Thoughts on "playing school" and living life...

Though, I am a complete newbie at the art, I consider myself an aikidōka, or Aikido practitioner.  Every Tuesday, Thursday, & Saturday, barring illness or family emergency, I go to "our" dojo and subject myself to the teaching of the Sensei.

I enter the dojo, and remove my shoes at the door.  After changing into my Gi, I make a standing bow to enter the mat.   A few minutes before class time my classmates and I warm up and formally seat ourselves (seiza) along the Shimoza in quiet meditation to rid our minds of the day's problems and prepare for study.

As I sit, practicing deep abdominal breathing, and taking in the smells, sounds, and sights of the moment, My peripheral vision notes my my instructor as he makes his way onto the mat.  He seats himself facing the Kamiza, slapping back his hakama as he does so. We formally bow in, a process which ends with our saying "Onegai shimasu," Loosely translated "Please give me your instruction."

All of this takes place before a single piece of technique is demonstrated or any kata performed. Is this some religious observance? No. We bow as a sign of respect for our classmates, our teacher, and our discipline, among other things.  Of course this observance is so much more.  I would rather miss Aikido altogether than come late and miss bowing in.  This is not simply etiquette.  It's part of the aesthetic of what we're doing.  It puts us in the right frame of mind. As a designer, I would say that this is one of those moments where form is as important as function.

There are numerous times in life where this is true as well.  You could be the best at your job, with more technical skill that all of your colleagues combined, but if you do not abide by the ettiquette established in your workplace , you're more likely to be canned than advanced.  Life is a series of conventional and ceremonial observances.  This is how we live.

"Playing School"

Near the end of last school year, our faculty attended a professional development round table, either in a faculty meeting or in-service (I can't remember which) that discussed our grading practices. Basically, the question that drove our discussion was "should we penalize students in terms of grades for their unwillingness to play school?" It was pointed out to us, in other words, that we had many students who understood the material perfectly well, but they were failing multiple disciplines due to their refusal to:
  • Respect the teacher
  • Turn in assignments (at all not just on time)
  • Work in class

This meeting was precipitated by our exceptionally high retention rate, and the general tone suggested that if fewer teachers were so nit-picky, we would have a lot more students passing.

Time to reflect

At the time, I was sold completely on the idea of grading on content more than context.  Even though, I have perhaps 2-4 students /  year who score below an 83% in Computer Information Technology, I started to look at my own grading practices.  I would say that the scoring breakdown for my class is about 40% product and 60% process.  A big part of process in tech is "procedures" and "professionalism". Basically, students who come in (often from other districts) who can barely type, but follow all of the procedures, work hard, and improve will pass.  The students, who may or may not know what they're doing, that refuse to work and blow off their lab periods, will ultimately fail.

Since that fateful meeting, I've been looking at my scoring practices and trying to determine how they can be changed.  I've been struggling to do so, though, and I can't figure out why.  I consider myself a radical constructivist, and I've never struggled with changing teaching practices before...

Then, last week it hit me, like mune-tsuki!  Procedures and professionalism are just as if not more important than products. I'm certified in BCIT and my course falls under the Business umbrella.  If my students can't "play school", how can I expect them to "play office" or "play life", for that matter?

My mentor (yes, I am in my 9th year of teaching, but he'll always be my mentor), Tony Bachman, begins each year with a brief trip around the globe in terms of school rules. Highlights include school rules in the Japanese classroom, which actually includes bows and cleanup chores, much like my Aikido dojo; The Chinese classroom, which includes obeying the teacher without question; and a throwback to the 80's with the Soviet Classroom.  He does this, on one hand, to show how non-invasive his expectations for conduct are.  Ultimately, though, it should develop a cultural awareness that different morays of behavior are expected in different contexts.  This is a classroom, and while it is positioned in the middle of this great democracy, you are still expected to recognize that it is indeed a place of learning and scholarly behavior is expected.

The more I think of this whole "playing school" discussion, the more I am convinced that our expectations are not too high for student behavior, but are perhaps too low across the board. Is it any wonder that we have advanced level students blowing off standardized tests because they're smart enough to know the results have no consequences for them personally? If our students aren't ready to excel in the 21st Century global business place, it's not likely because of their lack of computer and math skills, but rather becuase of a lack of social awareness, let alone social ettiquette.


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