Prison, Greenhouse, or Waterboarding

Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; recognize when irrelevant evidence is introduced.

Common Core State Standards, Grade 8, Reading Standards for Informational Text

I’m working on teaching this and other standards to my junior highers. Reading and thinking critically is imperative, yet yesterday I had an interesting “uncritical” reading moment.

I read a blog post by John Spencer called “What if School Isn’t a Prison?” He said, instead of comparing his schooling to a prison, as he usually does, he was challenged to use the metaphor of a greenhouse — some crap was inevitable, but there was also sunlight and fresh water. Definitely a rosier metaphor than prison for what school was for many of us and is for today’s students.

As I read it, I thought, Hmmm…maybe…that’s nice.

Then I read the first comment at the bottom by Tom Panarese:

What is this? I can’t retweet this! I can’t quote this in my efforts to show the other teacher bloggers that they need to risk their livelihoods and families in order to rebel against a 19th Century-based system that is slowly waterboarding our children into an early grave! Terrible. F.

Whoa! It took me back. It was like a slap up-side my head. Read! Denise, it yelled to me. Critical reading alert: Evaluate the argument…assess the reasoning…relevant and sufficient evidence?

I had to stop and re-read it. He’s right. Instead of taking the blog post at face value, why didn’t I read it critically and thoughtfully the first time? Why didn’t I react like I really felt? I’m not sure why, because I really resonated more with what Tom said. I want to “risk my livelihood…in order to rebel against a 19th century-based system that is slowly waterboarding our children.”

His challenge was good for at least two people. John, the author of the original post, responded back with another comment. He began rethinking and questioning his own post. Tom got him to think critically, and he appreciated the conversation.

I am another person who was helped by Tom’s comment. His challenging response changed me. It made me a better reader. It changed my attitude, at least for a day. Yesterday I felt a little snarkier than usual. I was a little more willing to risk being wrong while doing right by my students.

The next time I hope right away I can read more critically. I don’t want to be afraid to open up a conversation if something troubles me on such an important topic as educational reform.

I also hope others will speak up when I say something that begs a challenge.

For the sake of the students, perhaps, we must.

Asking Real-life Questions

“I want to talk about learning. But not the lifeless, sterile, futile, quickly forgotten stuff that is crammed in to the mind of the poor helpless individual tied into his seat by ironclad bonds of conformity! I am talking about LEARNING — the insatiable curiosity that drives the adolescent boy to absorb everything he can see or hear or read about gasoline engines in order to improve the efficiency and speed of his ‘cruiser’. I am talking about the student who says, “I am discovering, drawing in from the outside, and making that which is drawn in a real part of me.” I am talking about any learning in which the experience of the learner progresses along this line: “No, no, that’s not what I want”; “Wait! This is closer to what I am interested in, what I need”; “Ah, here it is! Now I’m grasping and comprehending what I need and what I want to know!”

~Carl Rogers

We are finishing up history class with an independent study. As students narrow their topics, I keep asking them to take the Carl Rogers’ test before they choose their topic:

  1. No, no, that’s not what I want.
  2. Wait! This is closer to what I am interested in, what I need.
  3. Ah, here it is! Now I’m grasping and comprehending what I need and what I want to know!

My goal is to walk each one through the process so they get to #3 before they are satisfied with their topic!

Imagine if school was always lived in that #3 area–Ah, here it is! Now I’m learning what I want to know!  What a great educational reform that would be! Can school be like this?

If schools were really like this, think of the suppertime conversations: Parents would ask their children big, real-life questions like these, via Will Richardson in this post “What Did You Create Today?”

  • What did you make today that was meaningful?
  • What did you learn about the world?
  • Who are you working with?
  • What surprised you?
  • What did your teachers make with you?
  • What did you teach others?
  • What unanswered questions are you struggling with?
  • How did you change the world in some small (or big) way?
  • What’s something your teachers learned today?
  • What did you share with the world?
  • What do you want to know more about?
  • What did you love about today?
  • What made you laugh?

May school be a place where parents aren’t limited to questions like: “What grade did you get on your math test?” and “Do you have homework tonight?”