Re: DSM: Adults making suggestions

Cathy Lachapelle (aelin@leland.stanford.edu)
Wed, 27 May 1998 11:48:37 -0400

>> Joe,

>>

>> I disagree. I find nothing wrong with adults (any adults) making

>suggestions

>> to kids, so long as it is done in an environment in which the
freedom to

>say

>> "no" is in place. To withhold this option from adults is to require
them

>to

>> leave a part of themselves "at the door" when they arrive at school.

>Part of

>> what I enjoy in my relationships with my friends of all ages is the

>cross-

>> fertilization of ideas and knowledge. Why should I forego this in
my

>> relationships with those who are younger than 20?

>>

>> Alan

>

>Hi Alan -

>

>I think we've had this conversation before, but I do think that staff
is

>staff and students are students, and that staff has a responsibility
to

>restrain themselves from initiating the education of students. I
don't

>think I'm saying that you should restrain yourself with friends under
20,

>I'm saying that staff should restrain themselves in the school
environment.

>

>

>I think there's a big difference posting or walking around the school

>saying you're going to do something or have a class in something
(which

>many SVS purists would have a problem with) and recommending a book or
a

>learning process or a class to a specific student out of the blue.
When a

>recommendation takes place in a conversation and is not a blatantly
stark

>recruitment, I don't see a problem with it.

>

>I think a big factor is the intent of the recommendation, which I
think

>students are usually very quick to glean.

>

>-Joe

I find this an interesting and important thing to talk about: what is
the role of adults in the school?

It put me in mind of some of the writings of John Dewey (a pragmatic
American philosopher of education from the late nineteenth/early
twentieth century) that I think is relevant, and helps me to think
about it. Dewey wrote about education in reaction to two things he saw
happening in society at that time: first, industrialization which took
adults out of the village and into factories, removing them and their
work from the lives and access of children -- which isolated children
and took away their opportunities to learn the adult world for
themselves; and second, the move to mandatory schooling, where children
were trained to follow directions and do as they were told in a fascist
system that Dewey considered completely unsuitable for raising citizens
of a democratic country.

In the following passage, Dewey has reacted against both traditional
schooling and against a movement at the time to leave kids completely
alone, on the assumption that they should work out all of human life
and understanding for themselves. He says there must be a middle
ground, because children are both independent beings who be able to
direct their own lives, and also part of a larger society, in which
they must learn to take on responsibility for continuing and improving
it. The name of the book these passages are drawn from is "Child and
Curriculum". He is addressing the roles of children, adults, and
accumulated human experience (curriculum) in education.

"...the subject-matter of science and history and art serves to reveal
the real child to us. We do not know the meaning either of his
tendencies or of his performances excepting as we take them as
germinating seed, or opening bud, of some fruit to be borne... The
entire science of physics is none too much to interpret adequately to
us what is involved in some simple demand of the child for explanation
of some casual change that has attracted his attention...

So much for the use of the subject-matter in interpretation. Its
further employment in direction or guidance is but an expansion of the
same thought... to view it as a part of a normal growth is to secure
the basis for guiding it. Guidance is not external imposition. It is
freeing the life-process for its own most adequate fulfilment... There
are those who see no alternative between forcing the child from
without, or leaving him entirely alone... Both fail to see that
development is a definite process, having its own law which can be
fulfilled only when adequate and normal conditions are provided...

"If, once more, the "old education" tended to ignore the dynamic
quality, the developing force inherent in the child's present
experience, and therefore to assume that direction and control were
just matters of arbitrarily putting the child in a given path and
compelling him to walk there, the "new education" is in danger of
taking the idea of development in altogether too formal and empty a
way. THe child is expected to "develop" this or that fact or truth out
of his own mind. He is told to think things out, or work things out
for himself, without being supplied any of the environing conditions
which are requisite to start and guide thought. Nothing can be
developed from nothing; nothing but the crude can be developed out of
the crude -- and this is what surely happens when we throw the child
back upon his achieved self as a finality, and invite him to spin new
truths of nature or of conduct out of that... Development does not
mean just getting something out of the mind. It is a development of
experience and into experience that is really wanted..." (pp.
194-196)

"There is no such thing as sheer self-activity possible -- because all
activity takes place in a medium, in a situation, and with reference to
its conditions. But again, no such thing as imposition of truth from
without, as insertion of truth from without, is possible. All depends
upon the activity which the mind itself undergoes in responding to what
is presented from without. Now, the value of the formulated wealth of
knowledge that makes up the course of study is that it may enable the
educator <italic>to determine the environment of the child</italic>,
and thus by indirection to direct. Its primary value, its primary
indication, is for the teacher, not for the child. It says to the
teacher: such and such are the capacities, the fulfilments, in truth
and beauty and behavior, open to these children. Now see to it that
day by day the conditions are such that their own activities move
inevitably in this direction, toward such culmination of themselves."
(p. 209)

Unfortunately, Dewey tends to be vague and ramble, but some examples of
what he says adults should do are these: make sure the school is
connected to the larger world, by having library and garden and kitchen
and workshop and art room and so on. Make sure adults are
knowledgeable and able to help kids learn the workings of these
micro-worlds of the real world (help them learn to cook and sew and
build and read as the children ask for help with these things). Make
sure adults are knowledgeable and thoughtful enough to be able to help
children enact what they are doing in a more purposeful and thoughtful
way than they are able to do for themselves: he gives the example of
an adult, seeing a small child putting together household items
(pretend plates, broom, beds...) suggesting that they make a playhouse
(thus helping them to see the larger unifying theme of their
activity).

For myself, I'll give an example I think fits from my own life. My
husband and I try our best to let our boys in on all the aspects of our
life. Our children, when just babies, would help us to knead bread,
and we showed them how to push their tiny fists into the dough, which
they would proudly do and we proudly tolerated (it does slow the
operation down). When he was about five, our older boy wanted to know
how the bread got bigger. We told him about the yeast, and showed it
to him. My husband suggested they try an experiment, making bread with
or without yeast. My son was enthusiastic about the idea. Even now,
nearly four years later, he still refers happily to the time he and his
dad cooked "a brick" to see that it's yeast that makes bread rise. I
think this is the kind of suggestion Dewey is talking about, coming
from the child's interest and expanding it, allowing the child to take
up the suggestion as the child wants to, providing an opportunity (to
be taken up or not) for a child to expand upon their current activity.
And I think the environment my husband and I try to provide -- letting
the children in on all that we do -- is the kind of rich learning
environment that Dewey is talking about, "directing by indirection".

--Cathy

-------------------------

Cathy Lachapelle

aelin@leland.stanford.edu

1221 Pawtucket Blvd. #79

Lowell, MA 01854

(978)459-1263