20 January 2010

Textura, non catena

So. This Caitlin Flanagan in the Atlantic thing with the argument that gardening in schools is a stupid waste of resources.

Normally I don't get into these debates because they're offtopic for this blog. I blog mostly about my own doings, crafts, hobbies, and folly, and try to let other people deal with their own.

But since Flanagan's folly here intersects with so much of my own, I'm going to make an exception.

There have been numerous take-downs of her on the web, and I can't begin to link to all of them. Much of the wrath has been directed at Flanagan's disrespect for physical work, so I'll just pass along this as an especially good rebuttal: Booker T. Washington on School Gardens and the Pleasure of Work.

Now, to throw my own tuppence onto the pile.

I agree (as would most people) that language, history, math, science, and other 'core topics' are important subjects for children to learn in school. What I don't agree with is the idea that they are the only things a child should learn in school.

Quite the contrary. My experience -- both as a student, and then as a teacher -- is that the more a child is exposed to, and the earlier that exposure begins, the better it is for the child's learning. The real goal of education is not to produce a mere calculating machine who goes to law or medical school, but a well-rounded, thinking human being. Of course children should learn language, history, science, and math. They should also learn art, music, dance, philosophy, home economics, and, yes, gardening.

My own experience also tells me that students do better with the "core subjects" when they understand why they're useful. I liked literature, foreign languages, and history, and they were easy for me, so those weren't a problem but science and math? Not so good at those, and it was very hard for me to understand how something like algebra was going to be useful to me once algebra class was done. 'Trust me, you'll use it someday' wasn't convincing.

In contrast, when I finally got to take a real music theory course as an undergrad, I was really good at it. Why? Music theory is a lot of math, the stuff I was supposed to be not so good at. But it was applied to something. I could see where the math was going in it, and how it applied to what I was singing in choir.

Still math and science. Still the physics of sound. But it was applied to something I could hear, make sense of, and do outside the classroom. How much better would it have been for me to have experienced that as an elementary and high school student? I'm not suggesting that it would have turned me into a mathemetician or physicist, but I think it would have made a huge difference in how I did in those courses in high school, and what choices I made when I moved on to higher education.

So how much better a grip on biology and chemistry might a child gain from growing plants in a garden at school, while studying the Calvin cycle in the classroom?

One of my graduate school professors liked to say Scientia textura non catena est -- knowledge is a web, not a chain. The more -- and the earlier -- we can include children in the whole web, the better their educations will be. Is designing a good curriculum to accomplish this easy? Of course not. That doesn't mean we shouldn't be trying.

1 comment:

  1. I once had a geology class with a bunch of science teachers-to-be. They'd come in all excited about the cool experiments in their previous class (like running electrical current though a pickle- it explodes). I'd ask what principle they were using it to teach and they'd be all "bwuh? principle?" That's stupid. But blowing up a pickle to get the kids' attention and illustrate the connection between electricity and heat, or how a battery works, or any number of other things, is awesome.

    Tying gardening into teachng bio is similarly awesome. Gardening without that tie-in - well, at least they are learning practical skills that might have them eating better some day, or a fun hobby for later life, or getting some exercise. Beats the hell out of exploding pickles.


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