Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Caterpillars and Standardized Curriculum

the other day i was helping some folks with some crafts at an outdoor event. It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, there was a nice breeze, good people. The craft I was working with was block printing t-shirts. There was a mother there with her two kids, maybe around age 8. She really wanted to do the t-shirts and seemed to think the kids should want to do it too. At the same time, she wanted the shirts to be perfect, so she would only let them help by pressing on the block once she had painted it and placed it. The kids were interested in the caterpillars. there were dozens of caterpillars, hanging from the trees, landing on people's heads, crawling on everything in sight. They tickled when they were on your skin, and if you didn't keep track of them they would crawl all the way up your arm and onto your back. Collecting them one by one the two kids created little families of caterpillars that they would watch vigilantly. The mother, frustrated by her kids lack of interest in the block printing would force them to remove the caterpillars in order to help her press down on the blocks. This juxtaposition of the mother's desire for perfect "kid made" shirts, and her children's interest in the caterpillars made for some tense moments. As a spectator I worried about the missed learning opportunity and the squashed curiosity.

Not wanting to be critical of the mother without looking at myself I thought of my teaching. How many times do I shut down the curiosity of my students by forcefully redirecting their attention to something they have no interest in? Is it any wonder that students hate school, or learn to stifle their questions, their natural desire to learn? Genuine, authentic, and memorable learning happens when education responds to the curiosity of students. Teachers face many challenges in doing this. The structure of schools and of the school day puts huge limitations on a teacher's ability to have a creative, responsive classroom. Standards, created by businessmen, professors, and politicians and enforced by legislation like No Child Left Behind squelch the learning experience of students throughout the country having a greater impact in schools that are already struggling with inadequate resources. To make education authentic in this country we must drastically change our methods of teaching so that we are no longer forcing children to put down their caterpillars and climb into a box that fits our ideal of who and what they should be.