As we continue to talk about transforming (rather than reforming) the education system, I’d like to share a couple of simple lessons I’ve learned, and then tie them together at the end, à la Aesop fables, with a moral.
I first heard this story from my pal Anne Georgeson, a wise and funny woman – also, once upon a time, my boss. Today I googled it: up pops Snopes with its versions of the “legend”. Here’s my version:
So Alice leaves home to attend university. When Thanksgiving rolls around she decides to host a potluck dinner for her friends; she’ll bake a ham as the anchor for the meal. Alice phones her mum to get the recipe. Her mum tells her about the glaze and the cloves and the pre-heat the oven and adds, “And just before you pop it in to bake, cut off the nubbin.”
Alice asks “Why?”
“Well now, I don’t know, that’s what your grandmother taught me – the meat is perfect, so there must be a reason.”
“Okay, but next time you are talking to Grandma, ask her the reason, will you?”
A few days pass. Alice’s mum gets on the phone with her mum; she asks her:”Why cut off that nubbin?”
“Oh,” says her mum, Alice’s grandma, “Back when I had the wood stove, the oven chamber was too small to fit most hams. I just kept the habit, I guess.”
When I was about 11, I was traveling with my parents to our new posting – Cleveland, Ohio, USA. My dad would be opening the Canadian consulate there. Whenever we had these breaks between posts, we’d visit friends and family, some not seen for a long while. At one of these pit stops, after supper, since there were no other children and the grownups were bo-o-ring, I decided to curry favour with my folks by doing the pots and pans. You see, my mother insisted that when our family were guests in someone’s home, we go above and beyond in helping with household chores. The cast iron fry pan was black with years of use. I scrubbed my little heart out; I made that thing SHINE!
As I was drying it off to sit in the dish rack, our hostess and my mum came in to see what I was up to. “Eeep,” said our hostess, surveying my handiwork, “I spent 22 years getting the perfect patina on that sucker.” I felt so very foolish.
The application for the transformation of teaching/learning? Everyone throughout the education system has to examine and reflect on WHY things are done the way they are done – maybe once there was a very good reason but that reason no longer exists.
At the same time, we need to be sure to preserve the things which are hard-won and valuable and rare. Not so straightforward, is it?