Interesting Creatures, We

new york times writer andrew revkinAndrew Revkin, New York Times writer and author of the Dot Earth blog has succeeded in putting words to my swirl of thoughts regarding belief systems and the way society deals with polarizing issues.  In his blog post today, Pedal to the Metal, Revkin looks at how humankind thinks about risk assessment in light of the climate debate.

We know we face serious challenges in the future of our species, yet there is a range of responses among individuals from the “calamatist” to the “complete rejecter” of the risks.  He sees this lack of uniform response to issues that threaten us all as due to our being a relatively young species with limited experience with rapid change, with a good part of us (collectively and individually) “locked in our reptilian little fight-or-flight fear reflex.”

A second aspect of this phenomenon identified by Revkin is our inclination to regard someone who doesn’t share our response to an issue (climate change activists vs. naysayers, or education reformers vs. traditionalists) and try to figure out how to fix those defective people, something he terms anthropophilia.  If this line of thinking about cognition interests you, follow the links here and give Andy a read.

At the very least, check out this brief video of Andy discussing the topic in an interview:

The takeaway for educators, though, is the question left for environmentalists and educators alike: How do we go from here to tackle issues we as humans have never faced before?  Since bringing a child to productive maturity is the mission of any educational system, and presumably of any parent or individual educator, we can probably begin by agreeing that adults pointing fingers at each other has never proved a terribly useful tool for getting the job done.

In this blog I’ve discussed varieties of belief systems that bear fruit of both the sweet and bitter kind.  A teacher can believe a specific child can learn, and that another can’t for any variety of reasons.  A teacher can believe that a digital native child presents an impediment to teaching and learning, or they can believe that child is the possessor of vital keys to his/her own future.  A teacher can believe that a colleague can provide an opportunity for reflection and growth, or a teacher can believe that a colleague will stifle his/her individuality and interrupt the safe zone of practice established over many years.  As Revkin points out, “we are an interesting creature,” and it serves us well to settle back into our most comfy chair and think about ourselves, our great variety of cognition and creative potential, and appreciate that no matter our personal belief system, we are in this thing together and solutions must be designed together.

Modern educational research strongly supports the idea that when a child feels as though he or she “belongs” in their school, believes he/she is valued and wanted there, and feels a part of the culture of the school, achievement is enhanced.  This is not accomplished by mailing a flier home stating the school considers the child “in” or by setting a board policy.  Belief in belonging is nurtured in a children’s minds through their entire experience in their learning community, principally through their relationship to teachers and peers, all of whom contribute to the perception of safety, mutual respect, high expectation of achievement, and hopeful anticipation for the future.

Achievement as a product of community is not limited to children.  Educators from every corner of the process, from the newly elected school board member to the most senior teacher, is tasked with the mandate to achieve, and they do so most effectively when they feel a positive connection to the culture of their place of work through their relationships with colleagues, students, and members of the entire community.  This atmosphere of safety, mutual respect, high expectation of achievement, and hopeful anticipation for the future is no less important for adult members of the community.

The Professional Learning Community is where we have a chance to make this kind of cultural investment.  The future of education, both in terms of profession and outcomes, is no less dependent on our willingness to create in a community context than the future of the planet depends on our collective intelligence.

I hope we are bound to pay attention.

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