I’ve heard it said many times. Schools won’t change until we define learning. I’ve seen some fine examples of such work in recent years. Teachers who are trusted and supported are the ones who change schools, though, not definitions.
It requires a cross-pollination of open-minded thought in order to transcend the routine of merely tweaking the status quo. The “change schools” agenda must frustrate teachers who spend every day doing just that. Our learners deserve not just the dispositions that make change possible, but also the conditions under which learners will thrive. Yet, regardless of inspirational definitions of learning, innovative ideas are too often strangled at birth.
I try to reflect on my own need to grow as an educator. Blogging is part of this process. I write as an act of reflection and it has helped me understand that I work in a field of learning that, at times, feels alien to my true passion. Each time I hear the word “pedagogy” I recoil as only a literature major must do. Literature is the realm of unbridled imagination and the world of endless possibility. Schools are in grave danger of becoming only about ends: short-sighted ones that neglect end users after we condition them to navigate a world that does not remotely resemble the reality that lies beyond schooling. What do our learners really need? Maybe it is, in fact, a definition, after all. But one of literature, not learning.
Literature: the breaking of submission to reality.
The conditions in which readers thrive: a willing suspension of disbelief.
Students come to us with these dispositions. We are born with such intuitions. Schools are obligated to nurture this potential with imagination and ambition. Literature is the perfect training for endless possibility. Sometimes I feel like the increasingly reductive goals of formal education and the transcendent purpose of literature are at odds. They should not be. I know this may be a facile argument, but it is time to stop blaming teachers for things that are wrong with education. I work with teachers who break the submission to reality on a daily basis and I have also met literature graduates who make me want to suspend more than disbelief as a result of their rigid, narrow mindsets. Our students are real people with real dreams, not masked data points we should brag about or dismiss. Education is at a turning point it feels, but the choice between the shallows and the real should be an easy one. I am fortunate to work in a school that gets this, but this is far from the norm.
If we are prepared to accept possibilities we have never considered before and not allow our preconceptions to govern our openness to these, then we are obliged to look beyond systems and schedules, pressures and conformities, in order to honour our students, not just in the reality of today, but also in the uncertain context of tomorrow. This is what great teachers do. As we approach the end of this calendar year I wonder how we can sit still with the possibility that education in 2018 can continue to look so much like it did when I went to school. We can prioritise systems or people, but not both.
There are no absolutes when it comes to learning and learners. Literature is the realm of unbridled imagination and the world of endless possibility. So is education. We must treat ideas and learners with the same conviction.