"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
- Neil deGrasse Tyson
As a teacher, how do you deal with Easter, Christmas, and Halloween in the classroom? What are your thoughts and ideals about those events?
I have seen Neil deGrasse Tyson described as a national treasure and he is someone for whom I have a great deal of respect. He is not highly intelligent, but he has the ability to explain often complex concepts in a way that makes them accessible without talking down to people. He has always come across in interviews that I have seen, as being an incredibly down to Earth and ordinary man.
As some of us do, I have some quite strong beliefs about a number of things as an individual that influence how I would like to raise my daughter, but which I am struggling to reconcile as a professional in my teaching practice. I would like you to think about some of the sensible beliefs and practices we, as teachers and parents both, work to instill in our children.
If you have not already done so, I would encourage you to go back and watch the above interview with Tyson.
"That's what it's all about right? That's what it's always been about! Gifts, gifts, gifts, gifts, gifts, gifts! Do you know what happens to your gifts? They all come to me...in your garbage. Do you see what I'm saying here? IN YOUR GARBAGE! I could hang myself with all the bad Christmas neckties I found at the dump! And the avarice! The avarice never ends! "I want golf clubs!" "I want diamonds!" "I want a pony so I can ride it twice, get bored, and send it away to make glue!" Look, I don't wanna make waves here, but this WHOLE Christmas season is STUPID! STUPID! STUPID!"
- The Grinch (from the 2000 movie)
I do not like Christmas. The idea that we have to spend so much money people whom we often do not like to show them that we like them and that we can afford to spend money is just ridiculous and the wastefulness during Christmas both materially with packaging and wrapping paper, and with Christmas Cards that go in the bin only a few days later is phenomenal. As parents, we get cranky with our children they demand particular toys, or if they sulk when they get what they want. We do not let them go up to strangers and ask for things. We get cranky when our children lie.
But at Christmas time, we encourage our students to demand things from a fictitious man who we have lied to our children about the existence of by having them write Dear Santa, this year for Christmas I want.... We then take our students for a photo with a complete stranger we know nothing about, often forcing them to be in the photo, often forcing them if the number of photos I have seen with screaming children are anything to go buy. If they get sulky because they did not get what they want at Christmas, it is often called cute. Societally, we then tell people that what they gave us was not good enough by spending, in 2017, $2.4 billion dollars on stuff at the Boxing Day Sales (source).
That said, I love Christmas because it is a guarantee chance to spend a few hours with family. This past Christmas was amusing as we spent Christmas day with my wife's family and both of my brothers-in-law have daughters who were born six and eight weeks respectively after my daughter. Three little girls who are all cheeky in different ways and were all toddling around the house was incredibly cute and you could see the joy on the the faces of the family.
As you may have guessed, I do not plan on doing Santa with my daughter and it is something my wife and have been debating the handling of for a long time. But where I am finding a professional dilemma is in the classroom when it comes to the lead up of Easter, Halloween, and Christmas. As teachers we should not be imposing our beliefs on students. And so I have struggled with those events. It has been made easier the last few years as I have been either job-sharing or team-teaching and simply allowed my partner to do any activities relating to those events.
It is becoming something that I am feeling increasingly uncomfortable with; due, I think, to becoming a parent and feeling the way I do. The way that Neil deGrasse Tyson addresses it seems like a reasonable compromise, challenging the students to think critically for themselves. Is that an approach that could be taken in the classroom without causing too much uproar, do you think?
I would love to hear your thoughts on this, and whether you agree or disagree about the inculcation into the capitalist-fantasy world of the Easter bunny, Santa, and Hallowe'en.
Thank you for reading.
“If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.”
– Attributed to Bruce Lee
Today’s article is the final in the review series from the Teaching for Thinking Forum held last week at St Leo’s Catholic College, and focuses on Constantin Lomaca’s concluding presentation titled Towards a Thinking Curriculum. If you have not read the articles covering the previous three speakers, I would recommend you do so, by clicking here for the first presentation. Constantin is the head of Teaching and Learning at St. Leo’s, and opened by thanking everyone for their attendance, and promising that he would push through quickly to preserve the question time that was planned for the end of the evening.
Constantin entry point into the discussion on thinking and philosophy in education was reminiscent of components of the previous speakers’ messages; the current curriculum is crowded, the pressure on teachers stress to “…get through all the content…” and the ensuing stress as we seek to achieve this leads to our students having little time to think and to process the discussions and learning in which they engage; and this on the back of us, as teachers, having only a small amount of time to plan and prepare inside school hours, being forced to take work home far too often.
“By the ‘time our students reach senior school, they have not acquired the tools or dispositions for “thinking through” problems, concepts and ideas independently, which impacts their HSC performance, particularly at the higher bands.”
As a primary teacher, I do not necessarily see the end results that Constantin is referring to. What I do see, however, is the effects he is implying when it comes to NAPLAN. Students that do not ‘get’ the answer, or think of the answer within the allotted time (often only a few seconds) and are thus used to being supplied with the answers to ‘problems’ are being asked to think for themselves and this is causing anxiety and stress.
Simon commented in his presentation that “…learning is the product of thinking…” and Constantin extended this statement. To learn something is to understand it, intrinsically; to be able to transfer the knowledge across domains, and therefore “…[u]nderstanding is NOT… a precursor to application, analysis, evaluating [or] creating, but a RESULT of them. Thus UNDERSTANDING is the outcome of Thinking” and accordingly, it is only when students have demonstrated with evidence their understanding and reasoning behind a specific concept that our job is done. Constantin’s statement regarding the lack of dispositions for thinking also hearkens back to a comment by Simon, in his presentation, that without the disposition to think, it is irrelevant how much explicit teaching of thinking [tools] we provide.
Constantin echoed Dr. Jensen’s call that thinking skills need to be explicitly taught, and time for authentic practice given, however it is not enough, I believe, to provide time for practice of thinking skills and strategies. The discussions that were engaged in during the evening indicated that there was a general awareness and understanding of this point, and the pedagogical strategies that have been put in place to support the implementation of the explicit teaching of thinking skills and strategies.
Constantin continued his presentation with a brief overview of how St Leo’s were utilising a process to program and plan called Understanding by Design, or UbD, to facilitate the inclusion of thinking skills. I had not previously heard of this programming method, but based upon Constantin’s explanation, it does sound somewhat similar to a process that was introduced to me during my undergraduate degree as backward mapping, which is also known as Backward Planning or Backward Design.
Constantin expanded upon how this process was being used to implement teaching for thinking and to make thinking visible within the context of his school, and concluded his presentation by inviting three students to make a presentation based upon their learning during the year thus far. The students demonstrated an awareness of the basic principles of critical thinking skills, and the historical providence from the Age of Enlightenment and other thinkers throughout history, which despite some obvious nervousness from the students, flowed well and was tightly structured.
The Forum at this point, after some closing remarks from Constantin, and an invitation to join himself and others for a meal at a local venue, broke up, with a number of small groups forming to digest, discuss and reflect with each other upon the evening. Given that my mode of travel is motorbike, and that at this point it was around 7.30pm, cold and a little windy, I made the decision to opt out of the dinner in order to make the approximately forty-five minute trip home.
The Forum was, in my mind, absolutely worth attending, and each of the presenters linked in with each other on various points. There was a lot to get excited about, a lot to take back into the classroom and put into action, much to ruminate upon and plans to consider for future action.
I was excited by the results of the two philosophy courses being implemented at Waverley College, and am eager to visit and see some of those classes in action, in order to extrapolate some of the pedagogical strategies backwards to put into place with my Stage Three students. I am also beginning to make explicit thinking time part of my pedagogical practice when asking students to engage with concepts. So far, in the week since the Forum, this has met with mixed responses from students, but I am confident that as it becomes more and more common and that as we continue the conversation about why thinking is critical that more students will get on board with the practice. Finally, I very much want to spend some time considering how, when I do have a full-time class, I can embed the teaching for thinking principles within my class, my pedagogy and my students, to achieve the goal of creating life long learners and thinkers.
I will leave you with a final comment, a reminder that “…learning is the product of thinking…” (Dominic Hearne), that “…good thinking is a disposition as well as a skill set…” (Simon Brooks), that “…we need to explicitly teach and embed thinking skills, including the metalanguage of thinking and metacognition…” (Dr. Jensen) and finally, that “…our job is done only when we see evidence of students’ understanding and reasoning…” (Constantin Lomaca).
As always, thank you for reading, and my thanks go to St. Leo’s Catholic College for organising and hosting this event, to the speakers for their time, energy, expertise and ideas, and to my fellow teachers, who gave of their Thursday night to open themselves up to concepts and ideas that can be challenging in the face of needing to “…get through the content…”
See here for the list of articles in this series.