Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Education Is Not An Environment

In Volume 3, chapter 15, Charlotte Mason writes about the motto of the Parents' Union: Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.

While I don't agree with Mason on everything, I do agree with her on the following...

Education is not an environment.  At the beginning of each school year, I give a lot of thought to my "classroom environment."  I arrange the desks so that students will have a view of the whiteboards and be able to work in cooperative groups.  I post the rules and consequences and rewards (Mason was philosophically opposed to rewards, but I am required by administration to give them) to make students aware of my expectations.  My classroom environment must promote tolerance, safety, and responsibility.  Every choice I make must make the students feel organized, and teachers are told we can achieve this with cute bulletin boards and potted plants.

But education is not an environment.

“We are more ready to be done unto than to do[.]”  Mason wrote that when education is viewed as an environment (or - I will add - when environment is seen as paramount), it breeds listless students who let others order their lives, instead of doing the hard work of ordering their own; students require schedules and need to be entertained.  

Two anecdotes:

Friday, my students asked if they would be getting a reading log for Spring Break.  (I give them a reading log to fill out as part of their homework each week, something I disagree with but do anyway.) I said, "No, it's vacation." (This week - Easter Week - parents should be able to choose where their children's attention is focused.) One student raised her hand and asked, "But can we read anyway?"  I can't tell you how surprised I was by this question.  My students are so used to having their lives ordered for them.  "Yes," I said, "please do."

A couple of years ago, when the district I work for adopted new Language Arts textbooks, the trainer was demonstrating the digital textbook.  "This is what the students demand," he said.  Demand.  My jaw dropped.  Do we feed children candy when they demand it, or do we give them foods we know will nourish them?  Education is not an environment.


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