close to obsolescence our methods and we ourselves have become. No one ventures to ask what would seem to be the obvious question, which is what sort of high school education Bill Gates and Steve Jobs had and what they might have failed to accomplish without it.
The notion that the very same teachers who made the greatest difference in my life need to be purged from the ranks is dispiriting enough, but the outrageous suggestion that the “brutal facts” of education have more to do with the schoolhouse than with the larger society in which my students live is enough to make me want to spit. Or teach.
If the bell schedule and the calendar are the body of a school, transcendence often comes as an out-of-body experience. When a classrom teacher can somehow manage to get kids “out of school,” either physically or psychologically, then school can begin. Sometimes that happens simply by inviting students to stay after school….Sometimes it happens through a special project, the more hands-on the better—paradoxically, “out of body” often translates in practice to contact with the physical world, to running, drawing, making something real.
Again, this is timely reading for me, as we are starting our next official year of homeschooling next week. The struggle remains for me, as a classical home educator, how to balance the book-work with enough moments of getting out into the world and allowing a bit of real learning — a bit of transcendence, perhaps – to happen. It doesn’t always work out the way I imagine it should, but should is a problematic word anyway.
So, we’ll study a little, and then maybe take the dogs for a walk. Or we’ll study a little and then maybe look out the window for a bird or two. Sometimes we’ll get up and just decide to go to the lake or the city for the day. And that will be okay.
I have no beautiful school room. I have limited amounts of patience, especially when the kids begin to gripe and bicker. Sometimes we’ll make tea and read poetry. Sometimes we’ll all get angry and have to take time to cool off before we can work together again. But we’ll be learning something all the time, I guess. Even me.