tacit teaching

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think about the world around you.  think about the world around our children.  now, remove the stuff that's directed at them, remove the explicit stuff.  remove the parents' lectures, remove the teacher talk, remove the moral of the story, remove the product that the commercial is telling them to buy.

what you're left with is everything else.  it's a lot.  it's actually pretty much everything.  in the big picture, what's written on the billboard doesn't matter nearly as much as the fact that they are surrounded by billboards.  what the teacher says doesn't matter nearly as much as the fact that the kid needs to sit in their desk for eight hours a day listening to it.  what's playing on the television doesn't matter nearly as much as the fact that it's the centrepiece of the living room and the focal point of family life.

we focus so much on the messages, while we ignore the medium.  by being selective about the messages, we feel like we're doing good things for our children.  but the messages are the low hanging fruit.  they're the easy part to deal with.  the medium is the insidious part... it slides across into the mind of the child, just below the level of awareness, as an unquestioned understanding of what the world is all about.  it's hard to argue against or react to something which is not explicit.  it's hard to identify our assumptions.

there's no conspiracy theory here... it's just that we take a lot for granted.  we accept a lot without asking questions about it.  we we're not intentional enough, about enough.  which is why it's important to pay a little bit of attention to the tacit teachers--the things which are taken for granted... the things which define normal for us. 

toys are a part of it, but they're only just a small part of it.  when a kid asks, "why is it a garbage truck?" they're not just trying to make conversation, and they're not just stringing together random words; they're rendering a sense of reality, they're exercising their minds, they're trying to make sense of the world through language... their minds are infinitely more malleable than ours.  they’re actually asking about the sound of one hand clapping, and, the difference between an orange.  things like this matter just a little bit more than we think.  and a lot of what we usually treat as important matters just a little bit less.

so then what are the tacit teachers?  what is the "everything else" which relentlessly socializes us into conformity and complacency?  it's too easy to dodge the question by pretending that it's obvious by just looking around.  but if we actually want to start doing something intentional with it... if we want to be constructive in our approach to the hidden curriculum, we need to tease the everything else apart a little bit.  

i've started playing around with this in the context of classroom teaching.  the model that is emerging still needs a fair bit of work, but it's starting to coalesce.  the point is to treat each factor as something which should not just be taken for granted, as is, at face value.  but it’s not to say that the teacher should be held accountable for each.  the teacher’s control of most of these is indirect at best.  these are nested systems.  the point is to start by becoming aware that these are some of the many factors which are shaping our children, and in so doing, shaping our culture and future.  then we can start to have some substantive conversation about the goals of the education system, and how to line up these various factors so that they support, rather than subvert, those goals.

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