[wisehat] Wise Hat News #14

  • From: Wise Hat News <news@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "wisehat@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <wisehat@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 26 Nov 2005 14:29:01 +0900

Wise Hat News #14
26th November 2005

The online version is available at:

1. Christmas is Coming
2. Flowers and Rockets
3. Behaviour? Behave!
4. Walls and Magnets
5. What's New?
6. And You?
7. Administrivia


##  Every man is guilty of all the good he didn't do. ##

Hello, there.

Less than fifty shopping days to Christmas. How much are you going to spend this year? Did you know that yesterday was Buy Nothing Day in the United States and that today is Buy Nothing Day in Japan and Europe? To celebrate I've put some BND links on the Wise Hat top page (http://www.wisehat.com/index.php). But this issue I want to focus on discipline and democracy. Quiet at the back - pay attention!


PS How many days of the week can you make Buy Nothing Day?


## The history of human opinion is scarcely anything more than the history of human errors. ##

Recently someone wrote to me saying that I rejected any hint of authority. I replied by saying that I rejected it less than the writer imagined and far less than I should. I had the kindergarten I work at in mind.

I think I've mentioned the kindergarten before - it's more like a junior high school than a kindergarten. There are individual teachers for specific subjects and children are expected to study. Teachers are expected to control. I was (and am) reluctant to take on this role. Nor did I want to pass off this expectation onto my assistant. So somehow we ended up creating a control system using flowers.

We spend one day per week with each class. Every day the class starts with six flowers. If the teachers end up using Japanese to control a situation one of the flowers is lost. The system works because the children care enough about the flowers to want to keep them. However, the system is negative. It focuses on bad behaviour rather than good behaviour. Accordingly, we decided to create an additional system that focused on using English. We created a large space panorama on the wall of each classroom and gave each class a rocket. By successfully completing tasks and by using English with each other children earn rocket points. At the end of each day we work out how far the rocket moves. We multiple the number of flowers by the number of rocket points to generate the number of centimetres moved. When the rocket reaches a planet we have a surprise activity to celebrate.

The system appears to be popular. The children like to see the rocket moving across the wall. However, I have doubts about it. Essentially, the system is rather arbitrary and dependent upon the whim of the teachers. It is the teachers who decide whether the class will lose a flower or not and it is the teachers who determine how, and if, rocket points are awarded. It is a system of control, albeit an elaborate one. It is not democratic. But given the structure of the kindergarten as a whole perhaps it is better than nothing. As the kindergarten is set up the teachers are required to control the students so perhaps such a system makes the process more palatable. Moreover, we can involve the children in deciding what each special event will be when a planet is reached. So different classes will end up celebrating reaching the same planet in different ways.


## Love truth, and pardon error. ##

Arg! I used the B word! Why should teachers need to control behaviour? If children were genuinely interested in something would they misbehave? And what do we mean when we use the word misbehave? Are we thinking about acting in a socially co-operative manner or about obedience or about something else? A while back I wrote an article exploring these issues. Here's a link:


I think the less democratic a classroom is the more the teacher will be concerned with control. The kindergarten I work at is hugely undemocratic. Children sometimes get choice within individual activities but get virtually no choice about what they can do, where they can do and when they can do it. In effect, the children are learning to be passive to authority rather than to question it. I think true education would be doing the opposite.

When I first read the phrase "true education" in Krishnamurti's Education and the Significance of Life I was deeply suspicious of the phrase and rejected it out of hand. I felt the phrase was authoritarian. Now, after rereading the book I have a different understanding. By using the phrase true education Krishnamurti is not saying that there is only one way to educate, rather he is suggesting that any kind of education that is true will have particular qualities.

I think that true education is respectful and non-invasive and non-coercive. In this respect I think that it is important for teachers to express such behaviour. Adults generally have much more knowledge and experience than children. To deny children access to such resources seems perverse. However, I think that adult intervention needs to be subtle and sparing less the children become dependent upon adult opinion. Perhaps it should be adults that are seen and not heard - unless requested by the children.


##  Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd. ##

Last week I had a run-in with a homeroom teacher. It happened at lunchtime. I had been setting up a video for the children to watch (their rocket having reached Mars) and returned to the classroom to find a very distraught boy. He had been told to retrieve a magnet from the wall but it was high over his head and impossible for him to reach. So I picked the boy up and he retrieved the magnet. Immediately some children reported this event to the homeroom teacher who had been busy with some notebooks. He wasn't pleased. Suddenly there was a confrontation. The teacher shouted at me. I managed not to shout back though I was seething inside. I told him that he had no business treating me like a student and that I didn't want him in the classroom. As far as I saw by demanding something that was physically impossible he was in effect torturing the boy. The whole event was harsh and unresolved. My assistant got the children to line-up and we escaped to the video room.

After the school day was over I went to the principal. In my mind I wanted to know who had the final authority on English days, the English teacher, me, or the homeroom teacher. In retrospect this was a foolish thought. The children have more contact time with their homeroom teachers and then there is also the whole structure of the kindergarten to consider. In my anger I was looking for the power to throw the homeroom teacher out of the room. So much for democracy! So much for consensus!

To her credit, the principal focused on the practical. Her primary concern was that the children were not doing anything dangerous and that teachers did not argue in front of the children. Different homeroom teachers had different rules and she did not expect me to follow them. A meeting was set up for the following day. With tempers cooled new information came to light. But before reporting on this I'd be better to talk about the magnets.

The magnets are a promotional item from Mister Donut. They are cut-out animals each with a doughnut incorporated into the design. There's a squirrel with doughnut tail and a lion with a doughnut mane. The designs are cuddly. I won't digress by writing about the use of brand goods in kindergartens. It seems the favourite use for the magnets is to throw them at the classroom walls that happen to be metal. It's quite a good game and requires some skill to get a magnet to land flat on the wall so it will stick. Some children tried to get the magnets to stick as high on the wall as possible, and this is where the trouble started.

For children to expect an adult to constantly retrieve magnets that are out of reach is unreasonable. As A. S. Neill who founded Summerhill would have said it is an act of licence - failing to take responsibility for one's actions. Apparently the class in question had a meeting and decided not to throw the magnets out of reach. The reason the homeroom teacher was so hard on the boy was because he had repeatedly broken this class rule. Moreover, apparently, the boy had told his comrades that since I was the teacher that day he would deliberately flout the rule and get me to retrieve the magnet. He was cheating behind my back!

I have no idea whether this history is true. What is clear to me is that if the class did have a meeting and make a democratic decision about the magnets that the decision was poorly thought out. When making a rule it is necessary to consider the consequences for breaking the rule. It seems that the teacher was enforcing a rule that some children, at least, had not accepted. Otherwise when the boy told his companions he was going to break the rule they would all have known the consequences.

After hearing the homeroom teacher's side of events I commented that I thought the children having a meeting to make their own rules was a good idea but that they also needed to be able to manage those rules themselves. They need to be able to decide what happens and not the teacher.

I'm sure the homeroom teacher I argued with was acting out of good intentions. I believe he sees his job as getting the children ready for elementary school. I guess this is the problem. I think that school, as it is usually set up, gives too much power and authority to teachers. The fact that different teachers have different rules only makes school more capricious. As long as teachers have policing powers then there is no real democracy. The meetings children hold to decide things become so much sham.

As for myself, I'm a little disappointed that some children see me as nothing more than a teacher and that I have a back to go behind. But regardless of this, I think it is wrong for a larger being to use either physical or emotional violence to bend smaller beings to its will. If a similar situation occurs again I will intervene in an instant. Violence bequeaths violence. At least I am sure of that?


## Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well. ##

I've been working on a whole new section for the site but it's not quite ready. Perhaps next time. Hopefully, this time it's a case of, "Never mind the width feel the quality".

Brainwave - A technique to interrupt activities

Parrot Flag - A technique for repetition

Now's Co-operative Newsletter #13 - Reports on JALT National 2000.

Now's Co-operative Newsletter #15 - Happy New Year!

Now's Co-operative Newsletter #16 - Pancakes!

Now's Co-operative News was the forerunner to Wise Hat News - for some reason issues 3, 11 and 14 never got made.


## Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. ##

To end with here is a poem by Adrian Mitchell. He wrote it to his wife just before having a nervous breakdown in an attempt to describe what was running rampant through his head.


One: we were swaddled, ugly-beautiful and drunk on milk..

Two: cuddled in arms always covered by laundered sleeves.

Three: we got sand and water to exercise our imaginative faculties.

Four: we were hit. Suddenly hit.

Five we were fed to the education system limited.

Six: worried by the strange creatures in our heads, we strangled some of them.

Seven: we graduated in shame.

Eight: World War Two and we hated the Germans as much as our secret bodies, loved the Americans as much as the Russians, hated killing, loved killing, depending on the language in the bible in the breast pocket of the dead soldier, we were crazy-thirsty for Winston Superman, for Jesus with his infinite tommy-gun and the holy Spitfires, while the Jap dwarves hacked through the undergrowth of our nightmares - there were pits full of people-meat - and the real bombs came, but they didn't hit us, my love, they didn't hit us exactly.
My love, they are trying to drive us mad.

So we got to numbers eight, nine, ten and eleven,
Growing scales over every part of our bodies,
Especially our eyes,
Because scales were being worn, because scales were armour.
And now we stand, past thirty, together, madder than ever,
We make a few diamonds, and lose them.
We sell our crap by the ton.
My love, they are trying to drive us mad.

Make love. We must make love
Instead of making money.
You know about rejection? Hit, Suddenly hit.
Want to spend my life making poems in which untamed
People and animals walk around freely, lie down freely
Make love freely
In the deep loving carpets, stars circulating in their ceilings,
Poems like honeymoon planetariums.
But our time is burning.
My love, they are trying to drive us mad.

Peace was all I ever wanted.
It was too expensive.
My love, they are trying to drive us mad.

Half the people I love are shrinking.
My love, they are trying to drive us mad.

Half the people I love are exploding.
My love, they are trying to drive us mad.

I am afraid of going mad.

## Man is free at the moment he wishes to be. ##


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## We never live; we are always in the expectation of living. ##

(## Quotes this issue by Voltaire)

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