“In my early professional years I was asking the question: How can I treat, or cure, or change this person? Now I would phrase the question in this way: How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his own personal growth?” ~Carl Rogers
“He’s the best physician that knows the worthlessness of the most medicines.” ~Benjamin Franklin
Here is the “medical model” of education: your graduation rate is your “survival” rate, thus your kids who fail to graduate in four years is your “mortality” rate, and any choice by the school to emphasize the social/emotional over the data-driven-standards-aligned is akin to a doctor saying, “I didn’t take your blood pressure, but I feel as though you’re just fine.” I first heard this metaphor in Principal-school; I then read it here; I then heard it repeated by several other professors and current administrators. It’s the worst metaphor I’ve ever heard for what learning is; not only for the simple-minded emotional approach (you’re killing kids by not using data!) but for the insidious assumption that kids are “sick” and that we are the only ones with the cure.
The natural state of kids isn’t “sickness”; or, to put another way, ignorant, lazy, violent, unmotivated, indifferent, etc. That’s almost exactly what Thomas Jefferson said about slaves – sure, we could free them, but they’d turn into savage wolves and devour us all! If we could wave a magic wand and make all schools (public, private, & charter) disappear tomorrow, kids would find ways to make meaningful work that resulted in learning. They wouldn’t revert to savages or drooling vegetables.
I’m not anti-schools – there’s a certain logistical convenience to them – but they aren’t, or shouldn’t, exist for the sake of fixing kids. Fix them? I didn’t know they were broken! There’s a trend towards school visions that say something like, “We believe all kids can learn” or “life-long learners” or something silly like that. What an absurd thing to put in writing! “We, at Grassy Hill Elementary, believe all Kindergarteners can get taller” or “We, the Prospect Junior High cafeteria staff, believe that all kids can and will eat food.” A human being’s natural state is curiosity. They will be life-long learners, of one thing or another; they will deliberately pursue their own dreams, or unconsciously pursue someone else’s. Either way they are learning self-sufficiency or compliance.
As for the data piece; Felix Baumgartner used data to inform some of his decisions when he jumped out of a frickin space pod and plunged the 120,000 feet back to earth, but something tells me the data wasn’t the central thing in his heart and mind throughout the entire process. Neither was what “grade” he was going to get – it was basically a pass/fail proposition. Data was the central concern of trainers and technicians, not the driving force for the man on the mission to be the first space-jumper in human history. I don’t see great teachers as trainers or technicians. They shouldn’t be, anyway.
Benjamin Franklin said that any fool can complain, and most fools do, so I’ll stop whining and offer a better metaphor. John Taylor Gatto spoke of education being a “helix sport”. In his own words:
Here’s a principle of real education to carry you through the moments of self-doubt. Education is a helix sport, a unique personal project like seatless unicycle riding over trackless wilderness, a sport that avoids rails, rules, and programmed confinement. The familiar versions of this are cross-country skiing, sailing, hang-gliding, skateboarding, surfing, solitary mountain climbing, thousand-mile walks, things like that. I think of education as one, too.
In a helix sport the players search for a new relationship with themselves. They endure pain and risk to achieve this goal. Helix sports are free of expert micromanagement. Experts can’t help you much in that moment of truth when a mistake might leave you dead. Helix sports are a revolt against predestination.
Bringing children up properly is a helix sport forcing you to realize that no boy or girl on earth is just like another. If you do understand this you also understand there can exist no reliable map to tell you all you need to do. Process kids like sardines and don’t be surprised when they come out oily and dead. In the words of the Albany Free School, if you aren’t making it up as you go along, you aren’t doing it right.