Schools give every encouragement to producers, the kids whose idea is to get “right answers” by any and all means. In a system that runs on “right answers,” they can hardly help it. And these schools are often very discouraging places for thinkers. (Holt, How Children Fail, p. 40)
What hampers their thinking, what drives them into these narrow and defensive strategies, is a feeling that they must please the grownups at all costs. The really able thinkers in our class turn out to be, without exception, children who don’t feel so strongly the need to please grownups. Some of them are good students, some not so good; but good or not, they don’t work to please us, but to please themselves. (Holt, How Children Fail, p. 29)
[We used the word producer to describe the student who was only interested in getting right answers, and who made more or less uncritical use of rules and formulae to get them; we called thinker the student who tried to think about the meaning, the reality, of whatever it was he was working on.] (Holt, How Children Fail, pp. 11-12)
The valiant and resolute band of travelers I thought I was leading toward a much-hoped-for destination turned out instead to be more like convicts in a chain gang, forced under threat of punishment to move along a rough path leading nobody knew where and down which they could see hardly more than a few steps ahead. School feels like this to children: it is a place where they make you go and where they tell you to do things and where they try to make your life unpleasant if you don’t do them or don’t do them right. For children, the central business of school is not learning, whatever this vague word means; it is getting these daily tasks done, or at least out of the way, with a minimum of effort and unpleasantness. Each task is an end in itself. The children don’t care how they dispose of it. (Holt, How Children Fail, p. 38)
If a certain kind of teaching failed to produce learning the first time, why will it suddenly produce it the second time? In many cases the children, now ashamed and angry as well as bored and confused, will do even worse than before… (Holt, How Children Fail, p. 3)
Let’s double down on math and reading block! Let’s extend the school day or calendar! Let’s require kids to attend summer school! Let’s force children to repeat a grade!
But whatever we do, let’s don’t change students’ learning experience. Just more of the same… (and if we are changing the learning experience during those times, perhaps – just perhaps – we should have been doing that in the first place?).
[Students] fail because they are afraid, bored, and confused. They are afraid, above all else, of failing, of disappointing or displeasing the many anxious adults around them, whose limitless hopes and expectations for them hang over their heads like a cloud. They are bored because the things they are given and told to do in school are so trivial, so dull, and make such limited and narrow demands on the wide spectrum of their intelligence, capabilities, and talents. They are confused because most of the torrent of words that pours over them in school makes little or no sense. (Holt, How Children Fail, pp. 5-6)
I’m going to start posting some quotes here from John Holt’s How Children Fail, which is a classic education text about student learning (that most educators have never read?)…
The bad things we assume about other people tend to become true, become “self-fulfilling prophecies.” Many people seem to think that the way to take care of children is to ask in any situation what is the most stupid and dangerous thing the children could possibly do, and then act as if they were sure to do it. (p. 81)
Here are a pair of tweets for ya. So true…
In an article about the Negro Leagues and Major League Baseball, Howard Bryant said:
Baseball should have taken the honest road, which would be to carry its stain and leave the tattered, piecemeal records of the various Negro Leagues as a historical reminder of its own destructiveness. Baseball did not do that — not because it was so important to give Josh Gibson a posthumous batting title but because like most of white, mainstream society, it does not want to carry its share of the responsibility for the condition it created.
While baseball has taken what it considers to be a step toward reparation, it has taken another away from accountability. Part of the strength of an institution is in its acknowledgment of where it has failed, and who suffered because of that failure.
This idea pertains to schools and the pandemic as well. The first months of 2020 were an emergency that caught most school systems and their leaders off guard. In the summer months of 2020 (here in the United States), school leaders had an opportunity to learn from the mistakes that they made in the spring and do things differently in the fall. While some school administrators used that window of opportunity, others did not and their schools and districts have repeated many of the mistakes they made in the spring again this fall. This winter break has given us all yet another chance to rethink what our schools are doing and make significant changes for January and beyond. How many school systems actually did so?
It’s one thing to make new mistakes. It’s another to keep making the same ones again and again. How many school leaders will look inward and, as Bryant said, ‘carry [their] share of the responsibility for the condition(s) [they] created?’ How many students, families, and educators have we failed as school systems, and will we ever hold ourselves accountable? If ‘part of the strength of an institution is in its acknowledgment of where it has failed, and who suffered because of that failure,’ how many school organizations are actively examining and owning their current failures in order to not repeat them over and over again?
Is your school system acknowledging where it has failed and who has suffered as a result? Are your school leaders making new mistakes or repeating the same ones again and again? Why?
In Leadership and the New Science, Margaret Wheatley noted:
Scientists now describe how order and form are created not by complex controls, but by the presence of a few guiding formulas or principles repeating back on themselves through the exercise of individual freedom. The survival and growth of systems that range in size from large ecosystems down to the smallest microbial colonies are sustained by a few key principles that express the system’s overall identity combined with high levels of autonomy for individuals within that system. (p. 13)
In the rush to serve children and families and create new modalities of learning and teaching during the coronavirus pandemic, I wonder how many school systems gravitated toward greater ‘command and control’ and how many embraced ‘a few key principles … with high levels of autonomy for individuals within that system.’ I also wonder about the organizational contexts and leadership mindsets that fostered one or the other, as well as which approach worked better…