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FRIDAY, JANUARY 18, 2019

YOUR STUDENTS ARE NOT CHILDREN

Jackson

2009-12-28 22:46:13

Science & Technology

From: How to teach Naked (Jackson, Future Publication)

Your Student’s are not Children!

Your students are not children! Children are willful, uncontrollable, rampantly creative and smelly. Your students, on the other hand, are willful, uncontrollable, rampantly creative, smelly and: they are your responsibility. If we consider the significance of this single difference between children and our students, then a few things become apparent. I will discuss the first and most important factor of this responsibility in this chapter: the element of understanding. In brief, it is crucial to our successful engagement of our students that we understand them as thoroughly as possible.

It should be clear that - as our responsibilities - students command a degree of regard which most people are not accustomed to extending to one another. The regard that we - teachers - owe students is a simulacrum of the regard that a parent owes their children, with two significant differences. First, teachers operate in loco parentis, but not as parents. Teachers operate at all times with the interests of students as primary concern, with their growth as a priority objective, just as parents do. Unlike parents, however, teachers must always remain distanced from their students such that they never undermine each individual student’s relationship with their own parents. Second, teachers must remain equally committed to all members of their class. There are no parents (that I am aware of) that have been so prodigiously fecund as to have a brood of thirty; there are no parents (again, that I am aware of) who face the challenge of being responsible for the formative education of so many children as we - educators - are. Attainment of this type of professional familiarity (very literally familiarity; from the latin familia, for family) can only be done when we take the task of understanding our students very seriously.
To understand our students we must devote some very serious thought to what our students are. What I am about to reveal to you is a theory which I have come up with; however, I do not take full credit for it. I attribute this insight to three of the most famous figures in global wisdom; three figures of pristine reputation in the field of education; three bastions of knowledge. These three individuals are so familiar, so integral to our way of thought, that many of us consider them to have transcended individuality as universal archetypes: The Pirate, The Ninja and The Robot. Your students are all pirates, ninja (1) and robots. You may find this hard to believe, but if you read on, you will see that inside each student lurks a dastardly pirate, a sneaky ninja and an impressionable robot.
Integral to my belief, however, is the idea that the pirate, ninja and robot are not strictly dastardly, sneaky and impressionable, but also noble, skillful and precise. In order to make salient this identification of student to concept (the pirate et. al.), I will define the archetypal terms I intend to use. These definitions may stray a little from traditional definitions of pirates, ninja and robots, but the intention of this chapter is to enlighten us about the qualities of our students, not discuss semantics. With no further adieu I turn to our first figure of wisdom...

i) The Pirate
Piracy (noun)
The action of committing robbery, kidnap, or violence at sea or from the sea without lawful authority, esp. by one vessel against another; an instance of this.
Pirate (noun)
A person who plunders or robs from ships, esp. at sea; a person who commits or practises piracy.
Oxford English Dictionary (Entries by Name)


Now I clearly do not mean, in my introduction, that our students are all seafaring plunderers! A pirate, to me, is a gentleman of the sea - something of a Robin Hood character who fights tyranny and champions freedom. Of course pirates are also capable of being the robbers and kidnappers described above. The point of my comparison between students and pirates is that all students have a measure of rebel in them. It is this rebelliousness that I point to when I say pirate.
It should surprise no-one that students are rebellious. Students are youth who approaching, experiencing or adjusting to the events of both physical changes (puberty) and mental ones (noetic and moral development). At the same time, they are subject to the authority of people and systems with rigid, developed rules and bureaucracies. This incongruence can often make students feel as if they are ‘out to drift’ in uncertain waters. It is the duty of teachers to instruct students as to how to sail and navigate this ocean of life. Too often, teachers will allow their frustration with the more rebellious students ‘trick’ them into focusing their attention on the students who are already sailing smoothly. This can take many forms - from labeling students oppositional and placing them in segregated behavior groups to writing off entire grade levels as being lost in the ‘Hormone Zone’ - but always has the effect of further estranging the students who are most in need of guidance.
If ignored, these ‘drifters’ can become real pirates - the lure of drugs and criminality in schools is always strongest for those who are not involved with school culture - and the tragedy of this is the ease with which one can bring these sailors onto the right deck. If shown the right way to adapt to and flourish on this sea, these ‘problem’ students can become real community assets. Many of the professionals I work with who are successful at reaching out to at-risk youth were once, themselves, drifters.
Consider the Peurto-Rican pirate Roberto Cofresí (1791 - 1825) (2). Though his exact motivations for targeting US ships are under debate, the legends make him out to be a real Robin Hood. It is said that he stole from US gold ships because he despised the export of his country’s wealth to foreign plunderers. It is said that he redistributed the wealth to his countrymen. It is said he was a hero. Whether or not these legends are true is irrelevant - the legends themselves show us that piracy can be a heroic act. Indeed rebellion led to the canonization of many ‘oppositional’ and ‘disobedient’ statesmen (and women) as heroes. To dismiss the potential for nobility in our student’s willfulness is akin to ignoring the accomplishments of Greenpeace because a few of the organizations members have committed civilly disobedient acts in the name of protest (such as climbing parliament last week, Dec 7, 2009 (3) ).

ii) The Ninja
Two monks were arguing about a flag. One said: `The flag is moving.'
The other said: `The wind is moving.'
The sixth patriarch happened to be passing by. He told them: `Not the wind, not the flag; mind is moving.'
Zen Koan, Circa 13thC


When I think of ninja, I think of awesome! I do not mean this in a tongue and cheek way; I genuinely believe that the abilities of the ninja - fabled or not - are inspirational to us all as testaments to the bounds of human ability. When I was a kid, I really wanted to be a ninja and learn how to fly and breath underwater and throw ripe fruit with deadly precision. As I have grown I have come to realize that the ninja of fable were simply assassins with extreme combat and survival training. Still awesome! Like modern day cavalry scouts (4), ninja were trained so thoroughly that they could do things that you and I would marvel at.
Is it strange that I am talking about highly specialized, trained, disciplined militant professions in comparison to our students (willful, uncontrollable, rampantly creative and smelly)? Only if the point of the comparison is how well trained our students are compared to ninja. The point I am actually making has nothing to do with training and everything to do with the ability of our students (and ninja) to awe us. When our students amaze us with exceptional achievements in our core subjects, we generally recognize and affirm these successes, which reinforces the behaviors that led to the achievements and lead to our students becoming better writers and mathematicians etc.
Some of the most amazing things my students have ever done were done outside of ‘curricular boundaries’. Students who seem mediocre at assignments have frequently amazed me with their athletic, theatrical, community-oriented or other-directed talents. What I have noticed is the extreme gratification and encouragement that students derive from receiving recognition form teacher for the things they do in ‘real life’. If our goal is to understand our students, then we must take seriously the duty of celebrating our students as whole people - with lives outside of our core subjects. In this way we can encourage our students to become better people.
If our students are awesome and we never notice them, then we run the risk of allowing them to lose the qualities which make them awesome. Without reinforcement of their strengths, students can become weak; as tragic as this sounds it is very common to see students in our schools who have some wonderful talent or other which is not reinforced anywhere in the curriculum. As a result, these students lose their way. Unlike the drifters (in danger of becoming pirates), these uncelebrated ninja inadvertently relegate themselves to a place associated intimately with ninja - the shadows. As the ninja of myth were able to become invisible so too are these shadow-students. With the ninja it was a great strength to sink into shadows to evade enemies; for students it is a life sentence of mediocrity to sink invisibly into the ranks of people who were passed over by their teachers (and parents) and lost the skills that made them individuals. The passion is the person, and if educators do not support their student’s passion, then we will find our society ninja-less, and we will find ourselves stuck with the resulting decline of awesomeness.

iii) The Robot
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Isaac Asimov (I Robot)


Somewhere between the play “Rossum’s Universal Robots” (1920) by Karel Capek (1890 - 1938) and the voluminous works of Isaac Asimov (1920 - 1992), the term robot came to mean something like a machine which was human in many ways, inhuman in others, but most importantly, had a machine body and an electronic brain (5) . More specifically, Asimov defined robots as having positronic brains (6) , which obeyed the three laws unfailingly and allowed for errorless recall (as a hard drive does). If you doubt that our students are like robots, I dare you to say anything out-of-colour in front of them and see how many of them record the event, word-for-word, in their brains. More than being highly accurate recording machines for the documentation of our follies (Mr. Jackson said ‘crap’ in class today), students operate under limited sets of laws and are susceptible to influence, or programming, by uncareful or unscrupulous programmers.
On thing that many educators seem to forget (7) is the bizarre way in which we are like programmers of robots. In my youth I was a very outspoken and opinionated ass. Today however, I am simply eccentric (8). Despite my eccentricity - the stubbornness with which I cling to ‘my way’ of doing things, my environmental advocacy and my philosophical rebelliousness - I am constantly aware of how my actions may influence my students. Teachers can teach an entire lesson on the importance of recycling, perhaps even a unit on the environment, and the brutal reality is that at the end of the day many students will simply remember that Mr. Barnes had a bottle of water or a Starbucks coffee on his desk while he preached conservation and radical anti-consumerism. The weird way in which students perceive, remember and place importance means that every thing a teacher does may be the one thing that a student remembers.
To complicate this, our students are still developing intellectually - so our challenge to understand how it is we influence them is made greater. Our students are always struggling with rules - be they scholastic, familial or communal - and our onslaught of expectations and directives can conflict with any or all of these rules in unpredictable ways. One of Asimov’s novels revolves around the conundrum caused by the realization that robots can be taught to kill people (despite the three laws, above) by way of misdirection (9). A robot, if given only incomplete details, can kill a person unknowingly because their judgment capabilities are not fully formed. Likewise students can be grossly misguided if given conflicting messages and directions.
While some extremists like Richard Dawkins consider all forms of religious indoctrination to be abusive (10), the Manitoba Provincial Court certainly recognised ‘unscrupulous programming’ as a crime when that province’s Child and Family Services (CFS) seized two children for “being taught hate and arriving at school with supremacist marking on their bodies” (11). Of course, while few teachers bring such destructive views to class with them there remain some educators who conduct themselves ‘outside’ of practice in negative ways, such as Paul Fromme. Fromme was an unremarkable teacher ‘in’ his classroom, but ‘outside’ his practice he was an outspoken neo-nazi supporter(12). I say ‘outside’ because teaching does not really have an inside and outside with regards to practice; this is similar to the manner in which the environment does not have an inside and an outside (13).

iv) What do I do With Them
So the conduct of a teacher can threaten the programming of our students. Ignored students are at risk of their identities sinking into the shadows of invisibility. Unguided students may sail dangerously close to piracy. With all these warnings, how do we nurture the rebelliousness, the awesomeness, the precision of our students properly and safely? That is a question that every educator faces, and the answers - though innumerable and subjective - all have objective commonalities. Respect and understanding factor into all aspects of positive pedagogy. Reflective capacity is crucial to every educator. Love is the key to countless doors...

______
1 the correct pluralization of Ninja (singular) is Ninja (plural)
2 Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roberto_Cofresi#cite_ref-Americanos_5-0
3 Toronto Sun - http://www.torontosun.com/news/canada/2009/12/07/12065051-qmi.html
4 Cavalry Scouts are U.S. Soldiers whose job it is to infiltrate conflict zones and locate safe routes for Armour; this often involves the diffusion of explosives, concealment and extreme survival and stamina.
5 Oxford English Dictionary (Robot)
6 Asimov, Isaac. “I Robot”. Gnome Press, New York, 1951
7 Or rather, they behave as though they have forgotten this thing whenever I observe them
8 A polite term for someone who is an outspoken and opinionated ass
9 Asimov, Isaac. The Naked Sun. Doubleday, 1957
10 http://richarddawkins.net/articles/118
11 http://www.cbc.ca/canada/manitoba/story/2009/07/03/mb-custody-hearing-final-winnipeg.html
12 http://www.stopracism.ca/content/neo-nazi-supporter-loses-teaching-ticket
13 See “How do I Get Out”, a future publication by Scott Barnes


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