Saturday, August 29, 2009

education as crops

Consumption seem to be an integral part of human experience. Adam and Eve are given the job of expanding the garden (be fruitful/multiply) and that every plant yielding seed and tree that bears fruit was theirs for food. (Gen 1:29 ) Thus the expectation is that these resources were to be consumed in order to help sustain their lives as well as their families, etc. However they are responsible for maintaining the resources of which they consume. Genesis 2: 15 Adam is told to cultivate and keep the garden. (This is also, supposedly, translatable as 'worship and obey' which has other implications.) Even in Genesis when Adam is handed his part of the curse for his failure to speak up he is still responsible to raise the bread for which he will eat though with much more effort and labor.
As 21st century individuals we are usually very removed from the originating source of our food/clothing. I have no connection to the cow(s)(and their chemists) that generated the milk that is currently in my fridge.(To my own credit, I've been to a working dairy farm and have helped push a herd of cows through the milk rotation while also trotting around the 2" of manure/urine that cover the majority of the barn floor chasing errant cows back to the milk chutes. This is easily one of the top three worst smelling places I've ever been in. ) I/we are used to having our milk show up in grocery stores in already packaged containers assuming it is properly pasteurized and deliciously nutritious. As natural consumers we/I need food to survive. As 21st century consumers, I/we don't think about it and I think this is from whence the danger comes. I was thinking tonight that perhaps the issue with our consumption patterns may not be completely in the act of consumption itself (though this has its own issues) but is rooted in the pattern of thought behind the consuming.
Since we are no longer an agrarian society, as a culture we/I do not have an (in)vested interest in the production of our food. We have been so far removed fromit we have no idea the effort it takes to produce. In some ways this is good because it measn that we arefree to pursue other interests/hobbies, etc. However I think that this aspect of consumption far from the source of production of sustenance mainfests itself in our education processes as well. As Postman and others have written, the current schooling system in the West is set up to produce consumers only w/o grounding in asking "What is?" Students are moved through standardized testing consuming facts, vomitting them back up in darkly filled No. 2 pencil dots and, having conusmed these facts are given diplomas in order to get a job in order to buy stuff, that is consume. This may sound slightly radical but read any major organ of higher ed and the focus is on the job market with the call resounding that we (the institution) need to help the student break into the market place. If the focus of this 'higher ed' is only the job market then there is no need for Bible courses or philosophy. The arguement that these items are needed for the student's worldview is no longer relevant as the necessary knoweldge can be obtained from Sunday School.
My question is: How are we/I helping students think critically? (I understand this term 'think critically' is almost dead as a cliche but I think this practice is the foundation of education.) Maybe this means eschewing whatever pragmatic approach is currently trendy and rocking a class rap session together. It definitely means more writing. There are schools that are doing both. Check out Deep Springs College which is a two year school where the students work to sustain the school (farm/ranch) and study with a very small faculty who leave the light on at night on their front porches if they want to let students know that the faculty are available to chat. This is education experienced in community-outside the bounds of the 50 minutes of classroom time. Check out their academic statement here. I completely doubt Deep Springs is a utopia but I think their touches to the heart of developing respondible students and invovled citizens. I think this approach of requiring laboring scholars . If we/I work to build/maintain a place then I/we have invested something more than federal loans or our parent's money. I believe that consumption of education is directly combatted by knowledge of its importance. If If education is simply a job training process then colleges should go out of business bc people change careers like old socks. But if college is going to challenge the process of only consuming then I think we need a holistic approach that requires not only the minds of the students but their hearts and hands as well.

One of the things that sparked this somewhat admittedly labyrinthine bit of text was the five questions Prof. John Oliff raised on his blog a week or two ago. See the original post here and partially reproduced below:

"I begin the semester with copious questions (again) about the nature of the educational process and the value of traditional education system. I am still convinced the way the system is currently structured leaves students unprepared to face the realities of the world post commencement. Here are some of my lingering questions:
(1) what value is it to students in the real world to have them memorize data for the sake of tests and measurements - dates, outlines, paradigms, etc.? Why have students write "research" papers when they have no clue how to write in the first place - I mean, when a student applies to a retail job or a desk job in the future, their bosses are not going to have them do such a thing, right. If one argues it is simply to build in them the discipline to do so, then I think it is not the proper motivation. They did not come to University to build discipline (that is for the home, prior to coming) but to be trained to think about systems, analyze texts, and write critical essays on them, right?
(2) Do we stifle the process of dialogue and learning by having 50 min. classes where the process is cut short by the clock - what does this model about learning?
(3) What do we really mean by integration? If by it we mean take Bible classes and fit the other disciplines into the Bible, then I think it is not what it means (I am open to suggestions here).
(4) Prejudices, how much of what I do in the classroom and out of it is based on known and unknown prejudices - ones passed on to me from others who have them and have not considered their origin? Am I even aware of my own? Do I know them but fear the outcome of questioning them?
(5) Why do students come to University? Why spend thousands of dollars a year to come to University - to get a job, I think not? To go in debt - I think not... To learn to think! To evaluate reality, to learn to interact with other humans who are doing the same thing?!?!?!?!

Ok, enough, you get the point. One of my goals this term is to love to learn and learn to love in a way that will stimulate others along the same path. Remember, the unexamined life is not worth living (Aristotle).
So let it begin, let the texts be opened and the mind expanded! Cut the student lose from the chains that have bound their minds to unexamined presuppositions, to wonderment of the unseen realities surrounding them. Let them be human - seekers of truth, answers that fail them... let them learn to "be". "

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