Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Leaps and other acts of joy....

One time I prefaced a remark to my son with the following comment:

"Honey, you are probably going to think I am off the wall when I say this, but I...."

At that point, he interrupted me. He said:

"Mom, everyone already knows that you are completely off the wall. You don't need to try to hide it any more....:"

I found this exchange oddly liberating. If it was widely understood that I believed non-standard things, and saw connections that others thought non-existent, but people still talked to me (at least on most days) .... then maybe I didn't need to worry so much !

I mention this, because I am about to make one of those odd-ball connections (or leaps) that I am inclined to preface with some sort of warning....

There is a new book out about Integrative Education, written by one of my heroes, Palmer Parker (The Courage to Teach), along with Arthur Zajonc. It is called The Heart of Education, a Call to Renewal. Parker and Zajonc are calling for a new approach to best educational practices -- one that is crafted to help people think deeply about their values, discover more of their own potential, search for their own deepest aspirations, and reflect on their place in reality and the nature of the human struggle for meaning. Palmer and Zajonc think educators should educate, not just offer what has the best cost/benefit ratio in the next budgeting cycle.

Many people would take the "bean counter" mentality of the assessment movement to be part of what Parker and Zajonc are railing against. Assessment is all about trying to measure effects in the world -- those pesky "outcomes" that are "out there" -- and so it skews toward things that are measurable. Deep aspirations, meaning, values.... those things are hard (maybe impossible) to measure. So lots of people worry that in our rush to measure, we will forget what we are trying to do in the first place.

here's my leap:

Palmer and Zajonc are offering an approach to education they call "integrative." (I've been reading some of Palmer's earlier work on this emerging approach to higher ed.) Among the things they are calling us to reconsider is our traditional way of breaking out disciplines, and then hunkering inside of our specialized fields. They remind us that education has, at its core, a mission that spills across all discipline boundaries. The search for truth and meaning, the understanding of a self in a universe -- this takes everyone remembering what is at the heart of our common educational mission. We need to focus on what is in common across our many different fields, looking for how we each contribute to our core mission.

To me, it sounds like core outcomes. PCC has some of them. You know about them, right?

And that is what we are asked to assess.

The assessment movement asks that we remember why we are here as educators, why what we do matters.... and then it reminds us that it matters so much that we can't afford to fail. Our world needs self-reflective problem solvers, able to collaborate across divisions of culture and profession -- willing to turn toward our collective social and environmental problems (instead of turning away.) Helping create such consciousness and skill is what Palmer and Zajonc say is at the heart of education. The assessment movement then chimes in to say: and please, figure out how to do this well by taking a look at what you are currently accomplishing and not accomplishing in student learning.

It is hard to figure out how to measure what matters. But if you know what matters -- that counts as a good start. Palmer and Zajonc reminds us of what matters.

We are all in this together.

Let us collaborate, and in that way help our students learn to integrate. And let us devise ever more accurate ways to tell what we are accomplishing, and what we have left to do. Our students, and our world, will be the better for it....

Assessment drives collaboration around what matters. Palmer and Zajonc ask us to remember what matters, and then collaborate around it. I see assessment taking us to where Palmer and Zajonc say we should be.

Hmmmm. Maybe it's not such a big leap after all....

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