04 April 2011

To Be or to Do?

Last week I had a very curious conversation with a parent who had a kid doing a decent amount of make-up work. My perspective on this make-up work was that it would be something akin to personal tutoring and a chance for the student to actually learn what they had missed over the term. The parent quite bluntly told me that they would be satisfied if the student just turned things in so that the checklist could be completed and taken care of and signed off and gold starred and whatever. I was more than a little miffed by this; probably because it was directly related to writing and I get frustrated when people insult the amount of work it takes to be even half-way decent at writing. But I was more frustrated than that for a completely different reason, which was stated much more eloquently than I ever could this weekend during the Sunday afternoon session of the LDS General Conference by Lynn G. Robbins (follow the link for a video - the talk will be available in text form soon.)

Elder Robbins talked about the difference between to-do lists and to-be lists. In essence, it's very easy to check things off a to-do list when you're grocery shopping or attacking things to do at work, but not so easy when it relates to actually becoming someone. (The example he used was, if I remember right, being a better husband. Not something you can be 'done' with.) I found myself half wanting to shout at the screen: "ARE YOU HEARING THIS, DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION?!!!" It was exactly what I was trying to tell this mother.

See, the modern education world will say up and down that they are about turning students into life-long learners and that they are educating people and individuals not just groups of robots, but you'd be hard pressed to recognize that in the way most assessments are structured. Any more you have to have mathematical proof for learning - good judgment just doesn't fly. But people aren't to-do lists, and 'becoming' is an eternal process. It's one of the parts of Mormon doctrine that bewilders and interests me the most - that God can be a perfect being while still eternally progressing. So while there are definitely things that can be mastered once and for all (I don't ever have to re-learn the sum of 2+3, for example), there are many, many more things of even greater importance that are never mastered or finished.

In other news, I love General Conference.


Liz Busby said...

Hey, if you want to understand this mother's perspective better (always a good thing in my opinion), you should talk to my mother. She's going through the same thing with Mike (who hates English and writing due to dyslexia, etc.) and it's totally hard-breaking and painful. I would totally understand your perspective except that I've seen the other side now and I'm not so sure it's clear cut.

Me said...

Liz -

Oh, trust me - I know how difficult it can be for some students to get by. Not from a mother's perspective, but from a teacher's perspective. One of my current classes has at least three students who are in dire need of help that I can't give them because I don't have the training to diagnose them. Somehow they've slipped through the cracks. It's horrible.

This particular student that I'm talking about is fully capable of doing the work. This student was caught plagiarizing on the end of term test and end of term essay last December and his make up work is related to that instead. He's capable - he just made a mistake, and now his mother seems less than interested in actually recognizing the bad choice, or having any desire to actually learn the skill. I offered personal tutoring, she wanted a worksheet.

So no, it's not clear cut. I was just writing from the perspective of that particular experience.

What's more - I think what I'm saying applies to every student, because it's fully possible for everyone to become the best version of themselves but may not be possible for everyone to "do" the same things. NCLB and Public Education right now claims that every student is capable of "doing" (or should be) a certain number of tasks. Not that those tasks aren't important, but when the focus is more on becoming and less on to-do lists, then it allows for more individualized progress and achievement and less factory-line production. Easier said than done, but why should we shy away from it? This mentality should actually be helpful to Mike. This mentality should actually do things for him that would help him to grow and gain better coping skills instead of just to-do lists of endless tests and boring worksheets.