Saturday, June 25, 2011

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

A few weeks ago, I had a pretty intense conversation with the parent of a former student who is also very involved in the PTA at our school and in our district. She was concerned about some of the movies that the tolerance club had shown this year. Her objection was that we had not adequately helped the kids "process" the issues that they had been exposed to by viewing these films.

As an educator, I am wary of this idea of "helping" kids to think issues through. Many times it is reduced to getting the kids to say what they know we want to hear. This is part of the reason I became involved in the Tolerance Club. My experience has shown me that middle school children are very capable of parroting the "right" answers in discussions of, for example, bullying or discrimination, and yet their behavior when adults are not around belies their words. I wanted to find a way for the kids to come to the value of tolerance and acceptance on their own, so that they would be more likely to act on those values whether an adult was present or not.

I tried to explain my perspective to the parent. I told her that in my experience too much of education involved telling kids what to think rather than giving them the chance to think for themselves. She's a thoughtful person, and I received an email the next day thanking me for my time and assuring me that she values my experience and perspective, and asking if we can talk again.

Of course we will, and I'll welcome that conversation, because I thought of her today when I visited my garden for the first time in a week. There was a lot to do. The tomatoes were growing outside their cages, the strawberries desperately needed water, weeds were making steady progress, and the zucchini that had been no larger than my index finger had grown to almost 12 inches. I know I can't make my garden grow, but there's a lot I can do to help it do so.

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