Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Shallow Optimism, Deep Hope: a quick formula for resilience in education

"I am not an optimist, but I am a prisoner of hope." --Cornel West

Three quick points:

1. Apparently only 31% of students nationwide agree that "I can find many lots of ways around any problem."

2. We always ask: why aren't students more invested in their own education? The answer is because they don't own the goals that are set for the educational system. As Jessica Lahey put it in a recent tweet: "we don't wash our rental cars."

3. Hope is another word for resilience. Hope comes to us, and it sends us over and over again into situations where failure is possible. It is grounded in a durable concepts like justice, goodness, truth, and love.

Students are optimistic that they will do well on the next test because they studied over the last few days. [low resilience]

Students hope that their education makes them genuine human beings, capable of carrying out full, just, and independent lives. [high resilience]

Our school system is designed for optimism, which is fleeting, external, and dependent on that minimal thing called the human will.

We need schools and communities that are focused around hope, which draws on deeper, more spiritual resources in the human -- and hopefully exposes students to these resources, teaching them that human strength is founded in our internal capacities. These are designated by concepts like joy, friendship, truth, justice, and freedom.

Looking for resilience in kids? Simple way to find it: ask whether your interactions with them are based around resilient concepts.

Is our pedagogy founded in a shallow optimism which says that "for this kid, in this situation, given these skills, she might find her way in society that is fundamentally hostile to her growth?"

Or are our educational practices and relationships with students founded in a deep hope that says, "together through the work of community, we can make a future that is more just, more free, more true, and more connected?"

Students intuit very quickly the sort of future that our relationships with them predict -- our ways of relating to them can undermine or generate hope in them and through this process either sap them of resilience or open them to the deep stores of strength and possibility that liberal education at its best sustains generation after generation.

What is liberal arts education? Put simply: it is a community practice of deep hope.
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