Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Musings on Schools -- of Fish, and Others

Richard Gilder, the CEO of CAGSE (the consultancy for which I now work), wrote a most insightful note on adolescents.

He says,

Adolescents (and many young[er] adults as well) are in a constant battle with what they perceive as two diametrically opposed desires:

to be their own person;
to be part of a group. . . .

Self-confidence comes when adolescents realize that they fit into a group not in spite of, but because of, their independence.

In everything but relationship between pronouns and verbs, there must be agreement all round.

What Does It Mean to Learn to Be Your Own Person?

Going back to past posts, it is impossible to consider the learning process as an entirely intellectual exercise. Cognition involves a web of both emotional reactions and more abstract analyses.

What is inspiration but a meeting of intellectual and emotional insight? And can anyone develop an idea without first being engaged in other ways as well?

Yet by the time students in school are old enough to write persuasive essays or research papers, they no longer use "I" or any reference to feeling at all. The fashion dictates that both erode credibility.

Eventually students become dissociated from their feelings, their likes and dislikes, their own impulses -- themselves. Academic fields define the methodology as creating an objective voice in writing.

Circular (Il)Logic

If being objective means being able to argue all sides of a question, then clearly engagement is a necessary component. There has to be an "I" who knows, writes, talks, and so on. To disallow the pronoun is just windowdressing -- and can be downright dangerous.

True, the students who stop learning by cutting themselves off from their own inner resources often succeed academically because, with no inner compass, navigate by saying what others want them to say in the way they are asked to say it. They also might succeed in social groups (that I leave to Dr. Gilder), but then it might be the kind of group you don't want to join because it would have someone like you as a member.

Later on, the danger increases when these successes choose careers because it's what they feel others think they should do for a living (hence the invention of the mid-life crisis).

And So . . .

Emma Gilding once said to me that every school constitutes its own ecosystem. Social, academic, political, and emotional tides rise and fall and crash against each other while the both the adult and adolescent inhabitants develop habits to help them survive.

How hard must it be to stand the pressure?

I'm not against trying all sorts of writing -- why not? But it seems to me that some of the time, the least a teacher can do is allow kids to have their say. And to claim the ideas as their own with any pronoun they like.

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