I love the title of Brian Crosby’s blog: Learning is Messy. It certainly is. Particularly authentic learning. Fake learning, like the kind legislators and administrators congratulate themselves about after test scores are published in newspapers, appears organized, sequential, and predictable. Fake learning is all about trying to control learners or learning. Real learning is likely not completely out of control, but may be on the border of control. Messy learning involves students taking initiative and working in an environment where unexpected, constructive learning events can happen– in fact, they are encouraged. Authentic, messy learning recognizes that real learning is the product of dynamical, even chaotic interactions, rather than false perceptions and constructions of linearity and predictability. When all the kids are silent, they are neatly lined up in their desks, no one is asking questions or whispering, learning is going on… but it is most likely not the sort of authentic, messy learning we should want in our classrooms and schools.
Brian teaches 6th grade, and wrote the following about how important EXPERIENCES are in shaping learning environments and encouraging young people to cultivate spirits of inquiry:
…every single time I have these same students go on a field trip and/or integrate technology and engage in gathering and thinking about and processing and presenting information in science or art or whatever, they start asking questions. Questions like: What does this mean? How do you do this? How can I find out more? Can you explain this to us? AND, “Hey we just learned that…”… and “Did you know that…?”… and “Look at this!!!” and “Can we go here? And students are mostly excited and motivated and willing to do more and learn more. I bet if we take them there maybe they will make the push we are looking for to change how we do school. Or at least help drive that change.
It will be statewide testing time here in the great state of Texas soon. Too bad that messy, authentic learning like the kind Brian describes in his post will be suspended (as it is for many other parts of the year, unfortunately, that are dedicated to didactic test-prep) during these times. I heard today about a fantastic distance learning author visit that had to be cancelled, because a school district has literally outlawed all field trips and other such frivolity (read: authentic, messy learning opportunities) through a formally written policy during the week prior to the statewide tests.
It’s enough to make me want to homeschool my own children in defiance of such idiocy. But we will struggle on in the public schools, because this is where our fight for the educational futures of not only our children, but our very nation must be waged. While our family could fairly easily home-school, there are socialization and activity benefits that I don’t want my children to miss in public school– and there are some GREAT teachers under whom I want them to study and with whom I want them to learn! I have an abiding faith in as well as loyalty in public schools and public school teachers that seems to come from the core of my educational soul. So many children and families DO NOT have viable options to homeschool or attend private school: public school is all they have. So we must remain committed to the goal and engaged in the enterprise of constructively reforming our educational systems.
Thank goodness my oldest is just in 2nd grade, the grade before mandatory testing in our great state. If we remain in Texas for 3rd grade, could we conscientiously object to mandated testing? Homeschoolers have remarkable autonomy in Texas, and are not required to take any TAKS exams. Could we announce homeschooling status the week prior to the test, and then unfathomably re-enroll after testing is over? Could I file suit in the courts (as if we have money for that) and sue the state for not authentically assessing the knowledge and skills of my child? Could I sue the state because my child’s educational present has been sacrificed on a legislative altar of high-stakes testing, where the most visible casualties are messy learning, a focus on the arts, and recess in grades where testing is required?
I could do these things, but I would likely be a 21st century Don Quixote valiantly but foolishly charging to joust the windmill of early 21st century public education.
This must be a group effort, solo acts will not prevail. We not only need to fight for recess, we need to fight for sanity– for messy learning, for authentic education, for the classrooms and schools in which our children desperately want to learn and in which our passionate, creative teachers desperately want to teach.
It’s time to step up to the plate: Speak out, take action, and get mad. We live in a free country, praise God. Let’s exercise some free speech rights.
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On this day..
- Oklahomans Against High Stakes Testing Worship - 2012
- Unwrapping Common Core State Standards and Unit Planning (Deer Creek Public Schools) - 2012
- Flip Video Session Recording - With a Tripod! - 2010
- Forget the iPad - The MacBook Wheel is what you really want - 2010
- The Thursday Folder and Worksheet Measured Learning - 2009
- Join the Digital Literacy debate - Live! - 2009
- Exploring differences in preteen social networking sites - 2008
- Blogs, Wikis, District Polices, Walled Gardens and the Open Web - 2008
- An iPhone SMS poll demo over videoconference - 2008
- Sorry honey, you can't believe everything you read in your printed science textbook - 2008