It’s not what you see

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This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills is talking about the effect of changing a lens on how things are viewed. She says,

 “No matter what lens we apply, there is something to be seen in each of us that is worthy.

Perhaps if we focus differently, we might actually achieve peace.”

This is true too of children. Sadly, I think too often children are seen for what they are not yet, rather than appreciated for what they are. Childhood is all too fleeting, and with the current focus on assessment and teaching-to-the-test in many educational systems, it is becoming almost non-existent. Recess and free-play times are being eroded to cram in more cramming time.

I recently read an article in the Washington Post that told of children in a US school having to walk laps during a 20-minute recess. The supposed intention was to get the children active. However, most children would be naturally active if allowed the freedom to run and play. The benefits of free-play activities for health, well-being, and social development would be far greater than that of walking laps.

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This practice contrasts with one described in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald. Children in Finland have fifteen minutes of mandatory outdoor play every hour, whatever the weather. “Fresh air, nature and regular physical activity breaks are considered engines of learning.”

Each of these practices recognises the importance of activity, but each has a different way of providing for it, and only one is effective. I wonder why those with the power to make positive changes in education, fail to see the damage being done by didactic and test-driven practices that rob children of any love for or joy in learning. It seems to matter little what lens is used, they are unable to focus clearly on what matters most.

In this TEDx talk, Nancy Carlsson-Paige explains what happens When Education Goes Wrong: Taking the Creativity and Play out of Learning.

Towards the end of the talk, beginning at 12:45, Nancy says,

 “The difference between understanding concepts and reciting facts is very important for us to understand right now, because it captures the essence of what is happening in education today. There is a gross misunderstanding of what education is that has swept across the country, and the unfortunate belief is that you can direct teach, and you can measure and you can quantify learning; but the truth is, it is only the most superficial and the most mechanical aspects of learning that can be reduced to numbers. Unfortunately, this mistaken idea about the nature of education has pushed down to our youngest children. “

She says that when we “drill and grill” kids, we not only lose the power of the learning experience, we lose all the amazing capacities that children bring to us in education:

  • initiative
  • creativity
  • the ability to define and solve their own problems
  • originality of thought
  • invention of new ideas
  • perseverance
  • cooperation.

She says that when we take those capacities out, we take away the love of and joy in learning, not only from the children but from teachers too.

These are themes that are familiar to regular readers of my blog, and the most influential when I decided to leave the classroom. More than thirty years ago I wrote a poem to describe the differences between what often is, and what could be.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Sadly, I cannot say that nothing has changed. It has. The differences have become more stark.

Here is my response to Charli’s prompt to: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using a lens. It can be literal, like looking at the world through rose-colored lenses or the need for spectacles.

pink-sunglasses-clipart-1

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find my rose-coloured glasses.

What you see

They saw him for what he wasn’t and what he lacked, not for what he was and what he could be. Their ill-fitting garments failed to clothe, and their unpalatable diet failed to nourish. If only they’d zoomed in upon his potential. Instead the wide-angled lens showed a panorama of disadvantage: an excuse for failure to fulfil his needs or enable his possibilities. A lens in proper focus may have seen a burning curiosity, a rich imagination, a wisdom older than time, and a heart in harmony with the universe. Instead they considered the negatives not worthy of development.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

31 thoughts on “It’s not what you see

  1. Bec Colvin

    A very powerful FF about how lazy expectations can undermine students’ potential. Such an important thing to be discussing, particularly as there is so much research telling us how we ‘rate’ people or work is very much shaped by our expectations (e.g. how we compare the quality of work produced by men versus women). Walking laps sounds awful – like a prison yard!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Walking laps does sound awful. Thanks for your lovely comment. There are many ways in which we are shaped by our environment, including society. Much of it we are oblivious to.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  2. julespaige

    I have several friends with differently able family members who I knew as children. And thankfully those children, at least I believe got a ‘second look’ and were and are being given opportunities that are available for their abilities.

    I do remember my student teaching days, when an older teacher took a dislike to a particular boy because he had been held back and was ‘too big’ on average for the children in her class.
    She expected more out of him than he could give. His physical growth was ahead of his emotional maturity, and she did very little to help him. I made a note of it in one of my papers, but my professor frowned upon negative comments concerning teachers who allowed college students to ‘assist’ in the classroom.

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    1. Norah Post author

      It’s great to hear about children of all abilities receiving support appropriate to their needs. Thanks for sharing the good news.
      I have known a few teachers like the one you describe. The professor’s response is disappointing. It is only through discussions of issues like this that we can grow in our understanding and learn how to respond in more appropriate ways. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. Sarah Brentyn

    Great flash, Norah. This is a huge concern and has been now for years. I see a lot of people disagreeing with it (agreeing with you) but, unfortunately, not a lot of change. My kids learn differently so the structure is actually not a bad thing for them but if we could just see each child as different and at least try to accommodate their needs, much would improve. I know that’s not realistic in a large classroom setting but we could move closer to it.

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    1. Sarah Brentyn

      P.S. I’ll admit to sending my kids out to run around the yard. THEY have often chosen to do laps instead of playing with outdoor toys. They’re not in the mood and didn’t want to go out. People may judge me but, hey, energy is high and focus is low… Out the door they go! It really helps. 🙂 They are always happier and more focused when they come back inside.

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      1. Norah Post author

        Outdoors to run around is fabulous. It’s important for many reasons. Choosing to do laps is very different from having laps mandated. How lucky are your kids! 🙂

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    2. Norah Post author

      I so agree with this: “if we could just see each child as different and at least try to accommodate their needs, much would improve”. We could move a lot closer to it! Thanks for adding your voice to the conversation.

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  4. ellenbest24

    A superb piece, all of it relevant. It brings to mind something I heard years ago… give them enough string to be pulled back (as in rescued) but not restricted. The balance it teeters, we have to teach trust and what it actually means then give them the trust to fly. Your rose coloured spectacles fit the bill nicely done Norah.😇

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  5. Steven

    Although it is a somewhat dark piece of work, I quite like your flash fiction. I’m not sure exactly why I like it, but I think the way you are shifting the focus between positives and negatives may have something to do with it.

    Liked by 2 people

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  6. Pingback: Through the Lens « Carrot Ranch Communications

  7. Charli Mills

    Amazing that schools think they need to regulate even laps. Give the kids back their playgrounds! And good point, too that this “drill and grill” attitude discourages teaching as much as learning. Your lens is not rosy but it is sadly clear. Your flash expresses how much is missed in that wide angle approach.

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  8. jeanne229

    We’re still in the factory mode over here, reducing learning to numbers. No wonder kids drop out by the time they’re in high school. But like health care or criminal justice, we just don’t want to see what is working in different countries. Thank God for dedicated and talented teachers who do see! And yes, great use of the prompt!

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    1. Norah Post author

      I’d don’t know where we’d be without those dedicated teachers who work tirelessly for the children in their care, doing their best despite the directives. Thankfully their numbers are large, but their workload is difficult because they strive to balance what is best with what is demanded.

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  9. thecontentedcrafter

    I think this lowest-common-denominator face of modern education challenges even the most positive of us to find the rosy side Norah. This is a sad 99 words you leave us with today – but sadly accurate too. I have started thinking we need civil disobedience in the realms of education and medicine these days. Hey, lookit me – I’m becoming a radical in my old age! 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      Ooh! I like the sound of civil disobedience. I’ve tried nearly everything I know. There are many voices raised in unison, but no one with power is willing to listen. Dollars are more important than children’s hearts and minds.

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  10. Gulara

    This must be your favourite prompt of all, Norah! You’ve got so much to contribute to this topic and it’s the key to our future. Kids who love learning can change the world. I’m so keen to enbue that feeling in my kids, as opposed to chasing academic excellence. Poignant and powerful flash too.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you very much for your comment, Gulara. I really appreciate it. Yes, education is the key to our future and kids who love learning will change the world for the better. I’m certain your children have a love of learning. It is such a joy to share a child’s learning journey.

      Liked by 2 people

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  11. davidprosser

    Finland tops the tables of performing schools year on year. The children are better educated and more rounded as little people and yet the authorities in the West refuse to emulate this system which can only benefit their countries as a whole were it done so.
    I don’t know who decided that more control was the way forward but it certainly doesn’t benefit the children.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your support, David. The trouble is, what is of no benefit to the children, is of no benefit to society as a whole either. The only ones that seem to benefit are the ones with a vested interest in selling text books and structured lesson plans for teachers. Pity they are the ones with the power.

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