The jack-o-lantern comes in all shapes and sizes, some store bought, some hand made.
But they all have one thing in common. Nothing is inside the pumpkin because the seeds and mush have all been scooped out. Children knock on the doors that have Halloween decorations and the front door light on saying “Trick or treat”. If you don’t give me a treat I’ll do a trick- AND BOY WILL YOU BE SORRY! The empty jack-o-lanterns get filled with artificial goodies from adults who open the door because they love to see the Halloween costumes, the excited kids with green and charcoal faces, or Aunt Tillie’s nightgown in a new incarnation. Many elementary schools have the annual Halloween parade throughout the building so children can show off their fairy princess outfit, Dick Chaney’s face, or a blood fanged Dracula. Pretending is such fun and getting free candy is even better. The sugar high gets most of them before sunset, when parents are exhausted and glad there is only one day in the year like this. But from the teaching perspective, every day is Halloween.
We can’t continue to beat up special education when it actually reflects the larger problems of general education. If we don’t know how to teach children without disabilities, creating individualized educational programs is a concept that simply does not compute. Several newspaper features in recent days have confronted this issue. Consider:
I don’t know. Only the outer shell of public education is being poked at, with few looking at the seeds and mush inside before scooping it out to make the jack-o-lantern called education. I know many teachers are trying hard and some are doing a wonderful job against unbelievable odds. The problem is that there is no system of support for teachers so that they are vulnerable to every whim of the administrator who passes by, dropping pieces of candy into the empty pumpkin. I don’t hear about anybody changing the structure of education. Everybody should be teaching- the superintendent, every counselor, child study team evaluators, the building principal. Everybody should be videotaped once or twice a year and have their teaching performance reviewed by peers. There are so many obvious things to do. Once health care finishes its first round, we’ll have to see what happens to education. But higher test scores won’t cut it. The talking heads in education make a thousand suggestions. Let’s put them in a classroom and see what they say when they come out.
One of the biggest issues is that we don’t understand what learning is. Most don’t understand that it is a neurological process of input, processing, storage and output that is augmented by our gender, our culture, our intelligence, temperament, setting, and many other variables. It is the mess inside the pumpkin that we don’t like to feel because it is wet, stringy, gooey, and largely ungovernable. Educators tend to think of learning as what they put into the empty jack-o-lantern. The reality is that a teacher-student connection actually changes the student’s brain functioning. Perhaps the most pernicious example of teaching that violates every aspect of the central nervous system is Applied Behavior Analysis or ABA. This is the most widely used behavior modification method for autistic and some other developmentally disabled children. When asked about the neuroscientific aspects of that method, the answer given is that behaviorists never consider “brain”. Instead, they think only in psychological terms: stimulus, response and reinforcing the proper response. This is archaic thinking. But it makes money and you don’t have to know child development in order to implement the method.
Over the last decade there have been several Learning and the Brain conferences across the country. Two upcoming ones are February 18-20, 2010 in San Francisco and May 6-8 in Washington, D.C. How do we reconcile what is happening in our classrooms in urban areas, as well as in suburban towns and cities, with the offerings at these programs? For the life of me I don’t know why such a conference isn’t sometimes held in Harlem, in Trenton, in some real place outside the tourist favorites. But, of course, I do. Nobody would come. The dichotomy between the very best minds and their theories versus the reality of application in classrooms is not yet part of the Quiet Revolution, not part of teacher union concerns, not considered when making school budgets and hiring and firing staff. Keep the pumpkin empty. It’s cleaner, easier to maintain, and you can do anything to it you want- Trick or Treat! Do what I ask and here is an M&M!
The neuroscience conference in February has such topics as:
Maybe we could work on this stuff up until the goo and guts of the prefrontal cortex. If we could just pick one of the items on this list and figure out how to use it, the entire field of teaching and teacher training would change. Now, though, it is all a guess, every day, kids masked and unmasked, costumes of seasons and holidays. Trick or Treat.