Cultivation rather than production

Over the last many months we have covered a lot of territory at about 750 words per week.  We started our discussions back in November by discussing the ends and the nature of a great education.  We then moved into thinking about the principles that come from the nature of a child, such as respect for the real, stages in their growth, raising the student’s taste, pursuing moral greatness, and developing discipline.  I would like to now back up from gazing at the diamond of education from that facet and move to another angle: that of the teacher.  What is there in the nature of a teacher and the art of teaching that informs our ideas of what constitutes a great education?  I appreciate how many of you have commented positively on these meditations and hope this new angle is just as fruitful for us.

We live in a world full of paradigms.  I say this to highlight that all of us have a paradigm in mind for how we view teachers.  A paradigm is “a set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them, especially in an intellectual discipline” (AHD).  I am not sure that everyone in America as a whole shares a common paradigm, but all of us have one.  My best paradigm for education is that of the farm.  I think I can argue well that many who disagree with me on this prefer to view school as more of an industry or factory.  These result in radically differing “assumptions, concepts, values, and practices” (Ibid) for what constitutes good teaching.

I believe that I am describing a shift in paradigms, my farm view being the older (dare I say, obsolete) view and the factory view the newer one.  I have made a concerted effort to not bury this column with research and footnotes so I will simply suggest one source that would more than adequately prove to you that my assertion of this shift is well founded and not simply my own idea.  Diane Ravitch is one of our leading education historians at the moment, writing for education page of the NY Times, serving in the past in the Dept. of Education, and having taught at Columbia and NYU.  Her seminal work is a great read called, “Left Back” in which she clearly shows how our historic move from the farm into the city and factory greatly changed the paradigm most parents and certainly all prominent educators held at the turn of the last century.

This included a great number of changes in our “assumptions, concepts, values, and practices” about education, but in particular seemed to address two issues that were a growing “plague” in education when it was viewed from a farming paradigm.  Two things that fit well in a farm and work against a factory are the issues of control and grace.  I think they are two sides to the same coin, so I will treat them together.  On the farm, the farmer has only so much control over his farm.  He can’t make it rain, he can’t control pests, or if he does he often causes other problems by doing so, he can’t control soil but so much, etc.  His industry and understanding go a long way to working with the nature of these things, but he can’t change the laws God has established for farming.  On the other side of the coin, this observation also means that the true farmer needs grace.  He needs God to provide what he cannot.  He is dependent upon God, natural laws, and timely providence from God for his farm to succeed.

When applied as a paradigm to schooling, this is a perplexing thing for the modern man.  Having anything out of his control is difficult, but something as important as the next generation is downright intolerable.  And being asked to depend upon a God that the modern man does not really think exists is silly, at least as he sees it.  And it is this very difference between the past and the present that should make Christian schools, who believe in a God and grace and nurture of children a very different place than schools where these things are lost.  But I am concerned that Christian schools, born out of urbanization and industrialization, shifted their paradigm to the factory model along with the modern man and now seek to judge everything from a paradigm their Scriptures just won’t support.

The factory paradigm rewrites these issues by forming itself around scientifically proven methods of schooling that show data to support the actions of the new teachers.  If they do such and so, there is a very high probability of success due to Dr. Dude’s research.  If things are not being produced as planned, we simply adjust the gears of the factory and the issue is solved.  This is called control.  It sets aside our fears by promising return.  It also moves education from a place of grace to one of numbers and standardized practices.  We need not pray, we only need to teach to the test and all will be well.  I conclude that the paradigm is the problem, because it frames how we view the problems.

I close this article, which as I write I feel could go on for pages and pages, with this thoughtful quote from a contemporary, Mr. Wendell Berry, who is specifically speaking of the university, but in this quote handles all of education.

“These two problems, how to make and how to judge, are the business of education.  But education has tended increasingly to ignore the doubleness of its obligation.  It has concerned itself more and more exclusively with the problem of how to make, narrowing the issue of judgment virtually to the terms of the made thing itself. The thing made by education now is not a fully developed human being; it is a specialist, a careerist, a graduate.  In industrial education, the thing finally made is of no concern to the makers.” (Home Economics, “The University,” p.81)

Caldwell Academy is cultivating humans, not making widgets called, “Graduates.”




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