A Pathology of Disengagement 1

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28 thoughts on “A Pathology of Disengagement 1”

  1. Dear Ben,

    This is the most powerful and observant piece you have ever written. It comes from the head and the heart, born of pain…but not full of it. It is REAL. Please print it for yourself and keep it where you can read it when you need it. I will do the same.

    Please also know that every day, even though we do not see evidence of it, we are positively changing the lives of the students who resist us. Having had the privilege of being in the same district for nearly 30 years, and teaching the children of students I taught years ago, I can tell you that our presence is felt far into the future.

    Sometimes we reap the harvest, sometimes we plant seeds. In some students, the ground isn’t even ready for seeds and our job is to prepare the soil. Anyone who has started a garden knows that it is a difficult and messy job. Things have to be broken up and turned over. The soil is often hard-packed and resistant. Eventually, there really is the possibility that once turned, and with new topsoil, it becomes a fertile space for things to grow…..but we aren’t going to be there when it happens.

    You are right. It isn’t our fault if every student doesn’t buy in. It is only our responsibility to maintain an environment where every student is free to choose to. Sometimes, that requires that a student be removed from the environment. It is a hard thing to do and luckily we rarely make that decision alone. Now we also have this forum to help us with that. But when it does happen, remember…down the road others will have a chance to help that student.

    It also doesn’t mean that we give up on that student. S/he is still in our building. We can still say hello, stop for conversation in the hallway, ask counselors how he or she is doing, and continue to let that student know that we care about him/her. The message that we haven’t given up on kids AS PEOPLE continues. Doing so helps our hearts, continues to till the soil, and shows other students that we value EVERYONE, which they don’t see enough of. We need to give ourselves credit for that kind of love, as well as loving kids enough to create a positive environment for them by removing a poisonous presence.

    The truth is that human beings are impossible people. They drive us crazy every day. We even drive ourselves crazy. In order to love them, and forgive them, we must remember that we too are human beings, worthy of our own love and forgiveness.

    with love (yup and forgiveness when I can get over my human-beingness)

    1. Laurie says it all, but I have to chime in. I ran into former students at a district meeting last night. (My God, these people are old…one had white hair and grandchildren!) and they were still happy to see me and said nice things. I would never have recognized either one as being a former student.

      I also got a note from one of the most recalcitrant, frustratingly unparticipatory students’ mothers, who told me that her son is very unhappy about moving next year because he won’t have me any more, and he can tell I care about all the kids in the class and their current/future lives. It was the biggest pleasant shock I’ve had in a while, and it makes me realize that even when I am ready to haul off and do something embarrassing to make them turn on the lights behind their eyes, something may be happening that I have no clue about.

    2. Thank you Laurie/Ben. A very valued colleague of mine says that HOPE is most necessary for the teacher…. A teacher must have the hope to believe that the student is not now what they will become and that something that I do as their teacher might figure into what they become….

      I am sure regretful for teachers that judged me for what I was in high school and not for what I would become because I am a very different now due to all of those that invested in me….

    3. In my Social Justice 12 class, I make the kids do an “action project” which has to address the needs of a disadvantaged group. First year I taught it, all I got was endless slide shows and youtube videos. Then I changed it: kids now must do their project in the real world. Use of Internet for anything either than research forbidden.

      This is what made the course work: get off the fucking computer and go and find some real people and help them. Kids have bought socks and toothpaste for the homeless, prsented on LBGTQ issues to elementary schoolers, served food to the homeless with various religious organisations, etc. I firmly believe that since we are in bodies first, and meant to deal with people face to face, learning must be grounded in F2F work. Ironically while the kids say they learn the most from this, they also complain. God forbid having to actually make phone calls and going to see real people!

      Our District– like Los Angeles Unified, but not as heavily– is on an iPad kick. I’m refusing the damned things. I don’t care HOW much C.I. I can load onto a gadget. Once things are in video or film form, their “feel” becomes just like all the other tons of screen data the kids get every day.

      This BTW is a discussion running right back to Plato. Eric Havelock and Neil Postman also weighed in, and ine crucial thing all of them have in common is this: education MUST show us something different from a culture’s dominant reasoning form. Plato opposed Greek folktales with abstraction, while Postman has talked about how education that looks and feels like modern TV entertainment is failing to provide thinking alternatives.

      So I see TPRS as an alternative– a healthy alternative– to mind numbing worksheets and pseudo conversations, because it gets people out of their simplified routines. Good post Ben!

  2. Here’s another take on this issue: Most adults are not required to be present, truly present in their jobs. I forget the exact number, but I remember reading that people who work in front of computer screens spend a significant percentage of that time surfing the web, shopping, facebooking, gaming, etc. When they get home, they are also staring at screens, not even the same screen (no more gathering around one tv even). Teachers, on the other hand, must be fully present 100% of the time we are in the classroom, or we’re in trouble. And then non-teachers talk about how easy it is to have summers off (though we don’t get paid for those months, and it often takes all that time simply to recover and prepare ourselves for the next year).
    My point here is that even among average adults of average status and income, WE are the odd ones, who assume that human engagement, being fully present as a listener and communicator, is or should be a priority for most of our waking lives. The disengagement out there is the new normal. Like Socrates, who likened Athens to a giant sleeping horse, and himself to a gadfly, when you try to wake people and institutions up who don’t want to be woken up, you risk getting swatted. It is still worth it.

    1. I find myself raising this issue all the time. I have always been pretty tuned into the whole multi-tasking craze. We value those people who have the highest capability for multitasking. I think that is sheer insanity. But that is just me.

      Now that I am hyper-focused on class rule number 2: one person speaks and others listen, I see this rule being broken all over the school, with the most glaring violations in staff meetings. It’s not new. But now I notice it more. Teachers in a meeting (and ours are pretty small, even the all-staff only has about 30 ppl) having side conversations, cutting each other off, surfing the web, etc. Basically being physically present in the room but not participating.

      I get it. We are freaking tired at the end of the day. Most other teachers have papers and homework to correct, so everyone is doing the best they can with the resources available. BUT we sure would get more done in the meeting if we were really all present and attending. Kind of like in class, we can get more quality reps when everyone is listening. It’s that paradox we talk about where you “do more by slowing down.”

      Many of us are not even aware that we are losing (or have lost) the skill of listening and engaged presence. I am not judging this. The pace of our lives demands that we keep up. We do this multitasking thing because we have too much to do and no time and we have to get sh*% done.

      So it is no wonder we are swimming against a riptide trying to model presence, eye contact, listening!

  3. It’s important too to realize that even when you think you’re not getting through to a student, you may be reaching further than you thought. Some years ago I had a student who I considered rather negative. She was always complaining that what we were doing was too difficult. This year I ran into her and was surprised to learn that she had continued her language studies to a Master’s. I was the only teacher she remembered from that year of “lycée” and she told me she had saved all the photocopies I had handed out with the scripts of scenes from Lord of the Rings. She told me to my face that I was the best teacher she had ever had. I was flabbergasted!

    1. Thank you for telling us this story! I hope that someday a student comes back to tell me they’re majoring in Spanish. It will make my day (and career). If I had experienced the same situation you had, I would get teary eyed

  4. Tears are great. We can cry. I once did CI with a bunch of eighth graders for a whole academic year and never really heard much French back, trusting the way language acquisition works. Then, one day in April, a kid who wanted to be an actor and who had rarely spoken in class did a retell of about 50 words over a period of about three minutes. I had to walk out of the room and when I got in the hallway I realized that my face was swimming in tears. In this way, in this profession, can we make life become beautiful.

  5. I have a new term to go with the “pigs” term – a kind of lesser version of a pig. The term is “rotten apple”. I don’t mean to disparage the kids with that term. They are not pigs. They are like apples in various stages of rotting.

    This is most certainly no fault of their own, but rather results from their being stuffed into a barrell of apples, akin to the current system of education in the United States, with its boring teaching, ridiculous requests about homework and tests, bullshit projects, bullying, a memorization mentality that rewards obedient little soldiers,, and on and on, to where they just get into various stages of rot. Some rot out and are thrown out at the tender age of sixteen, even.

    We have to teach kids whose minds are in various stages of rot. But we must remember wht Kate said about three weeks ago here: QTIP – Quit Taking It Personally. That is such a good reminder here in April. Indeed, if we are all about great teaching right now, we may have a screw loose.

    Many of us just want the year to be over. If that is not a red flag about the system – the general feeling of “who cares?” in so many buildings in April and May – then there isn’t one. That spring unrest is about as clear a message as we’re gonna get.

    I forgot why I sat down and wrote this. Oh yeah, it’s about our keeping things in perspective, and remembering that there is not anything wrong with us (we are doing great work!) but the system. We just have to remember to take a deep breath, and quit trying to change the world for our way of teaching. That’s a quick formula for serious burnout.

    So we need to stop, slow down, and relax. I’m the first one who should be saying that, and that is why I’m saying it.

    1. Has anyone noticed how much of the recent discussion has been about mental health? We didn’t even have a mental health category prior to two months ago. Now it dominates the airwaves. That is another indicator that things in the spring are not what they are in the fall. I even remember making a Yearly Schedule to plan for this tough ass month of April, a schedule that suggests doing things differently from what we did in fall, when the bloom was still on the rose.

    2. “Many of us just want the year to be over”- I’m glad you said this because I kind of felt bad feeling that way. I find myself getting lazier as the year comes to an end. But I can’t. I get new kids every 9 weeks, it’s like 4 years in 1; I have a group that has had me now for about 2 and a half weeks, I can’t get lazy because this is new to them, they haven’t been sitting in my class all year.

      But I do get lazy in April and May….mentally I’m done. It would be absolutely awful if they did school all year ’round, the dropout rates would double.

    3. You know how some things just accumulate in the ether of our professional (and non-professional) consciousnesses? Like teaching CI with real news stories for example. It comes from a few people almost instantaneously, then it catches on because it is what now makes sense. (boy, I hope this makes sense…)

      I think that our conversation, one that you have been leading, is right on and will only grow in significance in our professional lives. Of course I’m currently biased, because I agree with you in many ways of the destructive character of our schools, partly reflected in and resulting from our society.

      I mean, have you noticed how many presentations (i.e. TED talks) and subversive acts (i.e. the valedictorian speaking out) there have been in the last few years that lambast traditional schooling? Those are moving right into the ether at lightning speed, and are reaching more and more people, just as our own thoughts and conversations (within and without this blog) are spreading these messages.

      I read your blog “Schools are Different” Ben, but didn’t respond, because it felt so right on to what I believe that I had nothing to input, but now I am, later, kind of like the students who we think sometimes don’t get what we are doing but years later give us some positive feedback.

      And I also echo Jen, teachers are worse most of the time than the actual students, because like some of us, they also see through the smoke that some people are blowing into our communities that tell us to take our eyes and hearts out of what matters and place it into standardized and digitalized nuggets that aren’t nearly as relevant to humans as a walk in the woods. But I don’t think most know what to really do about it, or care to even make the effort and take the risk associated with speaking out about it.

      Thanks for giving me space to write this Ben. And thanks to all of you for influencing how I see our profession and the world.

  6. Related to engagement & ability to attend to in-person interactions is some info that a colleague handed out on Friday. Our school is going through this massive technology ramp-up. In most of the meetings where this is discussed I tend to let most of it slide, rationalizing that what I do is about human contact and the disappearing skills of attention, listening, eye contact, body language, empathy and the like. I believe so deeply that what we are doing in our CI classrooms is the most important stuff bc everywhere else folks are requiring that kids interact with a machine. I love technology and all the cool things about it BUT not at the expense of people being able to talk to one another and to connect in real life.

    So…not surprising was the research cited by my colleague, a tech specialist who is constantly warning our staff (to no avail!) of jumping on every tech bandwagon without knowing the neurological consequences. Here are a few quotes she posted from this book called “iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind”

    Things to consider regarding human to human engagement:

    (p 14) Young people eight to eighteen expose their brains to 8.5 hours of digital and video sensory stimulation each day.

    (p18-19) Continuous partial attention (to competing digital media) differs from multitasking where the purpose of each task is to improve efficiency and productivity. Endless hours of unrelenting digital connectivity can create a unique type of brain strain, which signals our adrenal gland to secrete cortisol and adrenaline. Initially every levels and memory are boosted but over time they impair cognition, lead to depression, and alter the neural circuitry in the hippocampus, amygdala and the prefrontal cortex–the brain regions that control mood and thought. Prolonged techno-brain burnout can reshape the underlying brain structure.

    (p. 21) While the brains of today’s Digital Natives are wiring up for rapid-fire cyber-searches, the neural circuits that control the more traditional learning methods are neglected and gradually diminished. The pathways for human interaction and communication weaken as customary one on one skills atrophy.

    (p.26) Recent studies suggest that too much video exposure to even so-called educational videos can delay language development in young children.

    (p28) If digital technology continues to distract young susceptible minds at the present rate, the traditional developmental stages (Piaget) will need to be redefined. These young people are not solidifying the normal neural pathways their brains need to develop traditional face-to-face communication skills. 20% of the younger generation meets the clinical criteria for pathological internet use.

    There’s lots more, but you get the gist. Brain research once again not only backing up what we do, but showing the urgency of it!

    I will email RM and ask her for the whole document she prepared. It is about 2 pages long.

    1. I definitely would love to have a copy of this. Coming from a tech specialist, it is even more powerful. These are not the grumblings of a Luddite who does not wish to embrace technology, but the warnings of someone who is knowledgeable in her field.

  7. I’d like one as well. Many districts are moving full bore to increased tech and I want to have some way to counter technology for technology’s sake. It has been a tremendous boon to our profession in providing us with a wealth of accessible native speaker material, but technology should not be implemented just for it’s own sake.

  8. Since there seem to be quite a few supporting documents floating around (be they pro/contra tech, the method, Carol’s slideshow, etc.) and we’re always asking each other to email stuff, would it be possible to create a hard link where all these items could be stored for everyone to access as needed?

  9. I think we could do a plug in for files. But it would have to be kept organized. I am also working as we speak on a plug in to create a forum here where questions and answers can flow back and forth as a kind of side conversation to this one. One aspect of the forum will be for general discussion and one for beginner’s discussion. Still working on it though. And I’ll work on a files section. It’s just that I don’t want it to become unnavigable like the listserve.

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