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Laurie Block Spigel

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A teacher’s and parent’s job is to:

  1. Offer materials
  2. Present options
  3. Respond to curiosity and need
  4. Remain patient
All in the reverse order, continuously, all the time.

By doing these things we create an environment where learning can occur independently or with our help, at any time. It is an environment that can be carried with you for a lifetime. Wherever you are, and whomever you are with, you can find diverse materials, present yourself an increasingly thoughtful selection of options, be alert to feelings of curiosity and needs of all kinds, and remain patient, allowing learning and growth to recur as part of the natural process of living.

As a teacher, I have no idea what will happen in the classroom. My hope is to be surprised, so I try to focus on not knowing what will happen. Yet I must be prepared. I often arm myself with a cartful of materials. I have bumped along the curbs of NYC streets loaded down with poetry, art supplies, magazines, scissors, colorful reams of paper, boxes of inspiration. It may end up all over the floor in one inspiring two-hour mess, or most of it may lie in the cart untouched until I unload it back in my apartment (often miles away).

But those materials can touch off a storm of individual response, affecting the atmosphere of the room and the creative energy of the mind. Images and words have that power. Ideas have that power. Individuals, alone and collectively, have the power to absorb, define, consider, discover, develop, and create. The subject or topic does not matter. These things happen whether the focus is art or science, math or history. In fact, all “subjects” come together in the shape of learning and expressing new ideas. And these ideas can be triggered by a magazine ad as easily as a document found in a textbook.

A new course of study often begins with new material. Something as simple as a library book, freely chosen, or even a blank book or new pen, ready for your own words and images, can set off months of discovery, exploration, and expression. Perhaps a museum trip, or a walk through the park, or even a toy, inspires a search for more (Where did it come from? What does it do? How does it work?), that leads us on a journey that is about process more than knowledge.

In the end, do we judge our learning and growth on the memorization of bits of information (such as dates and places or the questions above)? Or is the greater value in how we found that information and applied it? Growth is a result of process, not facts, and has no measurable outcome. Growth is realized as it is happening and so it is a continuum, not an outcome. It is a part of life, ever rich in materials, options, curiosity and need, requiring our patience and our willingness to try, to forage and dig, to discover the never-ending learning adventure within all of us.

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February 2017