How far reaching are the effects of our “authoritative” insistence that students should always be searching for conclusions? I wonder if there is anything at all, in my life, that I have come to a complete, definitive, absolute conclusion about. What happens to the development of young learners when we insist an “illusion of mastery”? When I heard Maxine Greene speak at the Lincoln Center Institute, she said something like, “I’d much rather live inside open questions.”
It seems that much of my teaching last year, drove students away from open questions, and toward flimsy, plastic theses and conclusions. I find myself reevaluating so much when it comes to every day practices, modeling, daily writing practices, sustained silent reading. In particular, I’m reconsidering a template that I use called, “TIED” for body paragraphs. It stands for Topic Sentence, Introduce Evidence, Evidence and Discuss Evidence. I thought I was doing my students justice by emphasizing the “Discuss Evidence” portion of this format, encouraging them to say something meaningful and worthwhile about a quote, but I never considered how much the form could impede authentic divergent thinking.
It seems that many structures inside the institution of education are setup for uniformed production, rather than liberating expression and discovery. It seems that the school system resembles a factory production line. The 5 paragraph essay is a perfect example of this. We come up with templates and outlines and formulas to help students produce writing, as if the production, in and of itself, was the ultimate goal – to have something logically structured, produced, finished, organized and mechanical. This speaks with the downfalls of “learning to earn” and preparing students to enter the economy, as if that’s all that matters.
This leaves very little room for imagination, or changing your mind, or battling with yourself. Maybe that’s a key to learning – battling with yourself. I think the real valuable lessons that I’ve learned in my personal life, that have helped me grow and mature, have been violent battles with myself! I usually start with an idea or notion about something. The idea or notion stops working for some reason. Perhaps I have an experience that contradicts the notion, or read something that undermines the foundation of the notion. Then, I start asking questions. Most of them are open and imaginative – they have to do with possibility – not reality.
Once I get to this point, I start challenging my old ideas more aggressively. I consider extremes. I envision, revise, envision and revise. This seems to be the natural learning process. I’m trying to imagine how my life would look if it was a 5 paragraph essay. I suppose I would have been born “knowing” some provable thesis, a claim that I made at birth and would spend the rest of my life trying to prove. My early childhood years would have been topic sentences or maybe I would have crawled around looking for quotes. I’m done with this metaphor. It’s not natural.