Did you get a chance to read my recent post on creating a culture of “doing” instead of “knowing” in schools? It has sparked a ton of interest and a bunch of great thinking — both here on the Radical and in the other spaces that I mentally wrestle in.
The strand that challenges me the most, however, was best articulated by John Spencer, who wrote:
I don’t think it’s a culture “of this, instead of this.” Paulo Freire was right when he said it needs to be a cycle of action and reflection. Too much of one and it becomes shallow, close-minded activism. Too much of the other and it becomes useless intellectualism. They’re both necessary.
John’s point is a simple one: “Instead” thinking is often unhealthy when it creeps its way into schools — and to suggest that knowing is fundamentally unimportant would be foolish.
In fact, it would be nearly impossible to successfully take action without a foundational understanding of the content behind the issues and ideas that you care the most about.
Bradley Zakarin shared similar thinking in Twitter when he wrote:
@plugusin Artificial lines b/t do/know (or action/research) hinder student pursuits at both ends of spectrum. Can DO better w/ KNOWLEDGE.
— Bradley Zakarin (@bzeducon) January 29, 2012
Long story short: Balance matters, right?
Here’s the thing, though – There IS no balance in schools today. Curriculum writers and politicians have slapped together courses of study that leave NO ROOM for doing.
Take the North Carolina sixth grade science curriculum as an example.
We tackle everything from a study of the layers of the earth and the formation of minerals to the way that light, sound and heat transfer energy. We look at why humans should protect soil, how space exploration has benefited mankind, and how species adapt to their habitats.
We talk about the differences between the planets. We look at earthquake and volcano patterns. We learn about convection and conduction. We wrestle with symbiosis, mutualism and parasitism. We examine food chains. We study the parts of waves — both transverse and longitudinal. We look at convex and concave lenses.
We study the parts of the eye and ear. We discuss the Law of Conservation of Energy. We explore the differences between potential and kinetic energy. We learn about how the gravitational pull of the sun and the moon influence the earth.
Are you starting to get a sense for just HOW massive the knowing part of our curriculum really is?
The results are really quite simple: There’s not a whole heck of a lot of time for doing in classrooms.
Here’s a tangible example of how this changes the instructional decisions made by teachers: Marsha Ratzel — a buddy of mine teaching science in Kansas — introduced me to the Science for Citizens website yesterday.
She describes it like this:
Science for Citizens offers regular folks like me (if I’m regular I guess) the chance to participate in science projects from right where we live, doing pretty normal stuff and then sending in what we learn to the principal investigators.
Can’t get much more “doing” than that, can you?
But here’s the hitch: While I LOVE the idea of getting my kids involved in projects that would give them a chance to be a part of a much larger community of practicing scientists — a lesson I think is pretty darn important for them to learn — I literally WORRY about incorporating any of the projects into my classroom because I’m already a month behind in my curriculum.
The moral of the story is that I believe in balance too. We can’t throw the content baby out with the bathwater. “Instead” thinking really isn’t any healthier for schools than “Yeah, But” thinking.
But let’s not pretend that what we have in schools now is a finely balanced knowing-doing experience.
From my point of view, we’re not “doing” much more than sprinting our way to know-where.
Any of this make sense? Do y’all feel that the knowing-doing balance is out of whack in your worlds too, or do your kids have plenty of chances to take an action-stance towards their content — and more importantly, their communities?
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