Binding–and releasing–metaphors, images, and rituals
Back at the office now, and the sun is shining in Wellington! I had almost forgotten what that looked like. Here in the southern hemispheric winters, I’m constantly reminded about both how far I am from the place I used to call home (Washington DC–so hot this time of year) and also how connected we are instantly to people everywhere.
Thinking about Rachel’s comments on the comments to my last posting, I’ve been thinking about, well, thinking together. And as I want to have conversations with those of you on this website, those of you in this office, those of you who were at the hui (and those of you I’ve never met actually or virtually), I’m also thinking about the conversations we have with things in our individual past, things in our collective past, in the metaphors and symbols and rituals that we’re so immersed in we can hardly see them. We’re gathering images and stories for our November conference, and so I’ve been thinking about what our individual and collective images about schooling might be. Here, oddly, is the first one that comes into my head.
When my daughter was not quite 6 years old, after dinner she would take her baby brother (about 2) and our friend’s son (1.5) and play with them in that big-sister way she had. Often they would “go to school” after dinner, and the parents would watch the ritual played out in the lounge–three children, only one of whom had ever been to school, and the school that these kids would collectively create.
Naomi would sit the boys down on cushions on the floor, and she’d drag an ottoman over to be her table. Scene set, she’d grab something to teach about: a globe or a book. She’d stand in front of the seated, quiet boys, and ask them questions. Pointing to a random spot on the globe, she’d ask, “Does anyone know the name of this country?” The boys, who were not yet speaking much, would gurgle something or another. “No, Aidan. That is NOT the name of this country,” Naomi would sometimes admonish. “It is Heppalongabarah,” she’d explain confidently (she couldn’t read much, either). The boys would try to pronounce whatever word she had just made up, and eventually they would get something she was satisfied with, and she’d congratulate them. They’d smile delightedly and sit quietly for the next question to come.
I would watch, amused and also horrified. How did we expect anyone to change their visions of schools if my 5-year-old daughter–who had been to an alternative, cooperative preschool and was now at a funky Spanish/English public school–had the most conservative and conventional images of school! And these boys who couldn’t really even talk were being inculcated into this thing called “school” which involved their sitting quietly while someone stood up, asked them questions, and told them they were wrong all the time!
This image of the captivating ritual of school, the ritual that goes back to our earliest memories, stays as one of the strongest ones for me about the challenge of moving to more 21C ways of thinking and teaching. As I have conversations about 21C teaching with my now biggish kids and my colleagues all over, I wonder how we can see the force of traditional forms of schooling–a force so strong that it shapes the thinking and practice of kids who have never yet been in a classroom. How do we admit this gravitational field, examine it, and then make choices about it rather than playing out this play written by another set of people in another country and another time?
What images–from your own lives and from public events, etc., stick with you as you think about shifting schooling in a new direction? What enables your thinking in new ways or constrains it? What images or rituals or metaphors can you share with the rest of us (feel free to upload here too) that help you think expansively–or which you’d like to purge in some way (or reknow in some way) because the image or metaphor or ritual limits your thinking?