Friday, January 16, 2009

Education without Coercion. Is it possible?

Perhaps a better title would be "Parenting without Coercion. Is it Possible?" But I have been thinking about it in the context of education, so I will stick to that for now.

Recently I have been reading about different early childhood education ideas/ philosophies. There are so many. The fundamental question I feel the need to answer before moving forward with any choices is this, "Is coercion a viable tool in the educating of children?" From my reading, there seem to be a range of ideas whose extremes may be summed up thus:

1) No. Coercion is never appropriate. It will kill the love of learning/joy of discovery. All learning should be child-led and nothing should be imposed upon the child that they are not interested in learning about.


2) Yes. Children will never learn all the things that they need to know if they are not formally and properly taught these lessons. Therefore as parents/ educators, it is our responsibility to drill into them the things they will need to know.*

So, the question is, Is it possible to get your child to learn these things without the use of coercion? I know that formal school settings rely on coercion as both a classroom management (behavior) technique and a way to motivate students to complete assignments, therefore presumably learning the material. (For the purpose of this discussion, we will assume it works.) Consequences for non-compliance are getting spoken to privately, getting a note sent home to parents, going to the principal' office, and perhaps even public reprimand.

At the opposite extreme is "Radical Unschooling," which is sometimes accompanied by a "consentual living" approach to life. From what I can make of it, the idea is that children will learn what they need to know just by living. No formal education/ teaching is necessary for children to aquire the skills and knowledge necessary to be productive people. At a deeper level is the idea that no one should be forced to do anything they aren't ready to do, so forcing a child to sit down learn something is wrong. They trust that the child's own natural curiousity will kick in and he will want to learn [to read, multiplication tables, world history, etc.] in his own time.

The first extreme might produce a child who learns only for praise or who has completely shut down to any learning because the joy has been taken out of it for him. The second extreme might produce a child with little self-discipline and lacking in the skills or knowledge that he never had an interest in aquiring. So where is the middle ground?

After discussions with my pediatrician, I am convinced that children do not have enough perspective or self-regulating ability to know that it is not good for them to watch TV all day or eat Snickers bars for breakfast. Some limits are necessary, an therefore some coercion is necessary to ensure basic health and safety. But how much should be our efforts as parents or educators to provide opportunities for learning that are fun and engaging and how much should be setting the standard or expectation that the child will learn X, and using coercion to force the child to comply? Is there a percentage ratio? How do you know which skills or ideas require which method to learn?


*Note: Different educational philosophies think different things are essential. For my purposes I will use these criteria for early childhood education: basic social manners, a sense of self-assuredness (security?), respect for others and their possessions, how to be part of a group, letter and number recognition, basic counting, and phonics. For later elementary, I think the following are essential: the 3Rs, history of civilization, general science concepts and the scientific method, the opportunity to appreciate and make art and music.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

This Spoke to Me

It was the poem for tonight on NPR's The Writers Almanac:

by Patrick Phillips

Touched by your goodness, I am like
that grand piano we found one night on Willoughby
that someone had smashed and somehow
heaved through an open window.

And you might think by this I mean I'm broken
or abandoned, or unloved. Truth is, I don't
know exactly what I am, any more
than the wreckage in the alley knows
it's a piano, filling with trash and yellow leaves.

Maybe I'm all that's left of what I was.
But touching me, I know, you are the good
breeze blowing across its rusted strings.

What would you call that feeling when the wood,
even with its cracked harp, starts to sing?

"Piano" by Patrick Phillips, from Boy. © The University of Georgia Press, 2008.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Love and Power

Now a lot of us are preachers, and all of us have our moral convictions and concerns, and so often have problems with power. There is nothing wrong with power if power is used correctly. You see, what happened is that some of our philosophers got off base. And one of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been constrasted as opposites—polar opposites—so that love is identified with a resignation of power, and power with a denial of love.

It was this misinterpretation that caused Nietzsche, who was a philosopher of the will to power, to reject the Christian concept of love. It was this same misinterpretation which induced Christian theologians to reject the Nietzschean philosophy of the will to power in the name of the Christian idea of love. Now, we've got to get this thing right. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.

From The Southern Christian Leadership Conference Presidential Address
By Reverand Martin Luther King, Jr., 16 August 1967


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Remember This?

I do! But where from? Mr. Rodgers?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Thank You, Michelle!

Thank you, Michelle, for reminding us what this country has the potential to be. Thank you for holding out hope that the American Dream lives on and is attainable if you are willing to work for your part of it. Thank you for being that voice of hope that change is possible, that we can work to change the status quo and transform America into what we know our country should be.

The problems you talked about tonight are MY problems. *I* could not find a job after the birth of my daughter. *I* am struggling to know where we will be able to afford housing while living on one income. *I* am worried that if my husband changes jobs we will be without health care coverage. *I* am worried how I will afford an excellent education for my daughter, starting with pre-school.

But your mere presence on that stage tonight gives me HOPE. That a woman of color can give the opening speech to the DNC lifts my spirits and reminds me that CHANGE IS POSSIBLE because it has happened before. It was not that long ago that you, a woman and a person of color, would have been the last person to stand on that stage. It renews my faith in America that you delivered this opening address during the week in which we remember the hard won right to vote for women and Rev. Dr. King's "I Have a Dream." Your mere presence on that stage tonight is VICTORY! Thank You, Suffragists! Thank You, Dr. King! Thank You, Michelle Obama!

All my prayers go with your husband that he may win for us, for me and my family, the opportunity for CHANGE!