Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Counting God and Being in the Now

Counting (M.A. Reilly, NYC, 2010)

"...To know certain numbers
would be like standing next to God,
a counting God, too busy
to stop for war or famine.
I'd go out under the night sky
to search for Him up there:
God counting, next to Orion
drawing his bow..."

- Douglas Goetsch, "Counting"

I. Tweeting

Last night I took part in a Twitter chat (#leadfromwithin, Tuesday evenings from 8:00 - 9:00 p.m. EST) and the general topic was about being in the NOW.  John Bernard's, Business at the Speed of Now: Fire Up Your People, Thrill Your Customers, and Crush Your Competitors was referenced. I read the opening chapter on line and marveled at the connections between the business world it describes and the educational world I recently left. Consider this:

A company's failure to solve  the customer's problem now can mean the beginning of the end of a relationship (p. 6).

Certainly, there are key differences between education as civic enterprise and business. Yet, there are similarities as well, especially as affordable education options, such as virtual and blended learning, arise and those with the means to access these alternatives to public schools may well do so.

Last night the chat was largely about the differences between NOW leaders and THEN leaders.  As is the norm for this chat, the questions were thoughtful as were the responses posted by others. There's a lot to borrow from this inquiry as educators.   Years ago a chapter in my dissertation examined epic and novel language in classrooms. I theorized that when first grade teachers spoke using the present tense, the learning opportunities for children increased as both the teacher and the children were operating in the present moment--the now.  The now allows us to be free from operating via our assumptions, misunderstandings, imposed standards.  Rather, the present emerges and alongside it our reading of it--a reading that is jointly constructed.  At such moments, we grapple to make meaning alongside the children.  This energy and purpose is significant and I watched as it signaled Csikszentmihalyi's notion of flow.  In contrast, when teachers' discourse contained lots of past tense markers, the learning opportunities for children narrowed.  At such times, the ever present moment that in fact was emerging was left unattended.  Little children tend to operate in the present--in the now, now, now. When teachers fail to do so, there is a gap that widens.

According to Bernard (as best I can tell by reading one chapter), the world of now has gained prominence, importance, and relativity as the speed of information sharing has increased with the use of stagecoach,  pony, telegraph, railroad, airplane, jet, fax, email, and most recently texting.  Bernard writes:
Now everything anyone needs to know can travel at the speed of light, circling the globe 7.4 times in one second or traveling to the moon or back in 2.6 seconds" (p. 3).
Yes, it is foolish to confuse information with knowledge, however the speed of information does alter possibility in significant ways and does influence knowledge, power, and community. Fast info makes the now, ever nower, and raises alongside it increased potential to connect, collaborate, compose, and contextualize--so long as you have access and choose to use it.

So long as you have the means and method to not only connect, but be connected.

II. Contextualizing

Last week I left a school where I will be working next year and took a tour around the neighborhood. Here poverty has a weight one cannot upend.  Boarded homes are now partially un-boarded and on this warm spring night, many people--all people of color--sat on stoops.  I wondered about connectivity here--in the absence of electricity and water.  Yes, the phone can be a great equalizer, but it loses when shelter, food, safety, and health care are not secured.

This leaves me to think that never has there been a time when public schooling is more important as digital differences increase creating significant challenges for those who cannot connect and for those who can.  This makes me wonder why we continue to invest in the naming of things to know such as that which we find in national and state standards. I wondered if such national investments don't work to oddly maintain income inequality and racism.  It's like the image I made at the top of this post, Counting.  It's folly to count stars with the hope of representing the whole of stars. That which is dynamic cannot be contained with any accuracy inside closed sets.  

The antidote to this great naming of things to know, is being in the now. It's having the courage at local, state, and national levels for us to stand up and say: making knowledge requires a community of learners to operate without the troublesome burden of someone else's 'best' thinking as the only path to follow.  As such, we are rolling up the epic constructs known as standards with their long and tiresome lists and high stakes testing and in their stead we are asking communities to define what  and how learners demonstrate learning--perhaps a few key capacities such as: reason well; compose across symbol systems with accuracy, passion, and sustained interest; communicate effectively; exhibit curiosity; make things; and be kind. 

Alongside such a grand gesture, the housing of teachers and administrators for life must equally end.   Imposed standards and tenure for life represent epic constructs that are potentially harmful to children. Teachers and administrators must be excellent, not even just okay, let alone awful.  The work among learners (including teachers) must be fluid, not static.  To be excellent happens in the company of others and these settled households we know as schools, must be places where knowledge is being made, not simply consumed by both the educator and the pupil. The money being spent on testing in this country could be better used to create such settled households--a reclaiming, if you like, of main street. 

Perhaps then, the enormous attention being paid to public education by presidential hopefuls, like Mitt Romney and other pundits, who describe schooling for some as 'third world conditions' could be spent addressing the economic and social structures that maintain income inequality alongside racism in the United States.  A century ago, W.E.B. Du Bois writing about race and oppression wrote:
This is the problem of to-day, and what is its mighty answer? It is this great word: The cost of liberty is less than the price of repression.
Is such hegemony behind us? The economic, political, educational, judicial, and social structures that represent massive power produce and increase income inequality and they burdens us.

III. Counting

The mindless acts that clutter our day would best be left behind.  A closed set of things to count is best left not started.

Counting is a God-thing, even an indifferent One at that, paring his fingernails...well you know the rest.


  1. This is a sensational post! I hope that you'll send it to the President.

  2. The photo collage is fabulous. Thanks for the post--I need the reminder. Now is all we have.


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