Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

a relatively restrained rant about education ‘reform’ ~

letter to bill gatesMy grandson is only a week old. I can’t expect him to do much of anything yet. Eat, eliminate, emote. That’s about it.

No amount of trying on my part will enable him to do what even a one-month-old can. And people would think I was nuts if I asked him to walk. :)

But that is, as Ms. Watson makes very clear, what we’re doing every day with our ersatz ‘standards’ of education. Children aren’t cars. Heck, even cars have idiosyncracies! Even a new one is not like another kind of car. So: are all our kids… VWs? Priuses? What about a kid who might be a Ferrari? Or…a Tata (look it up).

Children of 8 cannot do a dumbed-down version of what a student of 18 can do. Can both work w/ numbers? Sure. But you can’t just say an 8-year-old can do a different version of calculus. It doesn’t work that way. Nor can an 8-year-old look at history the same way a 18-year-old can.

No one would suggest that we tell the gruesomest details of the Holocaust to an 8-year-old. Or that an 8-year-old even read Anne Frank, which is silent on what comes after. Children have different maturity levels, as well as focus capabilities. Brain-based research on how we learn discusses these different focus windows — significantly shorter for  8-year-olds than 18-year-olds. And different for boys and girls, even of the same ages. And different for kids who’ve been fed and kids who haven’t… Learning is not the cookie cutter application of information.

What Gates, Duncan, and many other ‘reformers’ seem to believe is what Paolo Freire labels the banking concept of learning. You have this empty piggy bank of a kid in front of you, and you just deposit the coins of what you know into his/her brainbank. If only it were that simple… (And even THAT model would have to contend w/ retention… banks do go BROKE.)bank closed

Learning is constructed. From what we learn previously, from input, from raw data that is NOT knowledge. From application of theories. From critical thinking. And the ability of an 8-year-old to think critically is not nearly as developed as that of a 16-year-old. Or an 18-year-old. Common Core (and its proponents) would like us to believe that all we have to do to prepare a child for college is give that child dumbed-down college prep curriculum (written not by the teacher of the student in front of him/her, but by ‘experts’).

Right. If you honestly believe that, I have a cannon that’s worth $250,000 I’d like to sell you for 1/3 its value…

And this is about beginner’s heart how?

When we ask our children to do the impossible, we doom them to failure. WE are the reason our children drop out of schools, voting with their feet against schools that require them to sit impossibly still, learn things that far too often seem unrelated to their lives. Last year, on the average, one in four (yep — 1/4 of) American high schoolers did not graduate. And given the way my state defines ‘drop-out,’ I’m skeptical the number isn’t significantly higher (certainly it’s 60% in many urban schools). We only measure those students who begin HS. If we lose a student earlier — and many drop out in 8th grade — s/he is NOT counted as student for graduation metrics.

question markWhat can we do?  As teachers, as parents, as good citizens, as people who believe in social justice (life without a diploma is a sentence, for most students…)?

I don’t know — I only have questions. And one of them is this: who really believes that treating 8-year-olds like short 18-year-olds is a good idea?

that was then, but this is beginner’s heart ~

artist ~ Craig Mahoney

artist ~ Craig Mahoney

This picture, by Craig Mahoney, reminds me that children don’t need to learn beginner’s heart. (Not to mention that Bill Watterson is a genius. :) )

Beginner’s heart is a large part imagination — the ability to think that a tiger can talk, can feel, can play a prank with you. The ability to envision killer snowmen, alternate dimensions. Space travel from a box. Children have imagination in spades.

Beginner’s heart grows from (and into) love. Think of the love this cartoon triggers. How many of us don’t LOVE Calvin & Hobbes?? And how can you not feel the love in this picture? Mahoney does a bang-up job of bringing Calvin & Hobbes into the present, complete w/ their deep (and believable) friendship.

Beginner’s heart also requires a strong sense of humour. I can’t think of a cartoon strip I still re-read. My family is into its third set of C&H books — the others (literally) read to tatters. Because every single page is funny. Full of wit, sometimes even poignancy. But always w/ a gentle hand, and strong sense of the absurd. Totally necessary as we walk the beginner’s path…

Children are gurus of humour — what’s funnier than two boys doing dead squirrel imitations? Complete w/ roadkill rigour mortis??

I rest my case. Children, beginner’s heart, Calvin & Hobbes. At any age.

surfaces ~

unicorn narwhaleI love this cartoon. It seems the perfect argument for skepticism. Of course, Buddhists have warned about illusion for centuries. There is, for instance, no meaningful separation between me and you, although you sit at your desk and I at mine. At least according to Buddhism. Think of your arm, for instance: it’s you, right? But if tragedy befalls, and you should lose your arm, do you lose ‘you’?

And if I lose both my arms, my legs? And what about a heart transplant? Or a clone? Is a clone — exactly like me — ‘me’? What is this whole ‘me’ thing, anyway? Am I the narwhal I appear, or the unicorn pedaling grumpily out of sight?

Physics, with its  discussion of science fiction’s beloved Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, tells us that only in the observation/measurement of something does it really exist. Kind of what Buddhists say: we make the outside world ‘real’ through our belief in it, our sensory ‘measurements.’ We label the carbon life forms that comprise me by name. But when I change my name, I don’t really change. And even though all my cells are replaced completely every so many years, I’m still ‘me.’

Some religions believe in a soul. Others, in a divine life force. Buddhists believe in ‘Buddha nature.’ But it’s not unique to the individual — each living entity (animal, vegetable, maybe even mineral) possesses it. And it’s no more visible than the unicorn. And just as hard to believe in, for many. :)

Personally? I kind of like this explanation of narwhals. The disgruntled look on the unicorn’s face is classic. And it reminds me: there’s so little I should take at face value. I need to look for the unicorn. Just beneath the surface ~

baby love, and the perpetuation of the species ~

TrinidadBuddhism has little to say (at least that I know of) about grandmothers. In fact, I can’t think of a religion that does. Why is that? Surely somewhere in human wisdom traditions, someone has considered grandmothers? Because it seems to me, newly annointed grandmother (this weekend!!), that I have been preparing all my life for this new life, this new adventure.

My grandson (and first grandchild) Trinidad David was born Friday. Healthy, beautiful, awaited and welcomed. I wish I could offer each child born all four of those attributes. While every baby has the beauty of its fragility and dependency, so few are welcomed, healthy, and anticipated w/ the expectant joy we all felt waiting for Trinidad.

I immediately bought a card to send. In case I haven’t mentioned it previously, I love to send cards. And write letters. Writers often do, you know. :) So I went out today to buy a card suitable for my son, daughter-in-law, and Trinidad. It had just the perfect metaphor: Enjoy learning this new language. Illustrated with a diaper, a bottle, a rocker, and other icons. Each bearing a word beneath (waaah).

And humour aside, I’m figuring that even though I speak fluent parent, I have a whole new language and culture ahead of me now. My own grandmothers — all my old ladies, actually all my female elders — were huge parts of my life. As integral in their own different ways as my parents. Perhaps because I KNEW that they loved me. And they didn’t have to. It never occurred to me that parents might not love you (how very lucky a child I was). They were your mom & dad: they HAD to love you. But grandmothers (I had no living grandfathers) and great-aunts? They could choose you. And when they did, what joy! They brought you presents (we bought several this weekend), too!elephant rattle & thumbie

Somehow, I have to learn how to convey that to Trinidad. I have to remember an almost-forgotten language I once knew  very well: the language of small boychild, a bit different (think of it as a regional dialect) from small girlchild. I’ve been practicing w/ my grand-nephew, whom I’ve written about. He applauds the ‘boy toys’ (a wooden spool, a copper spoon, two old Pinewood Derby models and a copper bowl of old coins). He approves the dog toys (balls & pull ropes) I let him play with. He loves the children’s books I’ve saved from my two sons’ childhood, and the ones I’ve collected since. So those I can contribute. What else?

As it turns out, someone HAS thought about what grandmothers contribute: baby-sitting. :) And not JUST baby-sitting, but baby-sitting that has — literally — changed our species. Science, that nouveau kid in the wisdom classroom, has examined why the Great Ape man has grandmothers, when the other primates do not.

Because no one babysits like a grandma. And baby-sitting, it appears, is mega-important.

Seeming digression: I can not WAIT to hold my new grandson. I adore babies. They entrance me — in that old, magickal meaning; to cause to fall into a kind of trance from enchantment. I can hold babies for hours — my own, certainly. I would hold Trinidad’s father & his uncle, when they were infants, and just make happy noises. Coo, babble, nuzzle. Sing old protest songs, hymns, lullabies, and jazz standards. As happy as bees in clover. I fully intend to rock Trinidad until the rocker wears out.

rocker and cribSo this new life, this tiny joining of two families, will be safer than safe with me. It has always been so, I suspect, for the millennia of grandmothers. This is the secret to ‘why grandmothers,’ science proposes. Grandmothers make new babies possible. (and here you thought it was just sex…)

W/out a good babysitter, a new mother is beyond exhausted. Especially primate mothers — holding, feeding, tending, defending. How can she split her attention between two? Not to mention 3, or more! Enter Grandma. Who will hold, tend, feed, defend, and entertain. With joy. And in a mere 60,000 years? The species — all of humanity!! — have longer life spans. Significantly longer. And happy grandmas, moms, and babies. (And we all know that means happy dads & granddads & siblings, too!)

Moral of the story? Many. Mostly that love is beyond immediate quantification. Critical for far more than we can measure, possibly, in the moment. I didn’t think I could be any prouder. But that was before I realised: I’m a Darwinian vector! All because I love a tiny boychild I have yet to hold.

 

 

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