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Sunday, December 22, 2013

26. Education and learning

The cold of Chicago began to feel painful little by little. I started running  every morning to avoid the cold, and that gave me a good feeling, and the best of my routine was that occasionally,  I was accompanied by some children, and parents felt confidence letting them run with me, should not teachers motivate children?.

Eventually, cold became brutally painful and to stay away from diseases, Gaby lent me a bike, the platoon became even bigger, but snow made the difficult our fun, so I ended up accepting Gaby offer of picking me  at home and taking me to school, but eventually I convinced her to convert her Prius in a school bus, and we would pass by children to their homes. Some parents could not afford the school transport, so we made good arrangements, and Gaby also won so many blessings. I think that if she add them all, she would  have enough for three entire lives!.

During a particularly cold morning, I began a mental debate that I dared to share with Gaby: why should children go to school even in the most deplorable conditions?. Why could not  they learn at home?, Why do we have to expose children to diseases?.

The first Gaby’s idea was to tell me that there was a movement called Home Schooling in some countries which is stronger under various arguments included distances, the cost of schools, diseases, and especially an increment of school violence that find more and more victims, this option also allows parents to control content to which their children are exposed with.

That day I thought much on this topic, around the second week of cold season, 12 children were reported sick and, of course, the rest were at risk. We started  eating more fruit than ever and learned to wash our hands with soap and water, because there are health statistics indicating this simple process reduces the risk of contagion.

Children came  to school with tired faces after having received the usual vaccines, but certainly with encouragement to learn, to share ideas and they never were tired of smiling  to the challenges. Those were the kind of children that doesn’t appear in the books.

When I left school, I decided to visit my guru, she had been traveling, so I missed our afternoon sharing a cup of tea with a slice of pumpkin bread, I don't understand why she likes so much the pumkin bread, but I am always sure we can have it in return for our talks that always left me something interesting in the head.

This time I asked her the same question I made to Gaby: why children can not stay home to learn?.

I think she looked at me with weirdness, and I thought she was trying to get into my brain through my eyes, but after a brief silence, that I have learned she needs because that means her answer is being designed to teach something, she said:
-   I think that I can give you two answers, both independent, but maybe thinking a little in each one we can discover that there are more possible reasons.

The first answer is that if all children could rest when the weather is extreme, the cost of teachers and administrative services would be such that probably education would become untenable in a short time. Any region has changes in temperature that range from moderate to strong, but at different times, which it would  create a distinct school calendar... I think it would be a little chaotic and little viable for these reason.

The second answer is less simple but is related to the idea of education. Humans are the only one specie that puts its creatures for years and years in artificial environments to learn, or at least, what a group of people believes that they must learn. Ideas, plans and programmes, I call to all that education, and it’s far from learning, since many times these ideas are outside the children context.

But then, what is the relationship between learning and education?, Are we educating children to learn?.

-        In theory, Yes, but I think there is a huge distance between this two concepts. When someone designs a plan, it does it thinking about what it should be learned and what this person thinks that children should know and how should they know it, but there is a gap between what that person believes that children should know and when children can use that knowledge.

All of us believe children should speak, write, read and learn numbers, because they are the basic learning and it is assumed that children should maximize these cognitive tools. But what if a child is delayed?, you don't stop and analyze why a child does or doesn´t learn. Your program says that you must follow a schedule and if a child can¡t follow the routine, parents should seek either external or school support to help that child to catch up with the rest of the classmates. The problem is student, not the school system.

Education is a set of ideas, which are designes to be released through teachers, who are the depositaries of them, and they manage then in a such of way that children learn them, from teaching strategies, so teachers are another distinct entity, although of course, they are part of the education.

Learning is a process that occurs inside children’s brains, as a response to stimuli from the environment, which is shared with the rest of the species on Earth in order to survive.

The rest of the species do not cease to learn, by cold or heat, right?, so perhaps we should not complain.

-I guess that the rest of the species have other things to complain, because considerating their exams are about showing the ability to survive and if they do not pass the test, the cost issimply their life.

I think then that I see things from a different perspective now. I guess that pushing children to study allows us to have better drugs against diseases that allow them to go to school.

-I've seen your kids more than happy running with you to school. I think you make a huge difference. You push them learn!.

When I got back home that evening, I got a great blend of fruits and vegetables, even I added spinach (even though I think they are disgusting) to strengthen my immune system and withstand the cold of Chicago. As Jose’s parents sa:, if we have to live here, we can not complain, because it’s better to give a good face to life; and I guess that everyone think  the same thing, because children who fell ill were crying to allow them to return to school to learn... no doubt I was doing something weird with those children, I was sure that parents will blame me for a children ideas attack!, what will parents do if these kids decide to be scientists?.

Monday, October 7, 2013

25. Please, don't tell me that story

History never was my favorite subject. What should I learn from the past?. I suppose one idea is to understand that others made mistakes and we should not repeat those mistakes,  but the truth is that many of them are repeated over and over again. Seems that some things are simply recycled.
 
I am not ashamed to say that History didn't make sense to me, not to say that I always made sure to have good relations with anyone who would like to study it, regardless of whether they were pleasant or not, I learned quickly anyone an expert on everything, so you should look for specialized support.

How would teach history to children?, I could not inspire them if it was never inspiring!. This idea kept me awake for several days. I was so tired that one morning I decided to be honest with children. That day after laughing out loud after reading a story, from nothing, I looked to the children and they thought that it would go to an unforgettable speech, but instead, I said openly that I never find my way with History. 

I was surprised when I finished my small confession children looked at me, and their   eyes seemed dishes, all of them quiet for a second, until Mita got up to hug me, incredibly, I felt better, especially when she said almost in a whisper: "don't worry teacher, nobody is perfect, I do not I like lentil soup".

Children began to smile like when they see ice cream during a hot summer day, and every one began to say different confessions. From Joseph who doesn't like if his sister fight for their  remote control, to Johary who admitted that she hates when her mom buys her pink dresses. 

I thought for a moment: What a Heck?,  all of us have to endure something when we are children thanks to  parental desire to make usgood persons!, and the worst of all is that making history... all we went through something that we hate and not makes us best!.
When I cleared my amazement, children told me that they would be the best to learn history and there was not reason to feel worried because they wouldn’t say to anyone about my secret.

I proposed them to learn history as I would have liked to learn it, with movies, games, music  and jokes. If someone would  had taught me that way, perhaps I would love it and now would be giving lectures about the Civil war or seeking lost stones in the Arctic, but no one made me fell in love, anyone care, I only had to choose between A, B or C and if you I did it wrong, nothing happened, and if it did it well either. 

In third grade, as the rest of the group, I paid $5 to John Mulder by every exam for answering my tests. He has made himself even richer since then designing tests, and I became a teacher, wishing to make children suffer as so many persons did it to me during  my childhood. 

Maybe, after all the history makes sense, allows us to understand the past to laugh at ourselves. But I hope that children understand better and learn to feel passion for something, even for someone’s else life who probably didn’t know a toilet or  cleaned  his ass with ecological paper.

Monday, September 16, 2013

24. When the Moon kissed a tomato seed

I got back from running a Saturday, willing to do nothing during the weekend, when I discovered an emailwith a very simple tittle: 'writing contest'.

I did click to open it, a little bit scared knowing that that would ruin my weekend, I sat down for a second to breath after my race, but then I said to myself that there was not need to feel worried, if I understood well the process of reading, then writing it should be based on the same principle, except maybe adding an extra process, since writing is not just about throwing letters on a sheet, it’s important to give coherence to those letters, rhythm to an idea, that of first instance had to exist.

The message was an invitation to participate in the annual writing contest of the school, no more intended than promote the value of the word among the students.

During the weekend I thought about different topics that perhaps children could work, at first I think, I was tempted to write a story by myself, intertwining my paragraphs with children ideas, but that was doubting on their your creativity, so I ended up writing only words that would give them some inspiration to the group.

Sunday night I called Gaby to tell her my ideas and after a bit of talk, she  concluded saying: "trust on children talent".

I walked happy to school on Monday, I explained the task to the group, I showed them my ideas and explained that this competition required a story on any subject, with the only one condition that it has to be an  original work.

When I concluded the explanations, I could hear the absolute silence that working minds produce, and everybody's eyes looked at me with such concentration that I imagined 23 shooters pointing at my head.

For a moment it frightened me that silence, but after a while Mita smiled and said in a loud voice: "Let us do a story about the Moon!", and then Johana jumped from her seat and shouted with joy: "A tale of the Moon sat on a tomato seed "... A  heavy silence fell between us, but now my eyes looked them all... I could only say: "well guys, you think and I write"… children smiled, willing to enjoy the task...

Once upon a time... a orchad full of vegetables, the kind of children hate to eat, but this orchard was special, since a group of students cared for it and gave water, and all kind of special cares because they learned  how much importar is to attend to the plants, and the role of bees in the food production process.

These plants was closely protected because thanks to them, this group of children had won a Blue Ribbon at the fair of Science and had shown to the School Director that they weren't dumb kids...

I don't know if it is correct to write that... perhaps we can write the same idea in a different way...

These plants were jealously protected because it was a promise of power for all generations to come, because the plants not only are nice, but helps to keep us alive.

This orchad was so beautiful, that everyone admired it, and Sun smiled all day to it, sending his best rays for each plant.

But there was a particularly beautiful tomato plant, with such large flowers that everyone thought that the plant could not hold the fruits.

During the night, the Moon watched carefully each of the plants, and it liked to kiss the pumpkins, and illuminating with its silver color rays the potatoes, but it could not ignore the flowers of the tomato, who smiled the same way like when teacher David looks her friend Gaby, with puppy eyes...

It is not true, I don't look at her that way!, I look at her... with... respect!, What do you know about looks?

Please, Don’t get  angry dear teacher!, This is only to give you a little impact to the history, Joseph said...

OK, then let's keep that, but now we need some drama, just a little...

One night, in which the Moon was sleeping, a raccoon hacked all security codes that the children had implemented. With a smart phone broke codes of laser rays and the main computer that kept all the intruders out. It also climbed with ropes by the internal protection fence and managed to get to the garden...

He was willing to eat the fruits that had grown so carefully.

The destruction was imminent!, but then all dogs of the neighborhood received instant messages from the Moon, all at the same time, and gathered outside the school and they so frightened the raccoon, who left a little shit on its way of escape...

Shit is not a very... correct word...
Do you prefer saying that it pooped in pants? He asked Mita...
Perhaps we should say that it left a poop trace!, shouted Salvatore
No guys, it's just sounding a bit... violent, but okay, that give drama to the story, let’s take  that version.

All vegetables survived and were so big and juicy that they fed all the children of Africa, but caregivers, kept a seed of each plant, especially of the tomato, which was dropped in the garden so the Moon could  care of it, and the Moon was so happy that one night, lost any fear and jumped, free, beautifully illuminated trying to embrace the seed.

But the Moon was in those days when it eats a lot and it was s very fat, so it bounced like ball, poing!, and as if it has strings that bind it back to the sky,  after kissing the seed on the nose...

How do you explain when you watch someone running and making pirouettes really high and landing on one foot?... I felt like that. Children are immensely creative, if we give them the opportunity, if they are capable of doing the Moon Kiss to a tomato seed on the nose... Where are their limits?. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

23. The complex reading process

I began to feel a little bit of scare because Mita couldn’t read, no matter how much I tried, she is an extraordinary writer, but their pronunciation and reading were still poor, I wasn't sure if I was doing the right thing to help her,  and I began to feel a little afraid for her future.

I decided to seek some help from my guru and after class I went to her house. I found her working in her garden, taking pictures of bees.

-I think you screwed up your area of knowledge, you should study biology, I told her.

-I see biology as a tool that helps me to understand learning.

-I think that one day you will have to explain to me your complete idea of the relationship between bugs and learning.

-I promise that one day we will have  a Jamba Juice and I will explain all my ideas quietly.

-I think I need it, because I don't know what to do  with Mita, she can write correctly,  but she has many problems with reading and I do not know  what to do.

-Well, I think that I can help you, but you need to know what part of the process is causing her problem.

-Mmmm,  I don’t  know how else explain that she can not read properly.


-The reading process is complex, first of all, it is important to understand that language requires to  recognice every sound of the language, this is particularly difficult for foreigners because sometimes the sounds are not shared in their languages.
This is done through the ear and the ability to differentiate sounds separately and then when those sounds are combined.
Once you are sure that children can understand and differentiate the sounds of each letter, the next part of the process is a visual differentiation of written signs, which we call alphabet and remember that there are many letters in each alphabet and there are uppercase and lowercase letters that although they are called equal, visually does not resemble, at this sense children should recognize and differentiate between them all, separating between printed and written alphabet at the same time.

-Then we're talking about the ability to differentiate 26 letters in the for each form, i.e. capital letters, lowercase letters, printed and script... it means… do they need the  ability to make differences between 104 signs?.

-You got it!, every shape of letter with its respective sounds and the combination among them.

-Wow!, and I suppose that this is complicated if you're studying another language.

- Exactly! Mita is hindu, but different languages are spoken in his country so if I speak on her  behalf, She can read,  but I think that she confuses the sounds. It is easier to differentiate the graphic signs (letters) that differentiate sounds, as it requires more care. 

Now, when you can achieved all the difference, you will have another process that is to be able to pronounce them correctly. I may never speak without my latin accent, but I module my words good  enough and make people to understand me.

- why some people  can speak better foreign languages than others?.

-Depends on the time of interaction with the foreigner language and how much  young they began. People who born listening to one or more  languages,  will be able to reproduce it and differentiate sounds than those who do it later.

-I understand. I already said that Mita has a great capacity. I was so confused that she  could write as well but not read, but I understand, are not joint process... How can I help her?.

- You can do a lot of for her pronouncing slowly each word and if other children read, while she listens to them reading she tries without pressure, you should see fast results. In this case her  family can not help her too much, because she will always hear that accent that causes her so much confusion, but if they can support her allowing  her to listen to the English-language television, and you can have reading sessions with her, reading carefully and clear each words, she certainly can make it, she has the potential, just need a little help from their friends. 

Two weeks later with 2 sessions of 15 minutes of reading per day and with her parents putting all of their effort in the process, Mita began to read more confident and fluently. 

Yes, I admit that I was willing  to say she was not capable and let her lose the year, but fortunately I could understand the process of the reading... children are worth for a question... and wow, reading t is more complex than it seems!.

I think that I will look forward that jamba juice... no doubt there will be much to learn from the bugology.

Friday, July 19, 2013

22. Harvesting fruits


Days fly when we are planning and looking for ways of sharing ideas with children. I found out  that I became an expert to find the perfect song, tale, or scene to prepare my classes. With a frank smile, I have to admit this: I  am becoming a different person, since I stopped thinking about how I understand or see the world and began to think how children think and absorb the environment.
 
I can summarize years and years of books in the magic of children's questions and the importance of parents support of. I used to believe that money was the only important item for education, but even the poorest people want their kids can be the best citizens, and they can have an important place in life, and they trust on schools as the way to achieve all of their dreams.

I think somehow I began to feel part of that group of brilliant minds who believe that all children can learn, with the right strategy and parents motivation.

However, Director is still giving me ugly looks of confusion and anger when I share my class planning or when she asks for ideas for school events. I still do not understand yet  if she feel bad because my passion for teaching or my straight ideas against traditional education, maybe that’s  too much for her. Finally accepting the system allows to anyone having a little bread on the table every day. 

When the time came to create a school green space to planting the product of our science projects, Director almost eats her cell phone when I told her that children should be part of all planning. Finally it was their work, effort and care that had kept alive all the plants...

-How can you think that children can participate in a school project?,  She did ask me with a horrible look that if I don't duck pretending that I had thrown something on the floor, I would be dead right now.

I replied her quietly:  well, they have taken care of the plants, they are the reason of existence  for this school, and many of them come from countries where caring plants and flowers is not a subject of art, it is a constant in their living space... Those where three good reasons which nobody could ignore, at least not in front of all of the Academic Board.

I called the children, showed them the map and I explained them the project, I asked them to cook their ideas during 6 minutes and when time is over they could share  all their thoughts. Children watched the plane and began to smile, with that look of emotion that they only get when have something big between hands.

The rest of teachers began totalk between them, I suppose that the idea of inviting children to our meeting caused them so many hives as pain to Director, I undertsand they imaged children screaming and causing disorder, but kids and I practiced so much staying quiet during tests and they  learned that silence doesn’t mean fear to speak, but respect to each other ideas, so children could behave as the best when the situation needed, without shouting.

When my watch began to sound indicating that time had passed six minutes, one by one began to speak, explained the type of dirt that we needed and then planned where to put each plant.

-Tomatoes need lots of sun and water, so this is the best place for them... pumpkins require a lot of space as they are creeping... Roses survive to everything so they can be here, but no, wait!, if we put them there, when they grow we can have accidents with their thorns if we run around, so I think this place would be better for them... the flowers for bees should be here, so we will not disturb them... this plant attracts caterpillars, so it should not touch this other... this plant grows 10 inches per month, so we should put it it close to a wall so we can have pulleys to hold it...

Everyone listened and realized that they not only had learned about plants plants  they had  also learned expression, planning, problem-solving skills... which book should have learned that in?, perhaps did they learn all that in some application or talking to Siri from their Iphone?, we were all perplexed!.

That afternoon I realized that children are more than words in books, their minds are malleable from the environment, and that is the work of the school, giving a good atmosphere for learning, not the military system that many of us had, begging to survive and move on.

If we leave our future in children`s hands, it is better to give them the best tools, and without a doubt they will surprise you!.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

21. Changing schools for sporting events


In the middle of the festivities and good wishes for another year, it was unveiled the final list of schools to be closed in the city. A total of 54 schools with many students,  parents and teachers whom only have the promise that will be relocated in other schools.
 
New York city  and Philadelphia joined in the implementation of economic measures in benefit of education and childhood, which means that also these city  will be closing schools. Interestingly, at the same time Chicago announced the project to build a new baseball stadium and a second nomination be hosting the Olympic Games, and please,  don't take me wrong my idea... is I am not against sports, because they are an example of human courage and triumph, but when you spend millions of dollars on a sports complex and education is denied... It’s wonderful! Let’s say this projects will give many jobs.

From all these jobs only 1 child from every million with poor social conditions during childhood, will win millionaire contracts, due to the luck of a talent unique to throw the ball or get goals, only one will be  lucky of having parents who will support and wait for years until one day their dreams will  become reality: shine in a stadium full of fans, leading his team to the glory and signing thousands of autographs, avoiding photographers and having an enviable life. 

How many Gabby Douglas does live the Olympic dream?, how many mothers would leave everything to provide that support?, how many parents  would give more importance to the sport than to school?. Usually when we come running after having gotten a goal in an empty area with no one else m around and say to all lung: I want be futball player!, the answer is: shut up and get to studying!. who wants a football player?, lawyers and doctors earn more, you can not dedicate yourself to vague!.

No doubt the Governors projects have good intentions, since there will be many new jobs for all those "have the opportunity of an academic life", there will be jobs for those who build sports complexes, who sell tickets, those who take charge of security, and no doubt others will sell beer and donuts during the games. 

However, I need to rub my eyes to avoid seeing  Jose and Mita applying for those jobs. Why do they need to survive to so much tension with exams if they are going to finish  in the long lists of unemployed?.

I refuse to think that the education system can not have other operating mechanisms, Why do we need to  pay so much money to those who design tests?, why do we need to pay meetings in exclusive hotels for higher level directors?, perhaps they not can think in an Office or in the same classroom where children have to listen to endless litanies?.

I guess  I begin to sound depressed... I was one of many who sought to thousand and one pitfalls to passing the exams, and so far I cannot say that knowledge is necessary to me. 

I think is time for a chat with Gaby as I start to believe something shady there is in all this. Although it seems that everyone is happy because our Hockey team won the Stanley Cup... maybe it would be nice to celebrate those few who found the way to make from sport a successful way of life, and if you asked them, I would surely tell anyone of them has needed to answer tests and listened to teachers, their talent was elsewhere...

Thursday, May 23, 2013

20 Thanking is an action, not a tradition

A program to close schools was announced a week before Thanksgiving in the city. The Governor announced that it would close at least 30 schools but he was expecting  a revision of the Educational Council, because the number, far from being minor, could reach at least 50 schools.

Teachers, parents and children took the streets to protest. Sometimes there were protests against our school. The children began to ask that they would make if they closed the school. Sometimes our Director tried to give explanations that ended in a face of doubt about the future.

It was curious, when there is not enough money, Education suffers the consequences,  it was like if the State thought it’s not worth investing in children and public schools. But even when I attended private schools, I had begun to see one of many problems of the education: It does not focus on learning ability, but on the resources that are invested and in this sense, I didn’t feel bad by the Governor, or by the directors of the schools, but children who would end up suffering the consequences of the mistakes of others.

A day before Thanksgiving long weekend, I told children that we should each thank for what each wanted, and I gave thanks for having the great honor and pleasure of being with them.

Their faces focused on me, and each one was taking turn to talk while all of them to listen carefully every word...

  • Thanks for having a school to study, but above all, for having a teacher who let me laugh.
  • Thanks because my parents let me study, they say that girls don't deserve to go to school, because when they grow they get married.
  • Thanks because my dad was not angry at me  yesterday when I told him that I want to be an astronaut.
  • Thanks because my brother lent me his math book.
  • Thanks that the plants grew and we won in the science fair Blue Ribbon.
  • Thanks because my dog ate the note that music teacher gave me by distracting during class the other day. But I don't blame a dove crossing out the window.
  • Thanks God for not giving fleas to my cat, my father said that if he sees a flea  my cat will leave our house.
  • Thanks because my classmates  never scoff from my.
  • Thanks for the sandwich that my mom prepared me every day.
  • Thanks for the Turkey that mom will prepare and because the army allowed my brother to come to visit us.
  • Thanks because the doctors cured my mom.
  • Thanks for the new job of my dad.
  • Thanks because my mom has not been sad for several weeks.
  • When I believed that Isabella was not going to  speak,  she took her turn  and said:
  • Thanks because I already learned that I am capable of doing things that everyone said that I could not.
That afternoon I took a taxi to go to the airport to enjoy the holidays with my family. Children's words rang in my ears and I thanked for all those sandwiches that my mother prepared me when I went to school, by the employment of my father, because I never had a cat with fleas and despite having all the resources that my father and his empire could give me, I didn’t fall in something really spooky.

I realized that no matter whether you are rich or poor, a student is always vulnerable to the designs of Education, which aims to determine the future of each one, but at the end, every one  is owner of our own destiny.

When I arrived at the exit of the airport, I was ready  to search  how to take a taxi, when I saw my mother’s driver, as formal as always since I was a child. He was always who took me to school wearing his black uniform, with those same English manners, but today I stopped by to see his face,  and no doubt it had changed. As I became a man, he had aged, and  I noticed that I knew nothing about his family.

This time, I sat in the front seat and talked with him about his family and thanked him for so many years of loyal service and everything that had been done by my family, especially my mother.

When we got home, my mother opened the door and hugged me as if I  were going to   give her  a pink diamond ring. I thanked her for all she had done for me, and kiss her, like when I was a child.

My father was working in his Studio and by very first time, I heard saying to his partner: "wait a minute, I’ll call on Monday, my son came home". I  thanked him for never losing his job, not being angry with me when I told him that I wanted to be a public school teacher, to which he replied me with a smile that  he rarely exhibits: "who said I was not angry?

Thanking took sense that day, I remembered when I was a child I saw on television a child so poor that it seemed that he would die of hunger. I told my mother that if one day I found a poor street child, I would invite him to eat at home, but there was no poor children around the places  we use to attended, so I thought that those kids didn't exist. 

After dinner, I gave my mother all gifts that children's parents had made for her, and I asked her if she remembered my idea of inviting a poor child to eat at home, and she told me since then, she supported UNICEF in its fight against child poverty with a donation that had my name.

I thanked my parent for the person I am, and I explained them why thanking had to be action and not a tradition.

I invited my parents to Jamba Juice next day,, and I asked a tasteless smoothie and told my parents about my days as a teacher, and we did not stop laughing throughout the afternoon. I thanked them for letting me make my own mistakes, which now had a special sense.