Friday Diary-ha

Me as Vitruvian Man

It has been brought to my attention that I have not written any new passionate arguments for democratic learning lately. I have been on a kind of writing hiatus. Sidetracked by the unpredictable events of life. A mounting competition for my attention.

As a self proclaimed Renaissance man, I have a tendency to move from discipline to discipline. If I am not writing, I am drawing. If I am drawing, I take frequent breaks to practice guitar. If I am distracted from all of these, it is probably because I have been called upon once again to struggle to make a living. That is usually my tried and true occupation of designer, which as of late, has not been completely fulfilling. So though I am not a lawyer, or a doctor, my existence is full to the brim with meaningful activities. Many of which I feel have some benefit to the world at large. As my middle age is in full bloom, I feel more productive than I have ever been in my life.

The main topic of this blog is Democratic Education. My time is overwhelmingly taken by my involvement with Brooklyn Free School. It is not a paying position, but I have grown from being a mere involved parent, to a full blown activist. I realize now that this unique educational process has not only been beneficial for my son, but has slowly had an affect on me and my wife as well. It may be the stage of life I am at, but all the things I never thought were acceptable to try openly in the “real” world, have slowly emerged as being the core value of how I wish to live my life.

But lately, I have not had any revolutionary thoughts, or even the inclination to write, so my pen has gone silent. Fortunately, a blog has the alternate purpose of functioning as a bulletin board. And recently, there has been an avalanche of articles supporting the views of education reform. It seems that many are beginning to emerge with some alternative solutions to the current decay of our whole economic system as a by-product of outdated thinking. So I have been able to keep this blog active by posting many of these great videos and articles that have come across my desk over the last few weeks. There are many in this movement who are way more eloquent than I am, with greater expertise in the classroom, or academic understanding. My voice is just one more trumpet, on top of a growing assault. It is what I have seen as a gross injustice to all people from the time my 4th grade teacher told me to stop talking, stop drawing and pay attention to the blackboard.

There are many in society who have benefited (so they think) from the use of tracking. If you are not aware of the term “tracking” it is where the “smart’ kids are sifted out from us “average” kids. The “dumb” kids are completely ignored and we all take our predetermined places in society. Well, here I can share some very interesting observations. Because of Facebook and other electronic social media, I have been able to reconnect with some of those “smart” kids from my day. And the thing I have observed the most is that though many  have moved into [more] financially rewarding occupations, their interest in learning and being a creative component in a changing world had come to a screeching halt decades ago. I have found that many have traveled little, exhibit little curiosity about anything outside of sports, and have read almost nothing over the years. This is not a conclusive study, just my own observation.

There was a recent episode of The Office (we watch on Hulu) which illustrated this tracking dilemma. Jim (Krasinski) sees a collection of people in the office gathered for a seminar. He sees someone he knows and immediately ducks out of the office. It comes to light that he is avoiding someone he saw in there. It turned out that the guy he was avoiding was a best friend from 5th grade. Jim had been put in the “blue” program for middle school, while his friend was tracked to the “green” group (lower.) Jim’s mom then intervened and told him that he should spend more time with his friends from the “blue” group. He went to his friend and told him, “my mom does not want me to play with you anymore because you are too dumb.” Twenty years later, this episode embarrasses him, as it should. This kind of divisiveness is historical in school. It was for me. And the scar remains. What I have observed at BFS is that the boys of my son’s age, all seem to accept their differences and each one’s unique abilities. There is no tracking. There is only the opposite.

It’s absurd and anti-life to be part of a system that compels you to sit in confinement with people of exactly the same age and social class. That system effectively cuts you off from the immense diversity of life and the synergy of variety; indeed it cuts you off from your own past and future, sealing you in a continuous present much the same way television does… – John Taylor Gatto

Many of the articles I have posted recently argue in favor of this multi-dimensional form of learning. They provide a sound argument against rigidity; of being restricted to a classroom and teaching to the test. I have heard many teachers say that because of these policies, they feel they are not teaching at all. Many of the articles use science to back up their view point. Dan Pink’s book Drive is a great example of citing studies that show how motivation is not determined by rewards. There is actual scientific data on this, and yet this material, which is not new, is completely ignored by schools and corporate America.

We are at a tipping point in history. As a civilization, we have not been alert to the warnings and mistakes. There have been alarm bells going off for decades, but Western society lays in bed like a drugged out teenager who cannot shake off sleep. We hope that the disaster unfolding in Japan will finally awaken us to the fact that though nuclear may provide clean energy, there are way too many risks for it to be sustainable. The answers are there, but greed seems to consistently determine the move forward. And greed is really a move backward.

School is a twelve-year jail sentence where bad habits are the only curriculum truly learned. – John Taylor Gatto

When I started this rant, I had no idea as to where I was going to go with it. I wanted to tell the readers why I have been away from the keyboard. I feel like I am in a kind of pre-spring stasis. My original thought for this post has been lost in the sea of occurrence. A level of distraction that builds as we move closer to the full moon. Sunday is the Vernal Equinox and that always brings a ray of new feelings. There are many activities that are coming up that I will let you know about as they occur. One is the Art Gala at BFS. We are selling ads in a journal and the forms can be downloaded from the right hand side of the blog page titled “Art Gala Forms for Download.” Please contribute by placing an ad. Also, I am hosting a public talk on “What is Democratic Education?” at the Park Slope Food Coop on April 2nd at noon. Non-members are welcome. You can access information about the PFSC at their website.

Abstract Conflict

I will close with an image from my most current indulgence. This new series of drawings kind of happened without any forethought. I stumbled upon a box of Pilot Razor point pens in my art closet. They have a fairly fine point that simulates a rapidograph pen. When I was in high school, I drew almost exclusively with a rapidograph. The pilot pen seemed to automatically call forth this older form of expression for me, which was heavily influenced by my teenage desires to become a comic artist. I have subsequently bought some better pens and have been drawing daily. When my son took a look at this new group of drawings, he said “I really like these!” with a truly honest grin on his face. He encourages me to continue and he always seems interested in what I am going to do next. I assure you there is no drug use involved in this group of illustrations. It is an example of free form thinking and imagination that I allow to happen in my work. Everything is automatic and the drawings evolve from the moment with no preconception, as all my work has been. Including the writing of this post. I hope to get enough of these together to be worthy of a published collection. Stay tuned.

The free form approach is what I feel is supported by Democratic Education. When a child is allowed, or empowered to take control of their own learning, unforeseen results occur. What emerges is a unique individual, who also has learned to be empathetic, and self reliable. My input to this is to encourage my son, as well as any of the other children I encounter, to let your mind and spirit flow free. There are many things in our environment that seem unsolvable right now. But this approach to creative thinking may find the solutions without being prompted. It is this link to my own creative drive that I feel is like a drink of fresh clean water in a polluted world. It makes me feel good when I am drinking it. I believe that if we all had this opportunity, we could slowly move toward being functional as a society. It seems to be unrealistic to dream this given the love affair Americans have with low grade living, but at least there is hope that the possibility exists. And the hell with everything else. Hopefully when I return to the keyboard, I will do so with a song of springtime in my heart.

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