Is The Public School System Out of Context ?
I guess that depends upon who you ask, but recently this August 2020, I saw a news article with a picture of a child being arrested. The news report said, “Child’s wrists too small for handcuffs.” This happened in Florida where a webcam showed the 8 year old child inside a school being handcuffed. Apparently, according to news reports, he had been subsequently booked and briefly jailed on a felony battery charge after he was accused of punching a teacher who sought to discipline him for sitting improperly in the school cafeteria.
I had already been in the process of writing on the subject of my experience growing up within the Public School System here in Canada and I feel it’s even more important to write on this topic after hearing about yet another “problem child”. Maybe the child isn’t the problem. Maybe it’s the school system.
Children who go to a typical public school don’t always learn to live life in a real and meaningful way. Sometimes they are taught things without context and their development suffers for it. What do I mean?
To understand the above, let’s look at the word “context” with further scrutiny to discover what it really means. Let’s start by going to the good ole dictionary. I found some words that help describe it: atmosphere, ambience, environment, backdrop, mood “frame of reference”...
Specifically, in terms of language, the word, “context” comes from the latin word contextus and means “to weave together”. Con = together and texere = to weave.school2.png
To use a couple of sentences for an example, let’s provide the atmosphere or frame of reference for the situation which I will paint, let’s provide the context:
Let’s say that there’s a gentleman by the name of Mr. Lamed. He is the chronically tired teacher of a girl named Jane. She is chronically aggravating. Her nature is disruptive. She questions every little thing. Mr. Lamed winds up confiding with The Janitor one day.
Jane is the nicest person in the whole world. When she’s not around.
If the Janitor were to take something out of context there, he could quote it and say:
Mr. Lamed says,
Jane is the nicest person in the whole world.
Indeed, Mr. Lamed did say that, but in context he also said,
When she’s not around.
It’s clear that poor Mr. Lamed was trying to be a bit funny, but we can see that the words, taken together (all toll and in context) mean he finds Jane challenging to have in his class.
So we see, context provides that “frame of reference” that atmosphere, the situation, the circumstances that create meaning.
Context can also be understood in a very simple Sesame Street type of way. Do you remember the song from that popular children’s show:
Three of these things belong together, three of these things are kind of the same, one of these things is not like the other, now it’s time to play our game. It’s time to play our game.
Let’s say we make the “context” objects you’d find in a kitchen.
A cooking pot. A spoon. A stove. A bed.
We might think “the bed” is out of context, but what if the kitchen exists in a one room cabin? There’s no other place to “place” the bed.
When considering “context”, I’m reminded of Fred Penner’s beautiful song, “A House is a House for Me”.
It begins like this:
A hill is a house for an ant, an ant
A hive is a house for a bee
A hole is a house for a mole or a mouse,
But a house is a house for me
A web is a house for a spider,
A bird builds its nest in a tree,
There’s nothing so snug
As a bug in a rug
And a house is a house
For me
The song goes on for a few more lines, but the most profound line of all goes like this:
And The Earth is a house for us all!
Within that context learning should take place on the earth. It should not be confined to a cell in a jail or the walls of a school or a room in a house or a tiny square of land somewhere. The opportunity for learning exists at every turn, if, we allow ourselves to be aware. If, we wake up to the facts; not the mere programming of which we are sadly very used to-- the kind that prohibits free thinking.
When we take children and place them in schools for the major part of time, we also take them out of the frame of reference of meaningful life experiences. We take them (their very lives) out of context and put them in artificial environments for longer than is optimum for their growth and development.
That’s not to say there isn’t a place for some school “situational learning” (I use the word, “situational” because it begins with the letters S. I. T. and it makes me think of sit. Sitting. Part of learning can include sitting, but sitting within a situation-- a “real” situation makes it more valuable. Therein lies the conundrum.
school3.pngWhat situation? And in what circumstance? A hockey player needs ice. A writer needs a tool for processing words. A cook needs utensils and food. A young student needs variety to explore, but how much and where? The typical public school can often be stifling. There are long halls and lockers and rooms and well... I don’t know. It’s a little odd. It’s as if “The School” says of itself (if it could speak) I am the world. Here I am. Learn from me. You have everything you need. Teachers. Books. Computers. Just bring your lunch and a snack and I’ll make you into a fine human being. Of course, as we can see by news reports, this is not always the case.
Context. Contextual learning gives meaning. It’s not merely following theoretical guidelines-- learning steps by rote. It cannot be completely contained within the walls of schools or inside the pages of books, however well built or well written.
Here’s an example:
If you want to learn piano, you’re going to need a piano, or a digital keyboard, let’s say. You cannot learn piano by someone handing you a Piano/Music Theory book. That will assist the process, but it’s only “part” of the process.
(and yes, there will be a lot of sitting involved, if that’s what you want)
And how about this?
You find yourself grown up one day and realize you haven’t a clue how to cook a simple dumpling? It sure would be nice if you ever find yourself dumpling-less-- I mean, with Covid and all, you just never know. I know it’s a far cry from knowing how to hunt and fish, but a dumpling just might be a good start. And it might also be well and good to know how to make good friends with that wheat farmer down the in the valley or out on the prairie, but I digress...
(and no, you cannot learn to make dumplings when you’re rushing off to class after plunging a Pop Tart into the toaster and are required to listen to someone drone on about something you have absolutely no interest in.
Today more than ever, it appears that the question we should be asking with regards to education is not always merely “what” we teach, but how, why, and how to provide the context that makes it meaningful. If it’s meaningful, (at least to you) then your chance of remembering it will be greater.
Ah, remembering. Do you have the unfortunate experience of asking your children when they come home from school, “So, what did you learn today?” And the answer is, “I don’t know. Not much.” It’s probably because what they learned lacked the all important: context.
And there’s all different kinds of remembering. One is of the type that has to do with how the body interprets its surroundings. The kind of remembering that gets you to your bathroom even though it’s pitch black out, but you know the path. But what if your brain never had the chance to “map out” that kind of learning/remembering? Could you find your way? How would it feel?
I have heard stories of kids growing up (deep) in the inner cities, those who never had the opportunity to go hiking on uneven terrain. They were only used to walking on flat surfaces on the pavement or on the equally flat “typical” floors inside buildings. When they had their first experience out in “the wilderness” they had an experience of being “off balance”. Well, as much as anyone wants to put on a learning video for nature and natural learning, it’s not going to teach any real living skills. For that, you’ll need something like Cadets. Or a good mentor in survival skills who will take you “out in the field”.
Here’s an example for regular school not doing justice to those who are better suited to different ways of learning. Outside of a stuffy old classroom.
Let’s say you are an active soul. You’re spirit says dance, but “the system” says something’s wrong with you. You must have some kind of attention deficit and need some kind of drug to control your problem. If you are going to have a meaningful life, you need support so that you can grow into who you were meant to be, not “sold a lie”, having your joy and enthusiasm snuffed out by boring lacklustre modes of teaching that have nothing to do with what “you” want to do . After all, there are plenty souls available who will sit still for hours. Let them do what they were born to do. They follow their path and you will follow yours.
I could make the argument that school is good because kids can learn team sports. There is some context there. And team work is good, but wait a second, maybe you’re the poster boy for Science Weekly and you absolutely hate all forms of sport except for the kind you watch underneath a microscope. Team sports might have context, but not “your” kind of context.
Here’s my “life experience” context. They forced me to play basketball. I don’t know why I didn’t have the common sense to just walk off the gym floor and say say “No! I’m not playing. I’m only five foot two and anyways, “I absolutely hate this game!!!!” Boy that felt good just to say that. And you know what?! They wasted my time!!!! As far as I’m concerned they owe me because time is worth money which leads me to my
Next Example:
Money is NOT the most important thing in this world even though everyone thinks it is. You might have read the above and thought, I said, “They owe me money.” But if you look back, you’ll see that I didn’t write that. I wrote that they owe me. Owe me what? I’ll tell you.
You can be taught how to add, subtract, multiply and divide and do all sorts of abstract mathematical wizardry, but unless you’re able to transfer those skills into meaningful life experiences, then you might have trouble knowing what to do with an isosceles triangle if you were gifted such a thing and it weighed 454 grams, just like a pound of butter, but because the temperature outside happens to be 30 degrees celsius (outside of class in the noonday sun) and the “melt factor” ensues, and that reduces your isosceles by a factor of...
Well, you know, there are all kinds of variables that happen when arithmetic and mathematics are put to work in the busy lives of people who operate according to their consistently changing emotional states that probably had their dysfunctional attributes rooted in some encounter with an X variable that they were never able to resolve.
So, what do “they” owe me? The Public School system, that is. They owe me my soul, the one they tried to scoop out of me when I entered their little “prison system” devoted to “the poor”. I’m a commin’ and I’m a callin’ now. I want it back. I want it all back. Just honest wantin’ back what was mine in the first place.
And importantly, I don’t want the children of today feeling sad and lost and hopeless and not knowing why.
Today, I think we can do better. It will take work on everyone’s part, but it is achievable.
Sandra EL

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