This is a guest blog from a pubic school teacher in New York City. Given the culture of fear that permeates this teacher's work and I imagine the work of other teachers in the system, the teacher will remain anonymous. The post is part of an ongoing dialogue this teacher is involved in on a weekly basis as part of a graduate course s/he is taking. The teacher refers to Thomas Newkirk and the book being read in the course: Holding Onto Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones (2009) .
In reading the post I wondered a lot about the culture of fear that seems present in schools, especially large city systems. One only has to read of the culture of fear that was reported in Atlanta under Beverly Hall's reign to understand how such fear can lead good people to do things they might not have conceived themselves of doing. Last spring I published another teacher's words, Miss C Recounts: Teaching at a South Bronx Charter School. This teacher as well wrote about the absurdity of rules and regulations and the underlying culture of fear that permeated the work of teaching and learning.
I hope both of these posts give you pause. I hope they move you to inquire as to what may be happening at your local school and how you might be able to help change the culture from one of fear to one of mutual respect and creativity. Teachers cannot teach well when they are being required to be compliant and not to be thinkers. They cannot teach our children well when they are operating in a culture of fear. Fear makes all of us less than we are: less kind, less thoughtful, less hopeful and far more myopic in our view of reality.
* from Newkirk's book. He outlines four habits of mind:
Habits of Mind (pg. 142-143)
- The habit of observation. What do you notice? This is the capacity to slow down, pay attention, notice the unusual detail, fact or statistic--one that is not evident at first glance.
- The habit of generalization. A key question is "What do you make of this?" What inferences, judgements, evaluations, conclusions, theses do you arrive at? It is to think in patterns, to make connections.
- The habit of evidence. What is the basis of your generalizations? And what make you think this evidence is solid, when there is so much suspicious information available?
- The habit of considering alternatives. How could it be otherwise? What credible positions might differ from yours? What are the 'rivals' to your own position?