Origins? Or Pawns?

“When people feel that their behavior is externally determined, we say that they feel like Pawns. When people feel like pawns, they feel pushed around, they feel that they are puppets and someone else pulls the strings.” (DeCharms R., Pawn or Origin? Enhancing Motivation in Disaffected Youth, 1977)

“When students are treated as Pawns they don’t learn, they misbehave.

“When teachers are treated as Pawns they don’t teach, they become drill sergeants.”

Richard DeCharms (Educational Leadership, 1977)
Who is Pulling my Strings? CC by mellyjean NC-ND

Ontario educators, we are currently facing a dilemma—a new government bent on changing, and halting the development of, the progressive curriculum in our province.

We will not stop our forward momentum.

We will not be pawns.

We are ‘Origins’

“Feeling like a pawn may be contrasted with feeling internally motivated, feeling that my actions are really chosen by myself that I have originated the behavior. Such a feeling we call feeling like an Origin.”

As Brenda Sherry so eloquently pointed out in her post, Dear Mr. Ford… in recent years, we have engaged all stakeholders—including students—in curriculum design and development. We have collectively worked hard at developing the locus of control in all individuals with an interest in education.

There is a focus on collaborative professionalism, a greater movement toward student-in-charge, an emphasis on constructivist and experiential learning, a drive towards meaningful and integrated project-based learning, etc.

Déjà Vu

Oh. But, we’ve been here before!

We had a robust and vibrant constructivist movement and approach based on the work of Jean PiagetJerome BrunerSeymour PapertFrank SmithLev VygotskyIvan IllichPaulo FreireA.S. Neill and countless others who promoted discovery learning, constructivism, student-centred approaches, open classrooms, active learning, multi-age learning groups, etc.

Check out Ontario’s Hall-Dennis Report (Living and Learning) of 1968. Please give it a good read! There is so much in this document that is relevant today!

IF ONLY we’d continued building into today—FROM THAT TIME!

That is the era in which I became a teacher.

Let us not lose the focus and momentum this time around!

“Childhood and adolescence are not anterooms and vestibules through which human beings must pass before they enter the great hall of adulthood.

Rather, they are significant rooms in the mansion of life.

“The modern curriculum is concerned more with the learning experience of the pupil than with the instructional performance of the teacher…Clearly this shift of emphasis away from instruction demands more, not less, from the teacher…

Implicit also in the description is the concept of the curriculum as a dynamic process, not a table of contents. It reflects the personalities of the teacher and pupil and their interests, skills, and abilities. Ideally, the pupil should make his (sic) own choice of content under the guidance of the teacher, and acquire the skills, attitudes, and information he (sic) needs in the initial and follow-up process. Certainly the student should have some voice in curriculum planning.” 

The Not-so-Common-Sense ‘Common Sense Revolution’

Then the Harris ‘Common Sense Revolution’ arrived in 1995, as Brenda mentioned. We reverted to an era of accountability—which is government-speak for ‘back-to-the-basics’.

Over the last decade, we have made significant progress. This digital era and ubiquitous access to technology have afforded, and often spurred, tremendous cultural shifts. There has been a worldwide shift to focus on global competencies—the ‘whole’ child—rather than merely on knowledge acquisition.  Ontario has cautiously, but determinedly, been moving toward that goal.

We won’t go back.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed

We no longer choose to be oppressed—or to have members of our inclusive society be the ‘oppressed’. We are too far down the path of equity and social inclusion—and, we still have a long way to go!  Paulo Freire, in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, writes of “a pedagogy which must be forged with, not for, the oppressed (whether individuals or peoples) in the incessant struggle to regain their humanity”.

We will continue to co-create a better future—with all voices.

So What Do We Do?

You’ve heard of ‘growth mindset’ and the ‘maker mindset’. We now, more than ever, need to adopt an ‘Origin Mindset’. We must recognize that we are professionals and the Ministry has, in fact, given us incredible power over what we do in classrooms. It is stated in many policy documents—and, in the front matter of every curriculum document (the part we may often skip over to get to the ‘meat’).

There is a distinction between curriculum and syllabus/course of study. We can act on that. How one implements the curriculum in Ontario is very much in the hands of the teacher and the local jurisdiction. Growing Success, Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010, states,

“Successful implementation of policy depends on the professional judgement of educators at all levels, as well as on educators’ ability to work together and to build trust and confidence among parents and students. It depends on the continuing efforts of strong and energized professional learning communities to clarify and share their understanding of policy and to develop and share effective implementation practices. It depends on creative and judicious differentiation in instruction and assessment to meet the needs of all students…”

So, claim that right and use your professional judgement to do what you believe is right for our students and for a robust, progressive education system.

Be an Origin. Refuse to be a Pawn.