Saturday, November 10, 2012

School as Silo: The Space that Waits to Be More Than Itself

I.  A Tweet

I was reading a few tweets and one caught my eye that had been retweeted. It said:

Education will be fixed by teachers. Yes! Leave it to the professionals. 

My first response was that the statement is partial, incomplete and filled with terms that need to be clarified. I have no doubt that the people who were tweeting and retweeting shared a context I am not knowledgeable about.  With that said, I was nonetheless concerned about two things:

  1. What exactly needs fixing? What is broken?  From whose perspective?
  2. How is it even possible that only teachers can be the single fixers of socially complex and ideological institutions, like schools? 

One of the challenges of education reform is that in lieu of sustained discourse among learners, parents, community members and educators within and across geographic/social/political/ideological spaces--schools are situated as silos.

Ideas are siloed.

Learners too.

You (and me) too.

William Carlos Williams in "Deep Religious Faith" said it best:

                                                      Shame on our poets,they have caught the prevalent fever:                impressed                                by the "laboratory,"they have forgot                 the flower!                                  which goes beyond alllaboratories!                  They have quit the job                                    of invention. Theimagination has fallen asleep                   in a poppy-cup.

Reawakening the imagination is at the center of re-seeing schools, re-situating learning.

II. A Silo

Tree in Silo by Ken Wolf. Found here. 
In farming silos are used to store different grains. The structure of the silo allows for the separation of grains, so that none mix.  Yet nothing in life holds still, remains the same. Time and intention alter use and need in silos and in schools.

In a New York Times article (4.30.12), Amid Rural Decay, Trees Take Root in Silos, A.G. Sulzberger opens the article by writing:
EUDORA, Kan. — The sight is a familiar one along the dusty back roads of the Great Plains: an old roofless silo left to the elements along with decaying barns, chicken coops and stone homesteads.This is the landscape of rural abandonment that defines a region that has struggled with generations of exodus.

Sulzberger chronicles how many silos, left to decay, are being reclaimed by trees.  The silo oddly protects the seeds from which the trees grow, as well as the maturing trees from wicked winds and other challenging weather.  
The midwest is a landscape in transition, 
like schools, 
like you,  me.
III. Mad Farmer
William Kloefkorn's poem about a mad farmer (Wendell Berry) who sings offers us a way to frame the school as silo conundrum.  Have a listen:

The Mad Farmer Shuts Himself inside His Silo to Sing Away the StormFor and after Wendell Berry
Because the silo is round
each note is round,
each note eternity in a nutshell,
and knowing this the mad farmer
knows also that his song can never be lost,
never exhausted, never indefinitely contained,
that the notes will circle and circle
until the storm relents,
until the door left open permits them
and they will go then inevitable as seed
to the four great corners of the universe,
there to put themselves together over and over,
becoming over and over the song
that now at the height of the storm
the mad farmer hat in his hand
stands singing: 
O la and la and earth and water and wind,
sunlight and shadow,
la and la and hands deep into the soil,
and work and love,
and the greatest of these is work
and love and hands, la and la and
the immaculate equation of knowhow
and concern
until the silo spins with the mad farmer's song,
until the storm with its thunder and lightning
joins in,
la and la and crack and rumble,
and knowing these, and the fathers
and the mothers and the children of these,
the mad farmer hat yet dripping in his hand
invents a final verse, releasing each word
with its attendant note whole as faith
into the space that waits to be more than itself
when the storm relents
and the sun does its own savage work
and the harvest behold! is in.
IV. Reform/Revision/Singing Up the Country
I love the close to the poem--the wise insight the poet offers:
the mad farmer hat yet dripping in his hand
invents a final verse, releasing each word
with its attendant note whole as faith
into the space that waits to be more than itself

I think of schools as the space that waits to be more than itself. 

And we, are perhaps mad farmers, who need to invent, not replicate.  

Reform, revision, signing up the country is not about replication or  finding the one good idea that will transform schools. Rather, the action we most need is invention.

The act. 
Not the outcome.  

Yes, teachers need to invent, as do learners, moms and dads, siblings, aunts, the local grocer (if s/he still exists), the community worker, the banker, and so on. 

Out of that inventing will come the habit of invention, which is the reform, the song.
It is in reinventing self and school that we will come to name how we are:

there to put (our)selves together over and over,becoming over and over the song


  1. Replies
    1. Something I have been thinking about lately. This is a first draft--one I hope to expand into something a bit different.
      Appreciate you taking time to read it and comment.

  2. Seems to me your thinking is much more likely to make students college and career ready.


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