Friday, May 24, 2013

The Way Life Should Be

I've just returned from a 48 hour trip to the way life should be State. It was a long overdue visit to my friend Lee who was best man at my wedding 33 years ago and my main conspirator while negotiating the ups and downs of graduate school at the University of Illinois in the late 70s. The life of a full-time graduate student back then was one of little money, enthusiastic partying, considerable studying and, above all, hours and hours of stimulating conversation during which we sorted all the problems of the world of public school teaching and education. Upon graduation with our newly minted PhDs we set out to put into practice all the ideas we had spent the previous four years, and more, generating, refining, defending and espousing.

So how successful have we been during the intervening 30-something years?

Judging by the 24 hours of conversation Lee and I have had during the 48 hours I was in Maine I would have to say fairly successful with occasional setbacks. The one thing that seems to stand out clearly is how formative those years of full-time graduate study were in terms of grounding our beliefs and practices on solid ground. We each recalled with remarkable clarity the great educators and philosophers whose ideas we read and those others with whom we came into contact in those hallowed halls. The likes of Tom Sergiovani, Lillian Katz, Jim Raths, Delores Durkin, Ted Manolakes, Harold Lerch and Bud Spodek; names that trip off the tongue as readily as do their ideas still inform our thinking.

I still use Frances Fuller's Concerns Based Adoption Model for supervising student teachers because I have never found anything better. Fuller was a supervision guru at the University of Texas at the time. I still apply Lillian Katz's ideas of dispositions because they are so important in determining how we work with the diversity we embrace in the students we work with on a daily basis. Lee's research into colleague consultation and my own investigations into the allometric growth of pre-service teachers' conceptions of teaching may not have become household names in the field of education but the process of reflection and deep self exploration we were challenged  to conduct as we completed out dissertations enabled us to develop the skills necessary to assess and evaluate all the ideas and points of view we have experienced since.

During the intervening years I have probably been involved directly, in some way,  with the education of countless teachers through undergraduate, graduate and on-line courses as well as through conference presentations and publications. I would like to think that there is a little bit of the intellectual rigor I went through at the U of I passed on to each of those teachers.

I still earn relatively little money, party far less enthusiastically and frequently, still study considerably to stay current and, sadly, tend to only have really stimulating conversations about education when I visit Lee in Maine, the way life should be.    

1 comment:

  1. Those were the days, my friend.

    As I fight the persistent temptation to sink into cynicism at the current state of public education, I am reminded that I considered those years at U of I to be my first genuine experience with "formal education." Not that I did not have many good teachers before those years... I did ... and could not have been there without them. Still, I suspect that a "formal education" connotes a deliberate discipline of consideration, an active search for merit in contrasting ideas, and a culture that respects inquiry and collective participation in a dance of challenging ideas without disrespecting people.

    How do our schools help young people develop the skills and the dispositions for such thoughtful conversation? Well, I believe that one helpful, if not necessary, step is to model such dialogue.

    Thanks to you, my dear friend, for doing that dance with me.