How many times have we seen students with their heads on the desk and their phones in their laps, pretending to be sleeping? Well, I couldn’t have done that when I was a child! But that’s only because we didn’t have phones to put in our laps at that time.
I did, however, have a book.
“Why aren’t you listening, Erin?” asked Mrs. Sagehorn, my Spanish teacher, in 2000.
“Why aren’t you teaching?” I quipped, and went back to reading my book, Dennett’s Consciousness Explained; but this time with a detention on my desk.
Let alone the precociousness of studying epistemology as a freshman in high school.
“But at least it was a book and not a phone!” we might be tempted to say. And perhaps this is the case – but who’s to say what kids are looking at on their phones anyway? Maybe they’re reading after all…
But, and this might surprise you, maybe I was already aware that the way she was teaching Spanish wasn’t the way that I was meant to learn it. It certainly wasn’t how I was called to teach it in the future.
James Hillman describes students and their future successful selves as acorns that have matured into oak trees and says that you cannot make the acorn become anything but the oak that it was meant to become. Furthermore,
As the acorn brings gifts, it sets limits, and only if the school allows intuition into the tuitional methods of the teacher can a bridge be thrown across, allowing the gift to emerge from the limits.”James Hillman, The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling, 102.
The root of this idea with the acorn actually goes back to Aristotle with his conception of entelechy – which states that the soul of every plant and animal has a preordained direction and function and that it cannot not develop the way it is meant to develop. We can only shape it or hamper its flourishing.
And he actually used the example of the acorn growing into the oak tree specifically – Hillman is just popularizing it.
But he is popularizing it well. Furthermore, the notion of intuition versus tuition is useful and creative. Tuition doesn’t just mean the price of school. It actually means instruction itself. And it comes from Old Middle English meaning to watch or to guard, which is what we do with children in school – regardless if they learn or not. Hopefully they learn!
Hopefully the teachers can teach!
School becomes demoralizing when it undermines the intuition of teachers and students. In our high-stakes testing environments this is happening already with teachers not always being able to teach from the place of their wisdom or deep knowing that called them to be teachers in the first place. The teacher retention rate in the United States is even lower than the teachers’ salaries.
Students, on their end, are being taught material that is not relevant or are being taught relevant material in ways that are not suited for the futures that they are supposedly being prepared for.
Teacher education programs are generally taught by professors as opposed to successful classroom practitioners of the subjects that they teach teachers to teach. Meaning that the methods and learning modalities are either outdated or super-modern and new but somehow still inauthentic because they have not been applied by true expert practitioners.
We need to close the gap between heart and mind that our testing culture drives and promotes. My intention is not to bash teachers, or teacher education, but it is rather to point out a problem in hopes that it might be remedied. My business approaches this gap systemically and interpersonally as the case demands, but the rise in socio-emotional education is necessary, and not just a touchy-feely trend. Not everyone is meant for school, – and this is not a backhanded racial comment at all – but since it’s mandatory, it needs to meet kids where they are – and kids can be coached to survive if not thrive.