In this chapter of our series on education and learning, we're going to take an imaginary journey though a child's education. Starting with how fractals might alter her or his entire educational experience even before entering school. More important, we're going to take a brief look at how, in one school, parts of this new education are already changing children's lives. Their reading lives. Their writing live. And their lives in general.
No More Teachers . . .
"No more teachers. No more books. No more teacher's dirty looks . . ." ( "We don't need no education . . . ?" )
It's the last day of fractal school. No more new fractals this time. I promise. And to be honest, I've shown you more than enough fractals already; the face fractal; the personality fractal; the dropping out of school fractal; the boring teacher fractal. Fractals, fractals, and more fractals. Most definitely, a lot to take in.
At this point then, my only wish is that I somehow manage to leave you with something useful to you. Not merely something to parrot to your friends but rather, something you can use to help your child. As well as yourself.
So if I could leave you with only one thing, what would it be? If I had a magic wand, this would be easy; I would have you spend a day with my friend, Laura, the English teacher, in her class on conscious reading. No other thing could change your love of learning more than doing this. Even once.
Unfortunately, I do not have my wand yet. I ordered one. But it never arrived. Which means, I guess, I'll have to rely on good old fashioned words from the heart. Hopefully, my supply won't run out at the finish line (smile).
So what can we talk about this time?
For one thing, I want to give you a brief look at how a conscious education might begin. The first day of school before the first day of school. The preface to a life wherein a child could love learning, so to speak.
For another, I want to say a bit about my friend Laura's English classes. And about her as a teacher. You see, if I could have chosen someone to have been my child's teacher, without a doubt, it would have been Laura. Why would I have chosen her? What makes her such a good teacher? This is what I'd like to show you.
Finally, I want to tell you a story I've never told anyone before. Something that happened to me when I was six years old. The first time I saw a boy lose his love of learning. No surprise I can still picture it as if it's happening to me now, even though it happened to me over fifty years ago. In a way, that's because it is happening to me now. As well as to a lot of little boys and girls. Which makes this story an important one to tell. If only to remember what we are trying to make better.
Here we are then. Almost ready to say goodbye. Are you ready to say goodbye? Me neither. Let's make this time worthwhile.
How A Real Education Might Begin
"Education" is an interesting word to picture. So is the word, "real." "Might" is a somewhat difficult word to picture though. So is the word, "how."
For most people though, picturing the word, "begin" is the hardest of all. Perhaps this is a clue to why most folks, teachers and students alike, struggle so with where to begin things.
Okay. So how would all this fancy smancy education I've been talking about begin?
It's the end of the Summer. Two weeks before kindergarten begins. Picture a classroom filled with forty eight noisy and excited little four and five year olds. Each child accompanied by a mom or a dad. Or a grandma. Or a grandpa. Or a guardian for the day.
No child gets admitted without an adult co teacher. Which would mean, we adults would have to be there for our children. At least for this day. At least at the beginning.
The day begins. Everyone meets in the auditorium. The teachers then divide this group of forty eight boys and girls into three separate groups.
Each group then gets up and walks together; children, parents, and teachers, to one of three classrooms. Sixteen kids. Sixteen parents. And two teachers each. (I can hear the teachers reading this saying, "That would be nice.")
What's about to happen? All three Summer introduce-the-kids-to-learning classes will spend half day in a classroom with their adult co teachers. Sixteen kids. Sixteen parents. And two teachers each.
The class begins.
Personality Fractal Testing:
Each parent sits next to her child. Doing what? Modeling classroom behavior. Beginning with that the two teachers will write their Personality Fractals on the board in front of the class. And explain a bit about what they mean.
Next the teachers will give each parent an Emergence Personality Fractal test in front of the class, parent by parent, one parent at a time. All the while, the kids will watch. And learn how to interact with a teacher, by watching the adult guardians.
When they are done, each parent will return to their seat carrying a paper with the result. Their Personality Fractal. To be left, face up, on their desk.
Next the teachers will do the same with each child, again, one at a time. This time though, each child will have their parent sit with them. In front of the class. One child at a time.
Again, as each child finishes, they will return to their seats. Without their Personality Fractals though.
Now everyone in the room has been given a Personality Fractal test. Both teachers. All sixteen parents. And all sixteen kids.
The teachers then walk around with the kid's Personality Fractals and hand them out to each boy and girl. Face up. Just like their parents. At the end of the day, they will taken home and hung on the refrigerator. For the duration of that first year of school. A parent and a child with their school work together.
The Visual Alphabet - A First Lesson:
Next the two teachers teach these kids a first lesson in the visual alphabet. The moms will sit in their seats. The kids will sit in a circle on the floor, in front of their moms and dads.
Everyone will hear the story of how the Ugaritic Ox head became the letter, "A." The first journey of the first letter. A beautiful way to begin learning the alphabet.
Every child then gets a beautiful little hand drawn six panel cartoon of this story to take with them. Which they can color in when they get home. Crayons will be supplied.
Conscious Reading - The Blank Screen:
Next these teachers will teach the class what conscious reading is. Another first lesson. The blank screen lesson. They'll do this by bringing out two simple items, a blank etch-a-sketch screen and similarly sized mirror, which they'll stand up on a desk.
Between these two screens will be placed a similarly sized pad, also standing up. Each child will then come up and stand in front of this pad, while the teachers ask and then write this child's name on this pad.
The child will then stand in front of first, the blank screen, and then, the mirror. The teacher will then ask the child if what they see in front of them is the word she wrote on the pad. She'll then close the lesson, child by child, by telling each child that what they saw on the blank screen is what it feels like to not read a word, while what they saw in the mirror is what it is like to read a word.
Every child then gets a little hand drawn, three panel model of what they just did; the blank screen, with nothing in it; the mirror, with the child's face drawn in it; and a pad in which their parent will now write in the child's name.
Play Time / Say Time:
The class divides, one teacher will supervise the kids at play, the other, will teach an brief lesson to the parents, centering on how knowing a child's personality fractal can help them to mentor their child as a learner. Along with some things they might do to keep their child's love of learning alive. And some things which they might do their best to avoid. Child by child. Fractal by fractal. Personal, connection building, between these parents and their children.
Kids in a Circle Goodbye:
Closing goodbye. The kids will form into two concentric circles, one inside the other, while the parents stand behind their child. One face at a time, both children and parents will move to face another of their classmates / class parents. Face to face. Eye to eye. Smiles are a plus. Breathing is required. Then the class shouts, "goodbye!"
The class ends.
In the coming year, there will be four more parent co teacher - child half days. One a quarter, at the end of each quarter. Including on the last day of school. Each time, keeping their child's love of learning alive will be the focus. As well as continuing to learn ways in which co teachers can use their knowledge of their child's personality fractal to maintain student teacher connections.
By this years end, then, these children will be firmly ensconced in the idea that people are more important than information. And that learning can be fun even when it's tough. How? By never having to learn alone.
My Friend Laura's Seventh and Eight Grade English Classes
Picture eleven year olds, sitting in pairs, facing each other across desks. One child is the reader. The other, the watcher. The watcher is to watch the readers eyes for blankness. Sound anything like the English classes you were in?
Obviously, my friend Laura is not your average English teacher. All this year she has been teaching her children that reading is picturing the words. Not merely reciting dictionary meanings, mind you. Living, moving pictures. She has also been teaching them that writing requires they picture what they write. And what it means to be unable to picture what you write.
He's a sample of her classroom diary.
When I then asked them about reading and about how confident they now feel as readers; if reading changed had for them with emergence, it was just amazing. Students were using words like "when the picture emerged for me." It was so clear they understood. They also discussed how the pictures they read just stay with them now, even though they do not try to memorize them.
One student then asked about song writing. She asked, do singers picture what they are writing? We talked about this for a while. Then one student said that when a friend talks with her, she now tries to really picture what her friend is saying. We spent some time on this idea as well. It seems, the experience of Conscious Reading is overflowing in this classroom.
Can you imagine how this same idea; learning to recognize the visual intensity of what you read and write, could change the face of teaching forever? In truth, teachers could use this concept to increase their students' love of learning regardless of the subject, from history to home economics; from accounting to algebra.
Can you imagine children on fire with the love of learning, simply because they learn to rate the visual intensity of what they read? Laura's children already are. All this from simply learning to picture words.
This time, as I write my closing comments, my eyes too are filled with tears. Words that began life as a column for my friends have now, some thirty weeks later, become a book. Admittedly, this is a book I never set out to write. Isn't it amazing what life does for you if you just let go.
Before I close, I want to tell you one last story. A story I've told no one before. The story of my registering for third grade. At the time, I was a skinny six year old with slicked down hair parted to the side by my mother. My father, who passed away during the writing of this book, was then a young handsome ex navy man with fierce brown eyes, tattooed Popeye arms, and a hair trigger temper.
It was June. Late afternoon. And the day was warm. We had just moved there and my father and I were to register me for third grade.
I remember we walked to the front door. I felt safe. I was with my father. When we got there though the door was locked, and remember worrying I wouldn't get into school. Imagine. Six and worried I wouldn't get into school.
To my relief, when we walked around to the side, we saw a red door which, before we reached it, burst open, laughing shoving kids spilling out into the paved over school yard. It was the last minute of the final hour of the last day of school and the kids voices were announcing that Summer had begun.
A teacher came to the door and as my father began to ask her where we need to go, I stood there, as always, awkwardly staring down at my shoes. I then heard my father tell her the reason I don't talk is that I'm shy.
Of course, the real reason is that my schizophrenic mother doesn't permit talking in our house. No noise what so ever. This and having Asperger's pretty much crippled my to-the-world voice for most of my life. No one will know this about me for another fifty years though. Not even me. As far as anyone could see then, I was just a shy little boy.
As my father and the teacher continued to talk, I looked up and noticed a boy my age sitting on the steps to the side of the door, his head hung down between his hands. And although no one was saying anything about it, I noticed he was crying. As always, his suffering drew me in, including that I right away saw how much smaller he was than me. Size was something I always noticed back then. Being two years ahead in school made me smaller than most of the boys in my class and this boy was even smaller. I knew what it felt like to feel small.
Time hung in the air and as I kept looking, our eyes met for a just one moment. My father, seeing this, introduced us, still with no mention of the boy's tears. "Jerry," he said. "Steven," I said back. I then asked with my eyes, what was wrong, but he simply hung his face again. Then I overheard the teacher say to my father that Jerry had been left back.
Left back. Okay. Still, I hadn't judged him. Why would I. The thought hadn't even crossed my mind. What I did feel though was compassion, and Jerry knew it too. Knew it as only children whose hearts are bleeding out their love of learning can know it.
Today, some fifty plus years later, I can still so vividly picture that moment. A 5 on Laura's Visual Intensity scale. Nor did Jerry ever forget it, I imagine. Including what he saw in my eyes. One of those indelible, accidental life connections I imagine. Which, in part, is why I so disagree with people who say folks with Asperger's are socially inept. Yes, we are in many ways socially inept. But we more that make up for this lack by feeling almost unlimited compassion for suffering people. People like ourselves, I imagine.
Jerry saw the compassion in my eyes that day. I'm sure of it, in fact. You see, Jerry went on to be the worst, most frightening bully the school had ever had. He was always in fights. He was always angry. He, in fact, picked on every kid in the school. Even kids who were twice his size. All except one kid. Me.
There was even a time wherein he turned to pick on me but then saw my eyes and wordlessly turned away. With no explanation. Another 5 on Laura's Visual Intensity scale. I knew why though, even then. Like me, he had never forgotten the moment wherein I saw him lose his love of learning. And didn't judge him for it. Not then. Not now. Not ever.
Somehow, whenever I think of children losing their love of learning, I think of this boy, left back, head in his hands, crying in shame. I also think of the man that boy became, a man who grew up angry and twisted, lost and alone, afraid and endlessly in trouble.
I also think of my father who I know sat on steps just like those steps, feeling the same shame Jerry felt, after he was left back. Like Jerry, my father also grew up angry and twisted, lost and alone, afraid and endlessly in trouble. Unlike Jerry though, my father found the courage to make his life into something. How? By reading endlessly, book after book. And by never quitting even when what he read made no sense.
Right now, I wonder. How many Jerry's have we unintentionally sent out into the world? And how many Einstein's have we lost? Even so, I want you to know I honestly blame no one for this. No one ever intends to do this to our children. Not even the worst of parents. We do this, then, exactly as Socrates said we do. He said, no one would do evil if he knew the good. We only do it out of ignorance.
As I close this book then, I find myself wondering how many Jerry's we might save. I also wonder if teaching people to picture my writing might in some way make this happen. For all the children whose love of learning might make our world what it was meant to be, I certainly hope so. For all of us as well.
Until next chapter then. I hope you are all well.