We are taught much about the processes of learning achievement. We are reminded much less about bonding with students to prepare them for the achievement in learning.
The learning relationships needed for success in the classroom are based upon principles that work, whether or not we value them. If we identify good principles and then choose to value them by being faithful to them, we know that good success will follow. This is not a secret, but perhaps it is a truth that has slipped from the front of our minds to a dark corner in the backroom recesses of our minds.
Today, it seems, we are all about results that can be tested. However, the results are only the end product of a long series of steps directed to objectives. Would we be better served by taking care of our motivations and the motivations of our students when we begin that series of steps? Certainly.
I join those who contend that the primary motivation for learning in the classroom is the relationship between those who teach and those who learn. I join those who go on to propose that this is true whether the teacher acts as the lecturer or as the coach.
The learning relationship cannot be established without understanding something of the principles of achievement and of relationship. Learning is an achievement. From the earliest stages of life, human learning is often in the form of modeling. Modeling is learning by relationship. Thus, learning is an achievement based upon relationship to another person.
Someone else once said that there are only two things you can do when you are awake. You can achieve some thing or you can relate to someone. Most often these two principles interact with each other. But, we can still tell the difference between the two.
We know this, right? Why, then, do we face such difficulties in discipline issues such that we are largely impeded in our efforts to effect learning? Why, then, do we presume that bonding has taken place in our classrooms so that we can proceed directly to achievement?
Today, we are being told, that teaching should be more like coaching with the teacher being more like a facilitator rather than being a lecturer. Well, then, coaches, real ones, will tell you that to learn effectively, you must learn and practice, practice, practice the fundamentals.
OK, educators, how about practicing the activities of daily care for the human dignity and welfare of the students in our room? Are we not exercised on processes such as checking for understanding? Are we not drilled on ways to engage our students? But, how much space is given in the teaching manuals for ways of giving evidence to our students that we actually care about them?
Are we instucted that putting down other student's (ranking) on them is a form of bullying? OK. Then, are we instructed on how to correct students without crushing their spirit? How often is this mentioned?
Are we advised to greet students at the door by name so that they hear their name in a positive tone at least once that day?
Are we guided to kneel by a student's desk so that we can speak to them eye to eye rather than stand and look down on them?
Are we led to see profanity as the destruction of human dignity and given that as a reason to quell it in our own mouths as well as in our students?
What other techniques might you suggest to demonstrate care to our students?
It is time to "call you out". By that, I mean that it is time to challege you to find ways to demonstrate care for students so as to motivate them to model your passion for your subject matter and skills.
It is time for you to challenge me as well.
History, literature and scripture are observation platforms for people to identify and choose their values. This is just as the scientific method uses observation to draw the basis for its hypotheses and proofs of evidence.
In the Linkedin group for history teachers there is an ongoing discussion of the relevance of learning history. Since literature is often based upon historical records or experiences, I believe the narratives of literature perform much the same function as history, at least in the context discussed here. Obviously, scripture serves as well as an observatory of principles from which value choices are made.
We often speak of the lessons of history. We frequently quote verses from Shakespeare or passages from Hemingway. However, what we often perceive originates not so much in what we observe as in what feelings and thoughts we bring to that observation in the first place.
As Christ said in the Sermon on the Mount, "The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But, if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!" (Matthew 6: 22, 23 NIV)
The observers of history take away very different conclusions from the very same historical incidents. (Napoleon was quoted as saying that "History is a lie agreed upon.") The readers of Shakespeare do likewise. The readers of scripture do the same.
Nevertheless, we do draw conclusions from history, literature, and scripture. When enough of us draw the same or similar conclusions, we can have a consensus upon which to build a cooperative society and economy.
However, our American society is in chaos today because of a confusion of values. These values have been choices that are often in conflict with each other and, at times, are mutually exclusive.
I believe the reason for the chaos is that what we commonly bring to our observations is a choice to be non-dogmatic for the sake of avoidance of conflict. If you are given to history, check out an ancient Roman philosopher named "Sextus Empiricus". No kidding, that was his name.
He said words to the effect that we can have a peace of mind if we avoid conflict and gain peace of mind by challenging those who are dogmatic. This is done by demanding proofs of their authority to make such standards for others to live up to.
However, how can we avoid conflict by simply ignoring the damage that some choices bring? History, literature, and scripture all inform this consideration. Observations on such questions give value to the principles which we can discover there. We can resolve many conflicts if we are willing to accept truth with logic as well as compassion and find faithfulness to higher principles.
PS: You may wish to check out the values ed. courses at www.ce.fresno.edu/cpd/dale-knepper
and the book Teaching Children to Value Principles
A recent phone conversation with an expert on California Common Core curriculum development revealed a question worth asking. Are we going to experience serious gaps in content when we choose to pursue inquiry rather than presentation? This discussion covered social studies but the same question about gaps could be applied to English or any other content area using a narrative.
In other words, when you use inquiry (which is another way of looking at "inductive" teaching) you have to spend time inquiring. You must start with a very specific question or hypothesis to be addressed. This has to be fairly narrow in scope so that students know exactly what they are looking for and writing about. Then, you have the time spent in research. This is followed by prioritizing and streamlining information into pieces that can be written. Then, there is the writing process, presentation process, discussion process, etc. This all centers on the specific topic chosen.
The advantages of inquiry are many. Inductive learning and reasoning are vital in the education process. We would not have the scientific method without them. The advantages of the "guide by the side" approach are also many. Coaching is all about that approach.
However, if you have limited time (and we do) and if there is a lot of content to cover in a subject area (and there is), then what do you leave out? What will happen if we do leave it out? Why would we choose to cover topic A and leave out topic B? Make no mistake, there will be any number of "topic B's" not addressed in class time due to pursuing inquiry.
So, it would seem reasonable for us to put forth some kind of answers ahead of the time that public "stakeholders" will be asking them. It would be good to know what the questions will be, how we might compensate for areas not covered, and so on.
What do you think? Does this make sense? Why or why not?
The Biblical faith of our children is precious to those of us who are Christian parents. However, every parent who invests love in their children is devoted to passing their beliefs, whatever they might be, on to their offspring. In a country like the United States, with so many different religions and separate groups within each religion, this is a subject where arguments come easily.
In public school, the way to deal with this confusion and to avoid conflicts, is to create a "civil" religion which is not called religion, it is called "tolerance." It is also called "Self-Esteem".
"Tolerance" and "Self-Esteem" are more than just principles which do have value. These words have been used as labels for complex ways of thinking which have been used to displace the old philosophies in public schools based upon Christianity.
Christian religous symbols have long been removed from view. There are no more engravings in schools with the sayings of Christ, such as, "The truth shall set you free." There are no more framed papers with the Ten Commandments written on them. There are no pictures of George Washington praying.
In more than just removing emblems of Christianity, there has been an attack on Christianity in public schools across America. The specific nature of this attack is discussed in a new seminar.
Christians can be encouraged, however. That is because the reasons why they believe and the reasons why they would logically want to believe in the Bible, still exist. Christians concerned for the Biblical faith of their children are fully capable of passing those beliefs on to their little ones. Those too are discussed in the new seminar.
The ways of thinking of this world have always challenged belief in God, belief in the Bible, belief in Christ. What the world presents as a threat to the Biblical faith of our children is older than history. The defense of our Biblical faith is founded on wisdom that was in existance before the threats were born. And, they work today as well as the day they were created. These too are discussed in the new seminar.
There are always more questions. The major question is, what is the answer? Answers are also part of the seminar.
The cost of attending the seminar is only $15 per person. Each attendee will recieve, free of charge, the new book "Teaching Children to Value Principles." The minimum number required to attend in order for Dale to come and present the seminar depends upon the cost he will need to cover in his trip to come to the location. Details should be discussed by direct contact with Dale. Persons authorized to set up the seminar should leave their contact information on the contact page of this website.
So, Dale has a new motto: "Have book, will travel."
Since this is only the second in the series of "tips to teachers", it is still important to continue the bonding process between the teacher and the student. So, there are two essential steps covered here. First, letting the students know that you know who they are by name. Second, establishing a way of thinking that informs students how you will be speaking into their minds and therefore, how they can effectively respond to you.
In bonding with students, we can assume safely that they too are human beings. Humans of all ages love to hear their names spoken in a positive, uplifiting way. That is why, especially at the beginning of a school term, but also throughout the school year, that those students who cause no trouble hear their names spoken every day. The troublesome students will have their names said repeatedly during class time. That will often be in a negative tone. However, they too need to hear their name spoken in a positive way, even if they did not earn it. Everyone can use a positive start to the class session in order to establish a positive classroom atmosphere for learning.
These are all reasons why I strongly suggest that teachers consider greeting their students at the door as they come in. All that need be said is, "good morning, Suzy" or "good afternoon, David." Each student will have heard their name before they leave class that day. Further, students who were troublesome the day before can hear your positive tone of voice to mean, "This is a new day with no mistakes in it yet."
This is also a good reminder for the teacher that they should not carry grudges from yesterday into today's class. Anger to crush student spirit in order to manipulate control brings temporary control but long term negative consequences for the learning relationship.
Next subject: Choosing to value truth. This is not talking about honesty here, although it is related to this subject. This is about truth inside our heads (subjective truth) related to truth outside our heads (objective truth).
The basic job of the teacher is to bring information that exists outside the knowledge of the student into mental view so that information can be integrated into what the student knows and can then use.
In today's US society, this understanding should not be taken for granted. There are other ways of thinking, other philosophies, which say that what one person thinks is just as important as what some other person thinks, and so one person does not have to consider what some other person is saying.
If there were no such thing as truth that exists outside of our own brains, that might be true. However, there is information outside of our own brains and so we have to consider the value of information that is what we call objective truth. The argument, depending upon the subject, might well not be about what one person has a right to think for themselves, but rather might depend upon whether the outside information is true and important in this circumstance.
True story. One day in the late summer of 1968 I was walking outside my apartment door to go to work (I was an elementary grade teacher at the time). Across the courtyard of the apartment building was my friend who was also on his way to work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (That company had a contract with NASA to help send astronauts to the moon.) We were the same age but he already had a PhD in math or physics, I think. Anyway, in his arms he had a stack of paper neatly folded. The stack was about seven or eight inches high and must have weighed a lot because he was carrying it with both arms outstretched in front of him.
I called down and asked, "What have you got in your arms?" He called back, "The way to the moon." I replied, "Can I see it?" "Sure," he replied. I went down the stairs and crossed the courtyard to take a look at the papers.
They were all one sheet of paper, with perforations between the pages and little holes on the outside edges to help the paper go through the printing machine. On each page were horizontal rows and vertical columns of numbers. Each number had a series of maybe eight digits, like 81843572 or something. Each number was different and there would be perhaps a dozen numbers in each row. It went on like that page after page. These were the calculations of navigation through space. If you put all the numbers together in one stream, it would give you the direction to get through space to the moon and to return to the earth.
The next year, July 1969, my wife Stefanie and I watched on TV the live pictures and sound from the astronauts on the first moon landing. What I had seen in the apartment courtyard, the papers in my friends arms, had worked to get those astronauts to the moon and back home to the earth.
The point is this. It mattered what the outside truth was. Those numbers did not come about because someone felt this way or that way about things. Being sincere and having a right to your own thoughts had nothing at all to do with the numbers. The numbers were the results of careful discovery and logic. They were checked and rechecked by some number of mathematicians and scientists. These numbers turned out to be correct. That means that these numbers were a kind of objective truth. That truth led to the safety of our astronauts and to their success in going to the moon and their return to earth.
Objective truth is the sort of information that teachers try to use to inform their students. Sometimes what is taught in the classroom is not totally accurate or truthful. Some of what is taught is opinion. Or, it might be music or art. Whatever it is, it is information that does exist outside the students' heads.
Wisdom is the correct and skillful use of knowledge. Once we have knowledge of what is presented in class, it is the job of the teacher to explain it and to assist students to perceive it so that it can be used correctly and skillfully.
The students do not have to automatically accept as truth what a teacher presents. Nor do students have to either accept or reject what teachers present in class. Students have a third choice. They can "receive" the information for later consideration and use or for later rejection.
There are often things presented by teachers that especially adolescents do not wish to accept. Since adolescents are in the business of finding out who they truly are, they frequently accept advice and information from other adolescents while they refuse such ideas from parents or other adults.
When it comes to moral issues, teens are frequently tired of hearing the same old rules. They have not yet had the experience of tragedy that would lead them to understand that the rules are actually warnings against self destructive behavior. They may only see the fun, the attention, the feeling of self-control that certain ideas bring. They cannot yet see the unintended consequences simply because they do not want to believe that they would really happen.
The consequences, though, are a form objective truth. The rejection of rules is a form of subjective truth. Eventually, the rejection of the rules will meet up with the consequences. It will be something like a traffic accident. Some one was perhaps speeding. They did not know they would miss the light and it would turn red right as they were going through it. They did not know that a person coming the other direction was looking down at their cell phone as their side of the light turned green and they went forward into the intersection. The consequences were tragic. Subjective truth met the objective truth and the objective truth won.
In the case of the way to the moon, the objective truth and the subjective truth of the scientists agreed. In the case of the teen age drivers, the objective truth and the subjective truth did not match. Wisdom comes when we find ways of making our subjective truth match the objective truth and then use it correctly and skillfully.
Welcome to class: rights, respect, and redemption.
Notes to the teacher to be read before using lesson suggestions
The goal is to establish a positive learning relationship. This is done through several objective steps.
First, the teacher will need to "earn the right" in the eyes of the students in order for the teacher to become the 'moral leader" as well as the "appointed" leader of the class. This objective is accomplished by demonstrating care for the students so they can respond with a willingness to be taught. These are the two fundamental elements of the learning relationship that opens the door to teaching both subject content and skills.
The teacher can use a blank 3x5 card for each student to write their answers to a few questions. These can be turned in at the end of the first class. They are meant to be read in confidence by the teacher. As soon as possible, at a later time, the teacher will speak individually with students about the card. The teacher should ask further verbal questions to gain better insight. Qustions on the cards could be such things as- name, cell phone#, name of school they attend, goals this year in school, goals outside of school, if appropriate-where they wish to attend college and/or career goals, You might also ask for a timeline of their life with important dates. And, ask if there is anything else that you the teacher should know about concerns.
Second, the teacher will need to establish a basis for understanding mutual respect. The lesson will present a two step process using logic attached to both, the famous quote from the Declaration of Independence and the story of the cola bottle.
Scripted Lesson presentation:
Good morning. Toward the end of class, you will be getting some 3/5 card with some questions that will help me know you better and help you express concerns you may have.
You know that some people think that to have respect you've got to take it away from someone else. That isn't true because there is a certain amount of respect you and I both have that we don't have to earn. Oh, sure, there is a level of respect we do have to earn based upon what we achieve and upon how we get along with one another. But, there is a certain level of respect we do have without earning it. We call it "human dignity."
How do we know this is true? Well, a very important man named Thomas Jefferson wrote a very important document you have heard about in school. It is called The Declaration of Independence. The most famous part of it goes like this, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness...."
When Thomas Jefferson says that "We hold these truths to be self-evident....." he means that this is so obvious that we are not going to argue about it. Then he says, "all men are created equal". That includes females because back then both men and women were called part of "mankind". Today we might say, "humankind" Just settle it that both guys and gals are included in being equal. What does he mean "equal'? No, he does not mean equal in intelligence, good looks, wealth, and so on. What does he mean? Keep going. Next, he says, "that they are endowed (that means given) by their Creator (that means God) with certain (that means specific and assured) unalienable (that means they can never be taken away. You can't even give them away. They are always a part of you even if others do not respect them.) rights." What is a right? A right is the valid claim of one person on the duty of another. Did you catch that? A right is the valid (that means true) claim of one person on the duty of another. So, if you claim you have a right to use my car you are saying that I have a duty to let you take the keys. Now, is that going to happen? No. The point is not about using the car. The point is that there are certain unalienable rights that we all can truly claim as the duty of others to respect. Thomas Jefferson said, and we all agree, I think, "....that the are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life (yes he did say life - we have a right to claim the duty of other people to let us live and not be murdered) ....liberty (or freedom from interferrence to do good things, not evil ones), ....and the pursuit of happiness."
If the Creator gave each one of us rights to have valid claims on the duty of other people to respect, that means that we have a certain level of respect no matter who we are, how poor or wealthy, how smart or not so smart, good or not so good looking. We do have human dignity.
Now, if the Creator gave us all rights to be respected, then I am certainly not about to demean your human dignity. You have my respect. On the other hand, I need that respect returned to me as your teacher. And, we all need that respect for each other. That means no ranking on one another, not even in fun, if it tears another person down.
But, there is an even deeper understanding we need to have about the value each of us. That is what we call "Redemption Value".
The Story of the Cola Bottle. (Found in book Teaching Children to Value Principles. See the home page of this website for more information about the book.)
Imagine you are walking outside after it has rained a few days. The sky is clear but the ground is wet. As you cross the street to the little store on the corner, you see a homeless man. He is picking up an old cola bottle. It is dirty and laying there on the street next to the curb. The bottle has old black leaves on it and it is half filled with dirty water. Somebody must have just thrown it away there. But the homeless man knows that the old bottle is worth some money. On the side of the bottle there are some small letters that say, "CA redemption value 5 cents". CA means the State of California. Redemption means "return to original purpose". Value 5 cents means you can get a few cents from a business where things are recycled. Even this old bottle that someone used and then threw away has redemption value.
People have redemption value too. There is a kind of redemption of our minds and bodies. For example, soldiers who were wounded in battle have lost their arms or legs. There are some programs and people who help people like that. They get mechanical arms or legs or hands to help them. They find doctors and counselors to help these peole feel and think in ways so that they can be good husbands or wives, fathers or mothers, and workers. Even if these people do not have a perfect body, they still have redemption value. These people are having a kind of redemption back to normal life.
There is a kind of redemption of our emotions. Children may need redemption. Sometimes kids feel like they are not worth anything. Maybe it is because one of their parents doesn't spend enough time with them to help them feel important. Perhaps the child thinks he or she has made a terrible mistake and something really bad happened. No matter how the child may feel, the truth is, they are still worth as much as anyone else. It is so because every child is created with redemption value.
That means that each and every one of us has enough value, you too, that we are worth a whole lot more than a heap of cola bottles.
Let's take a fundamental principle from the story and see how it might work in our own real life situations.
Here is a statement to prove or to disprove: We have redemption value built into each of us.
Let's ask some questions to find out whether or not this is true based upon things we already know.
1. Thomas Jefferson stated in the Declaration of Independence that "....all men are created equal, that they endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights...." So, does the "self-evident" truth according to Thomas Jefferson support the idea that because people have rights that they also have value?
2. Jesus Christ said, "For God so loved the world,that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Does this mean that the Creator sent Jesus Christ to die for individual people like you and me because there was something in us worth redeeming?
3. It is no secret that we all make severe mistakes. We sometimes harm not only others but also ourselves. Does that mean that we who do such things need to change our minds and to return to being the way toward others that we should be? In other words, do we all need second chances? Could we all use redemption at some point?
4. If a person genuinely decides to change their mind to get back to doing the right thing, if they demonstrate true sorrow for the harm they have caused, do they put themselves into a position of being forgiven?
5. If the person who was harmed decides to forgive, not so as to forget and be unwise, but to forgive so that they take no penalty from the person who did the wrong, and if the harmed person allows the person who did wrong to begin again with a fresh start, then has a step toward redemption taken place?
Now, let's summarize. We have discussed whether or not people have "redemption value". Might it be so because God put something in each of us worth being redeemed? Might it be so because we all need some kind of redemption? Might it be so that people sometimes choose to position themselves to be forgiven? Finally, might people have redemption value because forgiveness may result in a real redemption?
Let's evaluate. Have we discovered that indeed we have redemption value built into each of us?
Let's use what we have learned in a creative new way. First, what is one thing each of us can decide we need forgiveness for so that we can find one part of our lives that can be redeemed? Second, what is one important thing where we can find it in our hearts to forgive another person, even if they don't ask. That would release us from a feeling of being offended. That would free us from an emotional weight. It would also give us a clear conscience when Christ tells us to forgive others.
Finally, let us promise ourselves to make sure that we have that living relationship for which we have redemption value.
The problem is that our children with Christian faith go into public schools, elementary, secondary, or collegiate, where they find hostility to that Biblical faith. Our children who attend church regularly with us are educated with Bible stories which demonstrate the truths of scripture. However, when they attend public schools, especially college, they are confronted with a different way of thinking based upon logic using criticism which is limited to physical evidence. In effect, the scientific method has been adapted to a philosophy of life. It is an agnostic way of thinking which has become a sort of "civil religion" in our public schools. Christianity is often marginalized as unimportant and sometimes is criticized harshly.
Our students are put upon by educators who say things like this: "I am going to teach you some things that may not agree with what you have been taught at home or in Sunday school. But, as a thinking person, you have a responsibility to deal with the facts I am going to give you." Now, the Common Core State Standards has not yet come out with its science component. However, according to a recent statement in Education Week, some science educators are looking forward to teaching "critical thinking" in science classrooms.
Our children's memory of precious Bible stories and truths are not necessarily adequate to such an attack of critical logic using certain half-truths or out-right falsehoods. I do not wish to get into the kind of specific examples here that would be appropriate for an individual lesson. However I do have several ideas which may be useful for defending our youngers' faith when added to Biblical story lessons.
It is such a priority to defend our children's faith, that it should be worth the time required. I believe this process could be inserted or added as discussion of Biblical stories.
First, we can leave the stories as much as they are written. Then, we can follow with a sequence of steps to create a security to guard the faith we have worked to create by the lesson. Using Bloom's Taxonomy of thinking levels, we can use analysis, synthesis (in the form of summary), evaluation, and creativity. These are much more easily used than would appear by the use of these terms. This can be accomplished by a finished lesson provided to those who teach. It is what I call a "check for understanding exercise."
We can use a main idea to form a fundamental principle from a Biblical story and relate it to a real life situation our students will be facing. That would make the story more immediately relevant.
From the fundamental principle we can create a learning objective that changes the fundamental principle into something that can be observed and fulfilled. We can then use the fundamental principle by applying to it the four highest thinking levels found in Bloom's Taxonomy of knowledge: a. analysis, b. synthesis (the summary), c. evaluation, and d. creativity. (Really, it's easier than it sounds.)
The learning objective would be the specific last step called creativity because that is what you are reaching for. That would accomplish both critical and logical thinking of the students for themselves and give them opportunity to actually understand why the principle is important for them to choose to value. Further, it would help them put the principle into real life practice. This would eventually become a virtue.
What do you know about that. We would be teaching our childen to think for themselves! At the same time we would be getting them to think about Biblical truths! And, we would be helping them mature as Christians.
Thus, we have taken a critical thinking weapon away from agnostics, used it to amplify the faith of our children, and to innoculate them against major half-truths they will certainly encounter in public schools.
We can use the stories of creation, Noah, David and Goliath, etc. to equip our children with critical thinking skills and information that they can use as defense of thier own faith.
I propose to work with parents, teachers, youth group leaders, publishers, authors and editors of Biblical stories used for object lessons. Any interest? Make a comment and please leave your contact information. God Bless!
The CharacterPlus Conference in St. Charles MO this past June 17 - 19th was an eye opener. I am looking right now at something common to the folks in CharacterPlus but very uncommon to folks in California: "Social, Emotional and Character Development Model Standards".
I have never encountered such in my twenty years of teaching in California. I was never aware of, if we had such things, as social, emotional, and characte development standards constructed for a continuum of such education from kindergarten through 12th grade. We never had such a set of standards when I taught elementary grades long ago. We never had such things when I taught high school up until 2011. I am well acquainted with strands and standards, goals and objectives, test objectives matched to test items, and so on. I have seen such for English-language arts, mathematics, social studies, science, and more. However, never have I seen any such related to social, emotional, and character development that was built by educators, not vendors. We did have character education addressed in California up until 1999 in a way. There was a reading list of suggested books. However, 1999 was the last year of that reading list. It longer exists. Neither is there any California State Department of Education reference to character or values education as a formal set of standards to this date
In future posts I will constructively criticize some aspects of what I saw. However, before making both commendations and positive criticism, one must first acknowledge the fact that there is something substantial worth comment.
I saw large numbers of highly educated and motivated professionals busy about the business of character. They came from the central and southern sections of the country, for the most part. I believe that I was the only person from California. I was aware of no one from eastern States nor other western States. There were district superintendents, principals, counselors, as well as teachers from all grade levels. There were professors and consultants, exhibitors and authors. They were schooled in character education to a high degree. To find such a collection of educators centered on the building of character in children in this day and age of dissapation was to me, remarkable.
I cannot end without saying a hearty "thank you" to Suzy Ward and Karen Vaughan for making my presentation possible. The CharacterPlus staff was both gracious and professional to the max! Likewise, I must thank Fresno Pacific University and specifically Matt Gehrett for funding the trip.
Kari Edwards, a first grade teacher at Norseman Elementary School in Fresno, California just wrote a wonderful review of the book Teaching Children to Value Principles. One of her comments spoke to the idea that "the stories make you think and would make children think."
There is a statement in the book itself that it is the job of the public school educator not to tell children what to think but rather to get them to think, meaning to think for themselves. Of course, there are qualifications to that statement. We teachers are supposed to tell students what to think about algebra or the sounds of letters. These are factual content or skills that are objective in nature. We are also to tell students to be careful about the kinds of friends they make or to be hard working in class. These are attitudes that are subjective in nature. Nevertheless, there are certain opinions about religion, philosophy of life, where we educators defer to the wishes of parents who entrust students into our care. In this area, we have, in the past, left such thinking about such subject areas to the students.
Going forward, in the material of the book, Teaching Children to Value Principles, the check for understanding exercises (CFU), to which Kari refers, are constructed for the purpose of getting children to think for themselves. The CFU format utilizes a learning objective, analysis, synthesis, evaluation, and creativity in sequential steps. Open ended questions are used in each of these levels. In this way, the student is guided into thinking for themselves about the principle being discussed and how they might value it or not.
Teachers learn what they teach. Therefore, they engage in the same thinking processes along with the students as they go through the stories and the CFU's that follow them. That is why Kari said, "These stories make you think and would make children think."
It is often asked, "How can we get children to think for themselves?" It is also often said, "It's easier said than done." Perhaps in the case of Teaching Children to Value Principles, it is as easy said as done.
A very distinguished superintendent of schools, Floyd Buchanan, made a comment that applies always to education. He said, "There is always a choice between equity and excellence." What "Doc" Buchanan meant was that equity means equality. Excellence means rising above. If you want to stay equal, you cannot rise very far. If you rise to excellence, then you have left equality behind at a lower level.
The goal for a school district is to raise the level of achievement for as many students as possible. So, in a way, you can raise the level of equality to a certain extent by raising achievement for as many students as possible. However, in real life, school district leaders must make choices. "Doc" explained that many school districts would only hold students accountable to a level of achievement that most or almost all could achieve. Many districts would challenge their teachers to achieve, but only so far. However, he chose to guide his district, the Clovis Unified School District, to strive for genuine excellence.
"Doc" Buchanan would do the unthinkable in many quarters. He established competetion between two halves of the district. All schools were divided into red schools and blue schools. Every high school, middle school, and elementary school was on one or the other team. They competed in reading level development and math development. I saw class rooms with trophies with teachers' names on them stating that 90% of the students in that room had been tested to be "on grade level" in either reading or math.
Once, while I was a sales rep for a textbook company, I was visiting the science department chairperson of a Clovis school. A young lady teacher came into the room and proudly announced, "I have eight students in my room signed up for the science fair project." The department chairman replied, "OK, but you need 10 students signed up." "But," she defended herself, "These kids will be the most qualified of my students. They'll do a really good job." "Yeah," he replied, "But, you need 10." That's the way it was back then in Clovis.
There was always a drive for excellence. It did result in tension with those who felt that this kind of accountability was somehow unfair. Some teachers left the district to teach elsewhere. However, another result was a steady stream of schools at every level: elementary, middle, and senior high, which had attained California State and even national levels of distinction. The Clovis California area became remarkable because of its high performing district. New residents coming to the area would look for good schools for their children and decide to settle in Clovis. New businesses grew up around the new clientele.
Make no mistake, "Doc" was always in favor of equality of opportunity. The question was, where have you decided to go from there?
Consider the maturity levels of students faced with the new curriculum standards today. We have been experiencing, over the past few decades, a steady decline in the maturity levels of school students. Nurturing, in times past, was usually the emphasis of elementary school teachers while subject matter expertise was the emphasis for high school educators. That has changed over the years so that now high school teachers as well are engaged in nuturing immature students. It is becoming more and more difficult to lead students into accomplishing at levels which are required by society and by the workplace. You could say that the "equality level" has diminished over these years.
Where to start the remedy for this? Perhaps we should look all the way back to the beginning goals for primary grade youngsters. Shall we decide, district by distric, State by State, to emphasize goals of equity, or strive for goals of excellence.