Inviting your reflections on the phrase “Choosing your tomorrow today” before the WCS Town Hall at the ASCD Annual Conference, this Sunday 3/16 in Los Angeles


 

Chris Thinnes

 

#WCSymposium2014Seriously: nobody is more surprised than I to confirm that I will join “a panel of education experts” for the first installment of ASCD’s “Whole Child Symposium” at the “WCS Town Hall” this Sunday in Los Angeles. ASCD’s Sean Slade, who will moderate this panel, generously invited me to join the accomplished ranks of Steven Anderson, Goof Buijs, Liz Dwyer, Thomas Hoerr, Didier Jourdan, and Sara Truebridge to explore and to discuss the Whole Child Symposium’s central theme:

CHOOSING YOUR TOMORROW TODAY

What does this phrase mean to you? Probably your first thought is that it conveys an understanding that what we decide today affects what we become tomorrow. Obviously skills, behaviors, and knowledge learned today increase or decrease the potential for us all to do things in the future. But is there more to this phrase? Can it be parsed out? Take each word, one at a time…

When I reflect on the phrase — and begin to examine its constituent terms singly, and in various combinations — I think of the Covenant to Inspire Learning and Development (C.H.I.L.D.) that was crowdsourced at a CFEE event last year by educators and parents reflecting on their shared hopes for their children’s learning, shaped by a group of leading voices on teaching and parenting, and leveraged by participants in their local communities to reflect on goals and strategies for change. When I reflect on the phrase, I think of Carla Rinaldi’s prophecy that “We will find the new and the future in those places where new forms of human coexistence, participation, and co-participation are tried out.” When I reflect on the phrase, I think about Ken Robinson’s assertion that “‘The Education System’ is not what happens in the anteroom to Arne Duncan’s office, or in the debating halls of our state capitals… If you are a teacher, you are ‘the education system’ for the children in your classroom.” When I reflect on the phrase, I think about the efforts engendered in the birth of #PubPriBridge to unite private and public school educators in a common conversation to support the needs of all learners, in all sectors, in a “third narrative” about learning. And when I reflect on the phrase, I think about the transformative energy of last week’s gathering of the Network for Public Education, at which some 400 of us began to believe — truly and irrevocably to believe — that we are just now crossing the “threshold,” as John Kuhn referred to it, of “an Education Spring.” And as I reflect on the phrase now, I begin to wonder, about the seasons that will follow this “Education Spring” once we “reclaim,” as Diane Ravitch promised, “our schools as kind and friendly places for teaching and learning.”

But at some level, in these days leading up to the WCS Town Hall, it’s more important for me to learn what you think when you reflect on the phrase, than to settle on my own views. To that end, please do me a ‘solid’ by sharing any thoughts you have about the denotations, connotations, or implications of the phrase “Choosing your tomorrow today.” I would welcome any comments you’d provide below, and simply ask that you also copy them to the comments on the ASCD Whole Child blog to inform the broader conversation leading towards, and following, this weekend’s interchange.

 

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You can follow Chris Thinnes on Twitter at @ChrisThinnes

 
  • teachermrw

    For me, it means providing each child with the experiences and supports on a daily basis in order to become the person s(he) wants to be. In other words, planting healthy, viable seeds to realize one’s true and full potential.

    But, how serious are we about this, given the social, political, economic and historical inequities? To what end will the conversation have? What are we actually prepared to do when the meeting hall empties and the lights are turned off?

    • ChrisThinnes

      Thanks @teachermrw for offering your thoughts! I appreciate the agency you confer to students viz the phrase “to become the person s(he) wants to be.” And I share your wonder in re what we’re “actually prepared to do when the meeting hall empties and the lights are turned off.” I can’t pretend to know, but I choose to hope that we can return to our schools and our homes — as has happened after the best such gatherings — with renewed faith, commitment, and solidarity to making concrete changes to achieve our goals.

  • http://hyperbolicguitars.blogspot.com/ Mike Thayer

    I’ve had trouble putting into words what bugs me about the phrase “Choosing Your Tomorrow Today”, but I think I put my finger on it.

    It’s potentially reductive, in the sense that it can be read as reflecting a narrowing of goals, a narrowing of possibilities. Education should be more about opening up vistas and possibilities for students, and while I believe the spirit of the phrase is intended to convey that somehow, I can also read it as part and parcel of a larger push by “reformers” to narrow, to classify, to constrict, to measure, to put our students into ever-tinier boxes.

    Maybe I’m just tired.

    • ChrisThinnes

      Thanks @gfrblxt for your honesty. I hear you, share your concern about how related concepts can be appropriate — by, for example, the ‘college and career ready’ crew that seems to ask primarily how kindergarteners can get ready for college and little else. I choose to believe, at this juncture, that the purpose of this engagement is to recognize the urgency of “opening up vistas and possibilities for students,” and pushing our thinking to determine how we — each of us — might commit to concrete change in our worlds that might best serve that goal. (This is, after all, the ‘Whole Child’ initiative, and not the College Board.)

      So, to your follow-up as well, I’d like to think it’s up to *us* to do the ‘choosing’ — and, if not, let’s make it so.

  • http://hyperbolicguitars.blogspot.com/ Mike Thayer

    One last thought:

    “Choosing Your Tomorrow Today”: who is doing the choosing, and whom are they doing it for?

    • ChrisThinnes

      Great Q, Mike. *And* it seems some folks have been doing some choosing in our country’s and our children’s names. And I think it’s time for us to interrupt.

  • Bo Adams

    Chris,

    I’m of at least two minds about the phrase. (If you had not expressly asked, though, this would have been something I read without comment, I suppose.)

    First, I appreciate one reading — that our actions today set us up for our tomorrow… that we are, in some ways, the cumulative and aggregate result of our choices. Our todays, in sequence and sum, shape our wet-clay tomorrows.

    Another reading really “bothers” me. But I’ll admit up front that this thread of thought is really on my mind lately, so my filters were already preconditioned, buddy. What bothers me is this — I have come to ruminate lately on the idea that schooling is way too focused on “preparing” us for stuff all the time, instead of schooling being about empowering us to live in the present. To self-engage now. To DO, today, not just “prep” for tomorrow. It’s Dewey, you know?!

    What if school were more balanced toward choosing our today, today? Then iterating better/different when tomorrow rotates into the position of “today.”

    Sorry you asked?

    Thanks for the thought exercise. As I finish, I’m wondering how this expression of thinking with you chose my tomorrow. ;-)

    • ChrisThinnes

      Yes, yes, YES @boadams1! I am right there with you — though I read in your commentary that you suspect I might not be — that the focus on preparation for later stages is overwrought and, frankly, damaging to children. As some have said, it’s time for us to stop asking whether kids are ready for schools and colleges, and START asking whether schools and colleges are ready for KIDS.

      To the degree I appreciate the emphasis on choosing a future today, I think it’s of value to decide as *adults* what actions we can take to create an education system, and a world, in which such realities are possible. I think — or, rather, I choose to believe — that that’s a political statement at least as much as it’s a philosophical or pedagogical principle.

    • teachermrw

      The problem that I have with your premise is that the vast majority of the United States citizenry of children PK-12 don’t have the privilege to luxuriate in today. I wish they did. To the contrary, too much of what they’re getting today isn’t preparing them for tomorrow. I’m talking about black and brown kids, and poor white kids. But, I agree that there should be some balance of the two.

      • ChrisThinnes

        Not at all to resist your point, but to explore and support it: is it possible that a shift of the kind @boadams1 describes — with the opportunity and right for all children to enjoy and explore that abundance — might better support *all* learners towards ‘tomorrow’? Lead to a better tomorrow?

        If so, how might we construct or support a shift ( pedagogically, socially, politically, economically, etc) that ensures that opportunity for all folks? If not, is there any way to construct a “both/and” that supports the interests and needs of everyone?

        • teachermrw

          I appreciate your continued engagement in this conversation. Of course, the ideal is what @boadams1 speaks of. Unfortunately, I have no substantive recommendation for how to get there, other than #Each1Teach100. Each one of us has the power to touch even one life in a significant way. Perhaps not enough to change their immediate socio-economic status, but, hopefully, to give them the tools for self-determination. The long-term is perhaps a social revolution, with a significant shifting of privilege.

          • ChrisThinnes

            I hear you, and certainly don’t presume to have any reliable answers either — though I think we’re both feeling/sharing an ideal worth aspiring too. Even if it seems unlikely.

            That makes me think of the wisdom of whoever said — maybe someone can remember who said it? — that we mustn’t confuse the likelihood of attaining a goal, with the urgency of fighting for it.

  • ChrisThinnes

    Love it, @akytle — and really appreciate your line of thinking.

    I notice what you say about “living in the moment” and it makes me think that, in some way, “living in the moment” is also what ensures that we — as teachers and as parents — support children’s goals and challenges as they are discovered and develop. The always-preparing-for-the-next-level mindset (for reasons lots of folks have explored for a long, long time) doesn’t quite do that.

    I remember a Ken Robinson anecdote about an L.A. school that used to have “College Begins at 2″ as its motto. His response: “No it doesn’t. Kindergarten doesn’t even begin at 2.”

    The only thing we — scratch that, *I* — can be certain about is that the trajectory of current policy has already chosen ‘for’ us, and guarantees a policy in which ‘college and career readiness,’ competition, ranking, sorting, and test-prep are the models of learning moving forward.

    I think there are some concrete choices, and some specific actions, to repudiate that model that we could start making today.

    • Angél W. Kytle

      Yes, yes, and yes! Choosing for us is most concerning to me- back to your French comment earlier! For both public and independent schools, my question remains: How Might We place the needs of our students- scratch that- learners ahead of any”plans” others might call for? If learners are at the center, it behooves us to balk against tomorrow’s choices and celebrate the togetherness we should have today!

  • pgow

    I’m not sure I’m ever much interested in parsing phrases that have only a kind of vague, starry-eyed meaning. “Choosing your tomorrow today” sounds like the title of the second-to-last, anthemic song in an inspirational musical: isn’t it pretty to think so?

    I’ve been struggling with trying to synthesize a single meaning or aim for all the different educational threads that threaten to strangle me in their web some days, and it seems to me that the gist of all of it, done well in the interests of kids, is this:

    Whole-child education for every child.

    First, this involves acknowledging what the whole child is: an aggregation of experience and biology, with feelings, an intellect, preferences and prejudices, skills and curiosity, hopes, dreams, worries, and loves. The whole child wants to be a whole adult, and he or she will become this. The whole child’s teachers need to understand the whole child and to have both the skills and dispositions—as well as the liberty within their schools—to bring forth from the child the fullness of his or her moral, intellectual, aesthetic, civic, social, and even spiritual being. The whole child’s school must be a place of freedom, respect, and vital curiosity that never rests in its excitement about the children in its care and helping them realize their full potential as moral, intellectual, aesthetic, civic, social, and even spiritual beings. (And I feel bound to say here that a school can honor a child’s spiritual being without itself being in the least a place of explicit faith or spirituality.) If there must be ideology, let it be this: We believe in children. All children.

    • ChrisThinnes

      Thank you @pgow for your thoughts!

      First, I hear you about the phrase (and laughed out loud at your suggesting it “sounds like the title of the second-to-last, anthemic song in an inspiration musical”). But you should have heard it at the Superbowl half-time show. Remember the closer, “Up with People”?

      *And* I think the phrase is a masterful provocation exactly because of its multiple possibilities. Thinking “Rorschach” at this juncture.

      Second (and to that end): I think you’ve reminded or convinced me that “the gist of all of it, done well in the interests of kids, is… Whole-child education for every child.” And this helps to synthesize the spirit of many other folks comments as well.

      May a thousand posts spread virally, pilfered or attributed, your call to empathy and sanity: “If there must be ideology, let it be this: We believe in children. All children.”

  • Thomas Steele-Maley

    I enjoyed reading through these comments and many, including pgow ‘s, really resonate. My wife who is far smarter than I has taught me about living education today and understanding tomorrow with an erudite vision for space and self determination. Goodlad has taught me about a pragmatic current for human organization as curricular imperative and Bob Gowin in Boulding (1998) invokes in me resilient hope and sense making when I consider education in toto. I hope you will entertain a short story and narrative.

    Short Story: Seeds (Written May 20 2013)

    “At the rise of today, and after a long and wonderful day in our
    vegetable garden prepping and planting, I watched as my wife and
    co-conspirator did something that reminded me of how wondrous learning
    environments are designed.

    Design can be many things to many people and the at times worry laden
    “field” of educational design takes into account the cultural,
    corporate and confused landscape of “education” with an engineers eye
    and an activists heart, often to good ends. Learning in many places (I
    will not list here) shows progress, smiling children and overall good
    results. However, the best results, and we all know this, come from
    something more organic than even the best design plan.

    Back to the land (in this case our organically certified property
    that we lease to some of the most amazing organic farmers and try to
    farm ourselves), and my wife. I spent the day prepping beds, raking and
    honing some of the best soil in Maine….it will grow amazing vegetables
    if tended well. No chemicals, no water (seriously) and little
    interference tell of much understanding and planning year after
    year….good results. My wife though, always has a way of bypassing all
    of the planning and just planting the seeds.

    On this day, she emptied out a compost bin on a mostly tilled piece
    of pasture near our garden beds. Its important to know that I have been
    worried over this piece of land as it was planted but untended last year
    (read re-pastured) and has had one disc and one till this year (still a
    frontier). No matter, out came the rich compost-ish material: some
    soil but also egg shells a few carrot bits and some other still showing
    things (not totally “cooked” at all). She then proceeded to gently mix
    in some soil from the area near the pile. It looked messy, disheveled
    and then…. then she planted seeds.

    No this is not the first time she has done this and yes it is second
    nature to her, passed down from a line of powerful and practical women
    and their gardens–and it works every time but it always takes me by
    pleasant surprise. For out of this pile of mixed and mashed freedom
    will come our best and sweetest melon of the year, the pumpkin that
    makes us all gasp…..

    I sat and watched, then after all was well finished and I remained in
    the field, I looked at the pile and thought of the best learning
    experiences I have had with communities of kids. Should they have grown
    to what they were, did I have a plan or design….( was the soil prepared
    enough)? I can only say that I trusted the seeds, and the environment
    found–mashed-up and perhaps even unsightly (you do remember the last
    time you heard the *sound* of learning or looked deeply at the kids as
    they interacted? That sweet and tad bit chaotic sound and sight….).
    These times, yield the most growth, the sweetest moments, and the
    lasting bonds.

    A wondrous learning environment is often one that emerges, with our
    care as adults. Our care in letting go of our worry and will to control,
    letting go of our importance in knowing what “works”, or what history says will work “always”…. For just as those seeds will grow wild, they will grow
    because a gentle bravery bucked all of horticulture and believed in the
    ability of seeds and freedom at one moment in time.”

    Narrative: Our verbs about “doing or choosing something” for children (or ourselves) are very telling. Instead of verbs, I echo @pgow:disqus that whole child education-for every child is a paramount goal for education. To get there, Goodlad’s (1994, 2010) seminal description of a “curriculum” may be instructive. He posits that best curriculum considers the sociopolitical,“acknowledging the various stakeholders in today’s educational landscape”; the technical-professional, ensuring that design methods are “integrated, iterative and based on solid design principles”; and the substantive, answering the question of “what should be learned in education today.” Perhaps this is the goal of the ASCD Whole Child Initiative. And if I may, the most important of Goodlad’s description is the onus on design. We need to keep imagining and proliferating freedom in learning–yes, independence and interdependence are grown upon freedom.

    “Valuing, Dewey argued is a process of seeing in what is, that which could be better. From these direct experiences of value events we come to learn and appreciate, understand interpret, and make instrumental use of existing value to imagine how and why it could become better….Imagining how events could be otherwise than they are is a hallmark freedom and power of human beings.”

    -D. Bob Gowin (1988) [xiii]

    • ChrisThinnes

      Thank you Thomas for your thoughtful comments!

      Indeed: “Imagining how events could be otherwise than they are is a hallmark freedom and power of human beings.”