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Criticizing, Pondering, and Actualizing: An Educator’s Guide

with 3 comments

I posed the following philosophical question on Twitter yesterday:

Why do folks spend time criticizing what is rather than pondering-actualizing what could be?

Three themes emerged from the Twitter stream of responses:

  • Is Pondering Just for the Privileged?
  • Is it Critical vs. Criticism?
  • Is it action for change or pseudo-action to appease the masses?

Is Pondering Just for the Privileged?

Bill, via his tweets, believes that pondering that (1) is for the privileged and (2) it does not lead to sustaining change.  Pondering is defined as: to weigh in the mind; to think about, reflect on;  to think or consider especially quietly, soberly, and deeply. I disagreed with Bill in that pondering is for the privileged.  I believe that all change begins with pondering. A follow-up question, for me, then becomes, “Can we afford to not ponder what education should and can be?”

Our Junior High students area reading-studying William Kamkwamba’s Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.  He pondered how a windmill could change his village in Malawi.  More about him can be found at Real Life Education ala William Kamkwamba.

I also included in my original question a double proposition with the first part being pondering and the second one being actualizing (to realize in act and not merely potential).  These two parts equal a more unified whole in terms of possible sustainable results.  Pondering without actualizing leads to stagnation.  Actualizing without pondering leads to shabby and non-sustainable results.

Finally, Bill expressed his concern that his pondering does not lead to change outside of the classroom.  The resiliency research demonstrates that change can occur given a caring adult, often a teacher . . . but that the results may don’t show up for years.  I experienced such a story with Mark

Is it Critical vs. Criticism?

The next theme that came up was the need for critical analysis or criticism for change to occur.

As you can see by Candace’s and Melanie’s tweet, there is a belief that change is driven by criticism.  This prompted me to respond with a difference between viewing problems with a critical (involving skillful judgment as to truth, merit) versus with criticism (the act of passing severe judgment; censure; faultfinding).  Approaching problems without a critical and discerning eye often leads to haphazard and trial-error problem solving.  Approaching problems with criticism often leads to tunnel vision in terms of possible solutions.

Is it action for change or pseudo-action to appease the masses?

The final theme to emerge was related efforts to change.

Candice believes that lots of efforts have been made for educational change.  I agree that there have been efforts.  When I look at them, I think they are more of the same – standards and test driven reform.  I believe this to be pseudo-reform that is often politically driven.  These are efforts to maintain the status quo with only cosmetic change.  Historically, few efforts (e.g. John Dewey and Progressivism) have attempted reform from the ground up.  Given the reform efforts of the past few decades, I tend to side with Alvin Toffler’s position that “We don’t need to reform the system; we need to replace the system.”

It would be hypocritical of me if I just criticized the criticizers.  It might be easier to say and do nothing – especially on my emotions and psyche as swimming up the metaphorical stream takes energy, but in the long run, I would suffer from the incongruence. between my core beliefs and my real world practices.  I had a boss once who said that if we were to come to him with a problem, then we also need to bring along our solution.  I attempt to live education reform in my own local settings –practicing think globally act locally.

This I know to be the problem

  • Human learning cannot be measured through metrics.
  • Competencies are one thing.  Standards are another.  Student should have some basic competencies related both to the process and content of learning.  Specific age-grade level standards are counter-productive to learning.  Standards assume that all students of a given age are developmentally the same . . . cognitively, emotionally, physically, socially.
  • Given the previsous, one size does not fit all.
  • Public schools are not preparing students to successfully maneuver in the real world – now and in the future.
  • Kids are bored in school and similar to Pavlov classical learning theory, they are associating learning with pain.

What I Do “Locally” to promote educational reform

  • I am an educator in both teacher education and elementary settings.
  • I do not give any tests – none!
  • I have chosen positions (PE and gifted) and schools where I can develop the curriculum.
  • The students in my classes speak a lot more than me.
  • I voice my thoughts and ideas – in my work settings and now via Twitter, Facebook, and BLogs.

Finally, these are these are the questions I believe educators, as change agents, “should” be asking themselves:

  • Am I complaining or risking making a change?
  • Am I contributing more to the problem or more to the solution?
  • Am I a criticizer or an actualizer?
  • Do I ponder what could be? Do I give my students and colleagues the time and venue to ponder what could be?
  • What did I do today to actualize educational reform?

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 17, 2010 at 6:50 pm

3 Responses

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  1. It’s absurd to suggest that you cannot be both critically minded and actualized. Paulo Freire talked about the combination of both. It’s called praxis. It means putting ideas and theories into action. Otherwise known as critical pedagogy. Do they not teach critical pedagogy in American teacher ed programs? Critical mindedness is a core purpose of any educational model that empowers active and equitable citizenship. A culture without critical mindedness is a culture of ignorance, oppression and inequity.


    October 17, 2010 at 11:38 pm

  2. Thanks for your comment, Melanie, and I wholeheartedly agree, and am a great admirer of Freire. I actually discussed this in the section on “Is it critical or criticism?” section of the blog. I differentiate between critical and criticism, providing definitions, and stating that critical examination is necessary while criticism stales educational reform.


    October 17, 2010 at 11:42 pm

  3. I’m very glad you make that distinction! I merely made the point to reinforce that we identify the difference between those who merely attack education and those who ask questions about what’s not working. It may be a fine line sometimes but those who really want to empower learners are often driven by deeply critical observations about what’s not working and what could be improved. I was not suggesting that you are absurd but that it is absurd to promote the idea that it’s an either or (critical mindedness or action). Thanks for engaging me in this very important discussion.


    October 17, 2010 at 11:45 pm

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