My UTNE Reader/Journal projects : LUSENET : MEd Cohort III : One Thread

UTNE Reader/Journal project responses.

-- Anonymous, November 11, 1998


Utne Reader Journal Project Article #1 11-18-98

The article I chose to read was entitled "Learning in the Key of Life" by Jon Spayde, a contributing editor of the Utne reader. Mr. Spayde writes an interesting and thought-provoking article discussing the question of what it means to be educated. It seems to me, when pondering this question and filtering it through my own experience, that there are two types of education: 1) a means to an end 2) a step towards enlightenment. Now let me qualify that statement a bit by saying that #1 is an education that is tied directly to capital gain, financial security and "success", #2 is an education that is tied directly to the expansion of the experience of life, an aesthetic pursuit that most often aims beyond the material plane to various distant intellectual realms. #1 is the earth and #2 is the air. I think what Mr. Spayde is trying to say is that there needs to be a balance between the dual natures of our collective American educational psyche. He uses the example of Jazz to clearly demonstrate his point by saying that Jazz, which is an American institution, represents how we should start looking at how we educate and are educated. Jazz, according to Spayde, is both disciplined and unpredictable, which gives us tradition without settling us into preconceived notions. We, as members of a modern American society, have many pressures placed on us to live quality lives. For most of us (the need for) financial security for our families and ourselves takes precedence over aesthetic pursuits. I would say that most average folk are more inclined to view schooling as a means to an end, I take these classes I get this much money, than a process of expanding the mind. Too often such thinking in education is reinforced by the "establishment" that requires certification over demonstrable ability. I'm sure that most people would agree that just because an English major has a license to teach it doesn't necessarily mean that that individual will be a good teacher. Our schools tend to reward teachers for taking more classes but refuse to reward teachers for outstanding teaching, they are reinforcing the idea that we don't need to evolve as teachers but rather we should sit through more education classes. The technological age we are rapidly moving into places unique demands on the workforce. More and more we, as educators, are being asked to consider focusing our educational programming on specific niches within the workforce. Technology and vocational programs are developed that serve to deliver students to the workforce with a narrow but focused scope of skills to meet a direct need. Technology jobs pay well and many are very attractive because they are easily attainable with a relatively small amount of training. The question then arises, what are we if we only learn to meet a need? Learning to merely meet a need is fine and it is necessary but it is also limiting in that such learning usually maximizes time at the expense of basic critical thinking skills. It seems to me that as our society gets more technologically advanced it will be harder and harder for us to define ourselves through our work-computers will do that for us. Without the ability to adapt to new situations and to learn new systems those high school graduates who are certified to service network systems will soon be unemployed and left without a marketable skill, unless they can change with the times. It is not enough to give our students the tools; we must also give them the knowledge to use those tools wisely. Wisdom, we don't often talk about this word now a days but it is truly an all encompassing word that should still be a part of our daily conversations. Sure there are self help books for everything from hangnails to adult children, dispensing "conventional wisdom" for the popular culture to devour like it does McDonald's, TV and anti-depressants but are we really talking about wisdom here or just a quick fix for a bigger problem? The pursuit of knowledge starts with the love of learning and that's where the magic of the teacher comes in. We educators are in the classroom to inspire as much as we are to teach. The student of the future needs to posses a love of learning and ideas coupled with the hands-on skills that will propel him/her through the vacuum of change the future seems to be bringing. It is important to nurture our thinking skills so that we, in turn, can nurture those skills in others. I think we need another Renaissance, perhaps we should require all students to spend some time hanging out in cafes discussing the works of Nietzche. It would certainly give one perspective on one's role in the workforce. Mr. Spayde finishes his article by saying that the idea of the educated American is as diverse as America itself. We all have different goals, needs and skills but the one thread tying it all together is our humanity and we should not forget that we are more than just cogs in the machine of a changing economy.

"Learning in the Key of Life" by Jon Spayde, Page 44, Utne Reader, May-June 1998

-- Anonymous, November 18, 1998

November '98....Response to Erik's UTNE Reader thoughts...

I too read the same article as you "Learning in the Key of Life". In reading your responses, it seems to me that you pulled many of the same things that I did. Many of your thoughts about this article reflect many of the same that I had. The main flavor that I got out of this article was the fact that education is MUCH more then learning simply the "basic skills" or better yet, "the proper skills of the time". If we are doing such a great job of preparing our students for life that lies ahead, why is it that so many are feeling so unfulfilled when they actually get out there? Could some of it be because we are not fully allowing education to explore the humanities? Having the proper skills and knowledge for a particular field of work is important. I agree with that. But, just what is it that makes us truly content at what we do? Maybe it's these "internals" that we should be focussing more on. Thanks for allowing me to respond!

-- Anonymous, November 24, 1998

AS I do agree with you about people needing an education more than for a career. I wonder if you would agree with me that this does not just mean in the humanities? Some people are extremely bored by subjcts that others are excited about. Does this mean that people need a well rounded education including Shop, Phy Ed, and Home Economics(life skills)

-- Anonymous, November 29, 1998

Utne Reader Article #2 July/August Edition "The Joy of Danger" by Sabastian Junger, page 58 (Men's Journal).

Mr. Junger makes a pretty interesting account of his life in danger during the war in Croatia. He was a journalist in a war zone experiencing all that was around him that could kill him and finding the fear it created exhilarating. He goes on to describe these war scenes and his reaction to it with a self reflective voice giving as much credence to his feelings as it does to the nature of his surroundings. He continues to reflect and leads the reader to this statement: "there is no easier way to get a man to risk his life than to suggest he'll be admired for it."

To me that is an interesting statement that could easily be applied to the often careless existance most teenage males emulate one time or another and another and another. What is it that makes risk taking compelling to teenagers? Well, to answer this question perhaps we need to look at what human nature says. We are, basically, animals and that is more often than not forgotten when considering a person's actions. Also we should consider the elment of peer pressure involved in risk-taking, collect risk is perhaps the most exhilarating of all.

Dangerous behaviour seems to be an outgrowth of one's ability to be unreflective, to push aside fear by not thinking about it. I remember doing many crazy stupid things in my youth that now makes the parent in me have reflective moments that give me the shivers-why was I so stupid? I have always enjoyed the rush and thrill of risk taking especially after the risks have been taken. Now, with a daughter to think about I am very reserved when it comes to taking risks and relfective on the consequences of such risks.

So, what can we expect of teenagers? Can we get them to stop taking risks or at least reflect on the risks they are taking? I really don't think so. Yes we can get a few to listen but never will we be able to stop what seems to be a natural part of the human animal-the joy of danger.

Some things don't seem to change from generation to generation. Are the risks kids are taking any worse or more frequent than a generation ago? Perhaps more dangerous because of disease and stronger, more available drugs but I wonder if we looked at the percentages, would the problem be bigger than it ever has? I am curious to find out.

-- Anonymous, February 24, 1999

Utne Reader Article #3, "My not-so-simple resume" by Linda Tatelbaum, as it appears in the Nov-Dec. issue, pages 50-51 (From "Carrying Water as a Way of Life).

-- Anonymous, April 06, 1999

Utne Reader Article #3, "My not-so-simple resume" by Linda Tatelbaum, as it appears in the Nov-Dec. issue, pages 50-51 (From "Carrying Water as a Way of Life).

I found this short piece to be interesting. Spanning the author's life from her 1965 graduation from high school to the present date, it gives us a glimpse of her struggle to maintain her ideals and way of life through changing times. She and her husband endeavored to live simply and close to the earth using only hand tools, a garden and their one room cabin in Maine to survive. However, as time passed, her ideals were modified by technology and the dawning awareness that doing everything the hard way is not necessary the best way. Simplicity is not so simple.

From reading this article I was struck by thoughts of how complicated and weighted down our lives have become. One could probably find a million things that make our modern lives more complex. This, however, makes me wonder if at anytime life was ever simple. Is it simple to have to start a fire in the stove everytime you want to make tea? Is it simple to have to go through five minutes of voice messaging just so that we can ask a person a simple question regarding a mailing address for a bill we need to send? I don't think any of it is simple and when I really ponder the true essence of simplicity I can find only one solution: the life of a Trappist Monk sitting in a monestary making honey and praying-not of this world and therefore not encumbered by the day to day struggles of the masses. Of course the priest has no sex life and the average man's sex drive would make a vow of celibacy anything but simple. No, nothing is simple, nothing is easy and everything is a lot of work.

I think what the author of this piece was really looking for is a responsible ideal of simplicity for the sake of humanity and the environment. We can still choose to live with out any modern convienances but if you have a phone why not have an answering machine and if you have an answering machine why not have call waiting and if you have call waiting why not have a beeper or a cell phone or e-mail or a fax or, or, or... What do we need? What don't we need? I remember a Native American history teacher I had in college, he was a Navajo and he told the class about his gradparents who lived on the reservation for 80 years without running water or electricity, when they got it in their 81st year it wasn't long before they couldn't live without it. My advice to all who read this: take the path of least resistance and all the rest will fall into place nicely.

-- Anonymous, April 06, 1999

Erik - I really liked your comments on this article. You hit it right on when you stated, "simplicity is not so simple". Our tasks may require less manual effort, but everything we seem to operate takes much more brain power than before. Because of this, standands in both school and in work seem to be set higher and higher. An example of this is that before computers (B.C.), a simple chart or graph (on an easel no less) could be used for a presentation. Today, if you are not using a multimedia presentation system you are out of your realm.

For myself I am dearly clinging to the simplicity of my life. I do not have cable, call waiting or the Internet at home. People literally reel over backwards when I divulge this revelation. I know they secretly wonder what I do with my time. However I assure them my life is full of excitement. They may be skeptical but they are usually too busy picking up their voicemail to care.

-- Anonymous, April 12, 1999

Utne Reader Article #4: "Out to Lunch" By Joe Robinson, from ESCAPE (July 1998) as it appears in Utne Reader Jan-Feb '99 issue.

In this article the author talks about the siesta as it is practiced in Spain. The Siesta in Spain is a 3 hour block of time in which all work and commerce and the like stop for lunch and a snooze. The author compares the Spanish view of work and rest to the rest of the first world. He seems to be drawing out the point that we who make up the rest of the first world planet are obsessed with work and living in an "efficiency-orientated society." The siesta lifestyle, being rooted in a culture that is anti all that the US and European economies stand for, is one that has found balance between work, rest and play.

I find the idea of the siesta to be a very soothing thought. I am relatively new to the workforce but can say that a siesta hour after lunch, althogh impossible to imagine in the US, would be most beneficial to all who work. I have worked the job that consists of eight metered hours of applied, on-task labor with a fifteen minute "coffee break" and a thirty minute lunch break. Niether breaks being long enough to really do any good, some days it just seemed easier to eat while at work and go home forty five minutes early. I now worka job that is salaried and therefore not so structured but much more demanding of the intellect. It seems that there are never enough hours in the day to get all that needs to get done done. I find very few stories of the successful happy medium, the balance between work and true human expression: just being. I think those who didn't get tied down by bills for things not necessarily necessary are probably on to something. With no bills on top of the basic survival bills I can picture myself in a hammock on some deserted beach, working part- time in a coffee shop or bar and wearing duck tapped shoes to the laundry mat and loving it. Alas, I have not chosen that way. I have chosen the role of rat in the race. I will keep on working without the benefit of the siesta not because I don't think they are a good thing but because the culture I live in does nothing but pay lip service to its (the siesta) intrinsic values. I am bitter and in need of a nap.

I think I'll go to Spain...oops, forgot, I have to work.

-- Anonymous, April 21, 1999

Erik, very well written and thoughtful response to the article about learning being the key of life. You brought out many key elements to the complex conflicts of what education is and brings to students. There are trends and needs at multiple levels, and there can be valid arguments made for different styles. Certification and technical programs want specific outcomes, and, in fact, if I take my car to an auto mechanic I might prefer one who knows engines rather than one that know Nietzche. However, your point is well taken about balance, and, perhaps, the auto mechanic would benefit from Nietzche in his or her temperament and customer relations.

The movement into high tech might need to be balanced by some sort of inclusion or development of high touch. High tech educators also need high touch curriculum. Erik, look into experiential, servide, project and transformative learning theories and how they are being incorporated into schools and other educational settings. Look at how these theories are encouraging the partnership between schools and communities, between classrooms and businesses, between students and community agencies. The high tech/high touch is promising. For example, why can't the YMCA (or other youth agencies) be brought into schools to do interactive events with students and faculty, etc.? The other piece to look at is the element of critical reflection: a deliberate technique to review what has been learned and what is missing. Often it is during this review that students bring up elements of soul, passion and touch. One soapbox I have is to value being old, rather than such an extreme emphasis on being young. The greater the fear and disrespect us aging adults have about being old and try to act younger than we are, the greater we disrespect wisdom. If fifty year old people are wearing their baseball caps backwards in order to fit in with children and to appear younger, both the fiftey year olds and the seventeen yerar olds are likely to disrespect wisdom brought on by age and learning. Keep up the good work, Erik!

#2: Erik, good summary of the article relating to the joy of danger. I appreciated your thoughts regarding our animal natureand how adolescents, in particular, seem to resort to risk taking behaviors. Is it a natural part of adolescent development, and, thus, unstoppable, or is it an outgrowth of opportunities not presentedto them? One of the aspects of being human and not purely animal is the ability to separate and pause between emotion and thought. Animals and impulsive adolescents have difficulty having much pause time. These children need practice with critical reflection early on as a method of teaching how to separate out emotions from thinking. There is also a difference between adventure and risk taking. I do not believe we provide children with much true adventure and then children find their own adventures, but it takes the form of uncalculated risk taking. There are not many places of adventure for children not involved in sports in our communities. Also, risk taking releases chemicals in one's body that is exhilarating. Rollercoasters, etc. are controlled releases of adrenalin. Jumping off cliffs into lakes are unsupervised, but similar releases of adrenalin. If adolescents are looking for the adrenalin rush and we adults are offering opportunities, then they will find it in their joy of danger. You have hit upon something truly missing in our schools and I hope you can think of more ways to involve young people in their own searches for their joy in danger.

#3: Erik, thoughtfully presented response to the article on the complexity of simplicity. Sometimes concepts like simplicity become an either/or or an all-or-nothing proposal. The word simplicity often is referred to as having or doing less, when actually it refers to clarity. There seemed to be muttled minds of pioneers who could not handle the complexity of living off the land with hand tools. There also seems to be very clear minds who handle being an astronaut with simple, clear, and uncomplicated delight. Having electricity, a phone, answering machine, fax, etc. can be a very simple way of living if these tools are complimentary to one's centered existence. The life of a Trappist monk is very complex, even without modern conveniences as it calls for a discipline and very intimate and complex rituals that take many years to master, with many internal tools to acquire (electricity, phone,fax of the mind). I think life becomes complex when we lose connection and value and passion in what we do and how we live. Being disconnected brings about disconnected decision making. Erik, do schools teach the knowledge of more and more, and overlook the teaching of pasison, connection and respect for the self. Do the schools teach simplicity is clarity, or do they teach complexithy and anxiety are partnersin a frenetic world? Simplicity is not always less, but it is clarity.

#4: Erik, I would like to comment on your response to siestas, etc. but I have to take a nap right now...ha, ha. What is wrong with people in position of leadership asserting themselves and putting a sign on their door to indicate they are taking care of themselves by taking an hour nap and they are not to be disturbed for an hour (as one would with any meeting of importance)? What is wrong with people in leadership positions indicating they are attending a workshop to improve their skills, or other work related functions? Are there labels one avoids in our society? Lazy. Slackered. Research indicates many problems families have has to do with the lack of sleep. Research also indicates an adolescent's body functions better, cognitively and emotionally from 10 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon. Yet we make children function against their development by making them get up, etc. at 6 or so. If we don't like what we have in our adult world why do we duplicate it in our schools? "I'm not happy so kids shouldn't be happy"J. How can schools teach the value of sleep? Of taking naps? Of being assertive about what one needs? How can we help ourselves and students how they function the best?

-- Anonymous, June 24, 1999

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