Friday, March 30, 2018

Spring and the Irony of Education

By Mary Oliver
     a black bear 
          has just risen from sleep
               and is staring

down the mountain.
    All night
          in the brisk and shallow restlessness
               of early spring

I think of her,
     her four black fists
          ficking the gravel,
               her tongue

like a red fire
     touching the grass,
          the cold water.
               There is only one question:

how to love this world.
     I think of her
              like a black and leafy ledge

to sharpen her claws against
     the silence
          of the trees.
               Whatever else

my life is
    with its poems
          and its music
              and its glass cities,

it is also this dazzling darkness
          down the mountain,
                breathing and tasting;

all day I think of her---
     her white teeth, 
          her wordlessness,
               her perfect love. 

There is a great irony in education these days . . . maybe its always been this way and I've just started noticing it more . . . . maybe it's my years of listening to children or my own personal love of learning. I'm finding that the process of  learning is less and less respected and harder and harder to come by lately as we focus more and more on the product . . . I don't know. . . my imagination is falling short in the face of this national educational crisis.  We are not getting smarter and there is something we are losing . . . 

It has become really easy and slick to test students on details and facts.  We can give an online test and have it scored in minutes and know the percentage of students who missed question number 8 and discuss why they missed it and how we can better teach that answer next year . . . but we often don't bother to question the question or what we are actually testing.  It is a genuinely a good question?  And don't we realize that every computer generated question, has a computer generated answer and that those questions and answers can be done by computers?  What's the point?   Isn't it all obsolete with A.I. (Artificial  Intelligence)?  Why does anyone in this day and age think facts are more important than thinking?

Where is the poetry?  Where is the music?  Why aren't we learning to love the quest for knowledge over facts?  When will we embrace the wisdom of Albert Einstein, when he said, Imagination is more important than knowledge?  Doesn't he know something about learning?  When will professionals, that step everyday into a classroom, get heard when we say, enough is enough with all these tests?!  

There is only one question:
    How to love this world.

I often turn to Mary Oliver for wisdom.  It's not the kind that is generated by Siri or some other AI (I use AI to figure out how to make my way to some destination or to give me some random fact).  AI is very handy, but Mary Oliver reminds us that spring is here and there are bears that wake up and remind us who they are . . .

. . . this dazzling darkness 
down the mountain, 
breathing and tasting;  

all day I think of her--
her white teeth, 
her wordlessness, 
her perfect love. 

I don't know how to express how much we need to listen to the poets and artists of our time.  I don't know how to express that we need to encourage imagination in our students in a world that seems so lacking in vision.  And maybe even more, we need to listen to the bear that wakes in spring and the birds that build their nests and the snails and the plants and the songs that persist in our hearts.  There is only one question:  How to love this world.  This is where learning and exploring begins and ends. . . all the rest is just. . .all the rest.   

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