Hannah Arendt and the point of education
My guest is Kenneth J. Bernstein, an award-winning veteran teacher in the Washington D.C. area. He blogs at http://teacherken.dailykos.com/.
By Kenneth Bernstein
Recently while reading a book about teaching, I encountered a quote on education by Hannah Arendt. Here is that quote:
Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it, and by the same token save it from that ruin which except for renewal, except for the coming of the new and the young, would be inevitable. And education, too, is where we decide whether we love our children enough not to expel them from our world and leave them to their own devices, nor to strike from their hands their chance of undertaking something new, something unforeseen by us, but to prepare them in advance for the task of renewing a common world.
something unforeseen by us -- If we can grasp that idea, then our notion of education would be very different than what have been imposing and are imposing upon the young people entrusted to the care of teachers and schools. Learning cannot be merely cramming more and more information in, its success measured by ever increasing numbers of tests with higher stakes for teachers and schools as well as students. There must be time and opportunity for play, for exploration, for failure and the learning therefrom.
whether we love the world enough -- I often think that much of what we impose is not from love but from fear.
except for renewal -- We must find new ways of thinking, of observing, of considering. Yes, that can be scary, because we might not always succeed in our attempts at finding ways of renewal. But we learn from our attempts, unless we are so willfully blind that we only interpret them as reasons not to try anything new, no matter how destructive continuation of our current patterns might be.
I am thinking quite a bit about my own teaching. Part of that is a continuation of my encounter with Parker Palmer, with rereading works I knew and encountering others (such as The Promise of Paradox: A Celebration of Paradox in the Christian Life) that I had not known.
It is also a reoccurring part of my understanding of how I must approach teaching - to constantly reflect upon what I am doing and why, to consider its impact upon the students entrusted to my care, not only within my classes but as they carry whatever they may value from what they encounter into the rest of their lives.
We often encounter arguments that people become more conservative as they get older. Certainly we have seen voting from fear among a significant portion of our older electorate. Perhaps that is normal. But does it have to be?
I will be 65 in about six months. I find I am becoming increasingly radicalized as I age. I think that is very much because I spend so much of my time with young people. I wonder what we are doing to the world we are leaving them.
Should not we be including them as soon as possible in thinking about how we save and renew the world? Should not our approach to education encourage them to think outside the patterns upon which we have relied which are proving so destructive?
Let me return to Arendt again:
...nor to strike from their hands their chance of undertaking something new, something unforeseen by us, but to prepare them in advance for the task of renewing a common world.
something unforeseen by us - We need new eyes and new ideas. Yes, we want them aware of the heritage we can pass on, if for no other reason than perhaps they can learn from our mistakes. One does not renew the world by remaking it from scratch, one must first see what is to imagine what might be truly possible.
This past weekend I had time to reflect. Teaching should never be automatic or rote. Even the lessons that worked well last year need to be reexamined: Why am I planning to do this lesson with these students now?
My answer needs to be something far more than the state or the College Board will test them upon the material. It must be for some larger reason, one that includes them, their hopes and dreams, as well as the hope that I have as a teacher to leave something of value behind when I pass from this world.
The words of Hannah Arendt spoke to me. I share them with you.
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| November 22, 2010; 9:00 AM ET
Categories: Guest Bloggers | Tags: education, guest bloggers, hannah arendt, kenneth bernstein, standardized tests
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