Sunday, October 5, 2014

DaVinci? Or the average Joe?

One of my summer adventures was my first trip flying off to Vegas with my mom to see dear friends; east coast transplants.  Of course we wandered from their home to the Strip and I was a COMPLETE tourist – you know, “that” person that the diehard gamblers wished would go away! 

We made our way to the Venetian – it just didn’t seem right that this second generation Italian-American would miss it!  I roamed the casino, mouth gaping, bumping into things and people as I looked everywhere but where I was going!  My eyes were wide in awe of the imaginations that made this place happen, the art and mastery of the craftsmen who created such a beautiful place – something got under my skin in this place.  Perhaps it was that we had master masons in our family, perhaps it was simply the creativity, heart and soul that was obviously poured into this place.  As we roamed the floors and endless hallways I stumbled, completely by accident, into a DaVinci gallery – I was in awe.  I wandered speechlessly (yes, a miracle in itself!) from invention to invention, idea to idea, the art, the mathematics, the mind.  As I strolled slowly along, I was even more struck by DaVinci’s brilliance and wisdom, well before his time......although he was incredibly disorganized, had his hand in so many projects, he was deemed a master of art and invention, of innovation and foresight.

As I continued to stare at each piece brilliantly worked, I contemplated what folks thought of him at the time – I doubt he had the respect and awe that he has today.  According to Helen Gardner, art historian, DaVinci is known today as a man of "unquenchable curiosity" and "feverishly inventive imagination" - which made me wonder if his genius was honored and respected then or seen simply as eccentric and a dreamer.  No matter, DaVinci continued to push through, ignore the nay-sayers and disbelievers and quietly go about dreaming with forward thinking – tough in any circumstance or time, but I kept wondering how challenging this was and how he kept pushing forward.

My wander continued and I kept wondering how many of us are willing to continue our push forward to do what’s best for our children, to go against “popular opinion”, to honor their own DaVinci?  How many of us will continue to work to push forward on issues and ideas that are rooted in research, that are intuitive and creative?  Are we willing to risk being a DaVinci, perhaps not popular at the time, but a true master at our craft?  Or are we happy settling for teaching from scripts, from something that anyone off the street could use to “teach”?  As I walked, I began to wonder where DaVinci would have fallen in today’s education system.  Perhaps he wasn’t as eccentric as believed, but saw great possibility in everything around him.  But would he “fit” in this rigid mold our kids are now facing?  Would he have continued to dream if he had been forced into scripted education?    

I have incredible respect for the people currently in education fighting this battle at the forefront.  The people who are standing up for what is developmentally appropriate for children, but who stand for those who see things more globally than what is on a script.  My hat is off to those who see more challenging options of allowing voice of teachers and honoring the knowledge of their educators, of facing the challenging road to “playing the game” using their own rules. 

My concerns about scripted modules and education are rooted in research by credible, known experts in the field and not in those looking to make a profit.  My concerns are rooted in reading a script that uses morally inappropriate “mentor texts” for young children, broaching topics and opinions on war and destruction by planes flying over, fear of stereotypical soldiers bearing rifles outside of schools and libraries.   They’ve grown from the faces staring off, unengaged because the text is boring to them, too challenging, or too easy, or simply sitting for forty-five minutes listening to a teacher talk at them has caused them to go on a mind trip to save their sanity.  It comes from the place where I can’t differentiate the text we use because it’s not in the script – it doesn’t matter the place the child is at, it matters what’s in the script.  My concerns stem from walking by a classroom of a wonderful teacher who is now, to her dismay, being a “good little soldier” reading from a script perched neatly in her lap while children are required to repeat back to her exactly what is first spoken by her:  “This is a heating system” – how insulting to this teacher or these brilliant little minds capable of so much more than robotic repeating. They grow from concern that we are teaching in depth about world religions where seven year old children need to know the number of Hindu gods and describe what they look like, the name of the Holy book, and explain reincarnation – we are crossing the line from respecting family values and beliefs to imposing new ones.

Believe me, I have NO PROBLEM with my children learning about world cultures – personally, my children are very familiar with the culture of our family’s “homelands” and their religions, cultures and beliefs.  They know, in depth, of my niece’s birth family – their culture and history and their Buddhist beliefs.  We speak of a friend’s family member who served in Germany under Hitler’s reign.  But that’s MY right to teach MY children what I believe is appropriate for them. 

In my grade level, we (used to) have a great depth of understanding of cultures around the world – all throughout the year learning about their schools, homes, food, transportation, families, clothing, traditions, etc and (used to) celebrate that in an end of the year Travel Expo extravaganza where students show incredible mastery of their understanding.  THEIR understanding, THEIR ownership, not what I am forced to impose.  The joy, the excitement, the brilliance of this day was incredible – all honoring cultures from around the world WITHOUT disrespecting families’ values and beliefs.   Call me crazy, but I can’t seem to see that same excitement from young children reciting back to teachers.  The boredom, the disengagement of children is palpable.  This hasn’t even touched on the quickly declining morale of master teachers, of those who have devoted themselves and their careers to engaging and honoring students.  The conversation of “my profession has left me” and looking on to what they could do if they left it is continual and makes me furious.

It’s concerning to me that we have DaVinci’s sitting in front of us, as we read scripted lessons, that will be destroyed and dishonored.  My fear is that we will label children the “problem child” for not completing work because they see things more broadly than the expected, specific answers provided in our neat little scripts.  That child who desperately wants to do things a different way than is on the script will become disengaged.  For having so many interests in many different things that aren’t included in the recitation, a student will be penalized.

In 1967, Liana Bortolon said: "Man is as uncomfortable today, faced with a genius, as he was in the 16th century. Five centuries have passed, yet we still view Leonardo with awe."  

How will you give voice to your DaVincis?

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