With you, I found glitters, pearls, relics of the old, tattered love letters, totem poles, and the soft sound of critters and the wisdom of elders. Time to close the memory chest because it’s time for a little rest for me to go and find my own mystic treasures unknown.
Farewell. Our slow dance practice with your delivering, undelivering, redoing, and merging on the dance floor. Our caffeinated conversation in coffee shops, libraries, and other spaces are now time for intermission. Curtains down, lights back on, and a time to stretch.
For now, let’s take a little break and put our mind to rest for our next play date.
Farewell. Maybe I will be back time later when my hair’s silver and when I’ve been apprenticed enough to call myself a ta-dah. Until then, Farewell.
Farewell, my lovers. Your soft baby hands I held that made my heart flutter. The hugs, handshakes, fist bumps, and sorta awkward chest bumpy hello’s when no one’s looking. Loved you deeply and painfully.
Farewell, even you, I loved.
See you soon. Somewhere. Whatever shape or form. As wind, stars, moon, and as the finest whispers. You and I all played part in the cycle of the universe to bring life to those who need us. So shall we see each other again in a full circle somewhere.
Paideia approach to learning forces us as teachers to admit what crime we have been committing against children.
Dear friends, we are proven guilty.
Accustomed to the western rhetoric of educational pedagogy, we confess to you what penchant we have for control, dominance, and power over our children’s minds.
Constantly emboldened by its desire to conquer, the West has always been in position to press on to dominate any unclaimed terrain. It is always about more, not less. It is always about dividing, erecting and building what we possess. For the West, silence has been a ghost it must put on trial for daring to challenge its dominance.
We have been part of that history. The remnants of western thinking bore deep into our educational world views. And Paideia approach is pushing us to undo that very system of thinking.
The more we facilitate seminars among teachers and children, the more we learn to distinguish silence from compliance. Often times we have been attracted by silence and mistaken it with compliance, but they are not the same. Silence summons strength and builds expectation while compliance attempts to scatter it. Silence makes rooms for ideas while compliance drives out ideas.
“When a teacher waits for a child to figure something out . . . it conveys the message that [the teacher] expects the child to be able to accomplish it. Failure to wait conveys the opposite message. Waiting time also offers respect – a relational property that is the lifeblood of a learning community”
We live in a culture that values opinion instead of listening to the values behind their opinion. Empowered by its aggression and power, both children and adults are pressured to produce or do something to fill anything that seems to be unclaimed and open. Often times, we feel like wait time is a ghost we must fight to seize, subdue, and conquer.
In many ways, our classrooms have always mirrored this strange and destructive habit of mind of opinionated claims. We catch ourselves lifting up and honoring those who participate rather than those who choose to observe. We praise when a child lets an opinion known but penalize a child whose mind we can’t read. We say “you must participate” or we say “you get a participation grade because you spoke X time”.
We as teachers and adults keep on poking, prodding, and elicit responses from our children because that’s how learning can be quantified based on our standards. We force our students to show something to us, the sole judge and the authority in the classroom. We legitimize our power over our students and constantly “check their thinking” and validate or refute how they should think for themselves. Their thoughts have to be notarized, legitimized, and made right in the eyes of adults.
This is a crime committed against the minds of American children.
Co-leading Paideia approach to Socratic seminars with ELA teachers across all grade levels in middle school, I realize the beautiful role of letting go of control and allowing wait time to be part of our seminar experience. Silence is an invitation for those who need thinking time, those who need to weave patterns, concepts they conjure up in their minds. Silence is the soft pillow they can lay their thoughts. It’s like a baby cradled in the hands of a nurturer.
Simply put, less is more.
For some adults and children, wait time is a torture. It compels them to start the rescue mission for the whole class by constantly throwing words like confetti. I agree that silence can be a quicksand. Without a framework or guiding questions, it can be a quicksand that would drag all of us down and invite murkiness, disengagement, and distraction; however, we should not be afraid to try it.
We need to use wait time to gauge where children are in their quiet thinking journey. In that silence, we learn to reset our children’s priorities and help them shape meanings, ideas, and thoughts beyond what words can do.
Even when it’s not a seminar, let’s give our students think time. Let’s count down five to ten seconds before we move onto the next student or next thing on our list to teach.
So when I woke up one morning from an unsettling dream,
I found myself changed into a monstrous vermin...
- Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis
Kafka’s first sentence from his novella is the perpetual state of who I am as a resource specialist for Advanced Studies. I embrace this reality.
My district’s abnormally high number of “identified” gifted students whose families live in the college town brings unique challenges to an educator like me who has to operate within the state’s budgetary crumbs. Despite the legislation Article 9B that explicitly states that gifted services be provided through the local plan, by the time allotted monies from the county commissioners are distributed to the local district, they get spent on other crisis that demand attention. And I get to pick on the leftovers.
Because I felt like my round back was laid against the floor with my feeble arms and legs wringing in the air, all I could do was to spend each day listening to people and their values behind their opinions whenever possible. There were times I tried to advocate on what students truly needed, but my voice came out as a distant hiss no one cared to listen.
".... Education policy creates the rules and standards by which limited resources are allocated to meet perceived needs"
- Dr. Jonathan Plucker, Johns Hopkins University
I realized that my entomological existence was the manifestations of the reality of educational policy that has a tendency to focus on the now of the educational crisis where the monies vaporize before they reach the needs of the brightest and the gifted. No matter how much the administrators and the district leaders advocate and support my endeavors, the existing barriers and troubles on advanced studies are deeply connected to federal and the state legislature.
It’s the failure to connect the importance of strong education policy on gifted education that shapes the infrastructure necessary to bring about change at the local level.
There isn’t much I can do to change the state of my being as a vermin. I woke up and there I was, but this is not to say that I am hopeless.
Knowing that it’s really the policy that’s causing the heartache, perhaps that in itself may be the hope that something can be done on my own end. I am not quite sure what kind of ladder I need to climb to effectively bring change to the policy at the state and federal level; however, there are some things I plan to do for the next several months to increase the sphere of my influence as a shareholder.
A couple of weeks ago, I had a pleasure of sharing with our district’s GPAC (Gifted Program Advisory Council) about how the Paideia seminars are implemented as a gifted provision for all children.* It was an opportunity to share with the stakeholders what a continuum of rigorous literacy instruction for all children looks like in middle school.I can say with certainty that implementing Paideia seminars has been a gradual yet impactful literacy instruction that addresses the needs of all learners regardless of their labels. The beauty of this particular gifted service is that it is an authentic instructional tapestry woven by classroom teachers’ expertise on literacy and their knowledge of students’ learning profiles. Through ongoing modeling and co-leading with classroom teachers for the past year and a half, we see that seminar helps us face our own implicit biases buried underneath our practices and create entry points for us to enlarge our gifted pool among all children. The text-based, value-driven and open-ended discussions seminar offers have allowed students to personalize their own learning paths through a goal-setting exercise before and after each seminar.Here’s our observation on how Paideia seminars’ literacy instruction bridges the opportunity gap in classrooms:
What all children need is a chair, a nameplate, the text, and their body. Seminar eliminates the need for executive function skills to access contents and concepts. It frees students from the daily hurdles of do’s and don’ts of organizational skills.
Sitting in a large circle removes “the caste system” of who’s who among children. There’s no need for the predictable seating chart: unspoken yet palpable walls come down between compliant and non-compliant children, between gifted and non-gifted children, between Whites and Black students.
The seminar facilitator sits on the same eye level with the students as a way to remove barriers between adult and children. It affirms and honors young people as professionals whose ideas are and thoughts can be expressed through the prism of their personalities and experiences.
Students do not raise their hands for a teacher to affirm their spaces but they enter into a dialogic system mirroring the cultural roots of call and response. This ritualistic approach to instruction relinquishes teacher control. Facilitators also do not affirm, deny, or acknowledge one opinion over another but lead the discussions based on what students bring to the table.
A text for discussions can be a work of art, a map, a chart, or a photograph that has multiple viewpoints. Any artifact that is rich in ideas that are ambiguous invites culturally sustainable discussions where Black and brown students, English Learners, and other students who have different learning styles become collaborators and meaning-makers of ideas, concepts, or content.
As the seminar is led for multiple days by students themselves, it brings out those students who would not normally engage in listening and talking. It provides introverts a talking space and allows extroverts to lose themselves in listening to others throughout multiple days of seminar discussions.
Students personalize their learning goals at the beginning and end of the seminar discussion each day to reflect and become better readers, speakers, listeners, and thinkers.
* Since 2017, Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools’ Gifted Education Department has partnered with the Paideia Institute to add rigor in literacy for gifted services in regular classrooms. ReferencesAdler, M. The paideia proposal: educational manifesto. Billings, L. & Roberts, T. (2012). Think like a seminar. Educational Leadership, 70(4), 68–72.
Kirkland, D. (2011). Listening to echoes: teaching young black men literacy and the distraction of ELA standards. Language Arts, 88(5), 373–380.
So many adults have mystified gifted and talented children who don’t fit the profile norms of average children. It is easy to make quick and generalized remarks about gifted children in the era of mass production of compliance and mediocrity taken root since the Industrial Revolution. It is even more common for many adults to make deficit-laden remarks of gifted children who are Black & brown, poor, multi-lingual, or Twice-Exceptional. I breathe, smell, and eat them every day.
We can do a better job of proactively disrupting the deficit-driven language used to describe gifted children from diverse backgrounds.
Goings and Ford (2018) found out that even the research done by various scholars of gifted & talented programs for the past decade didn’t reach that far to change the deficit narrative. Instead of dedicating their research on what the children’s experiences with the gifted program were like and examining how the school system can shift to develop their potential, most of them focused on what these gifted children lacked and how to “lift them up” to fit what was inequitable and inaccessible in the first place.
Here are some practical ways I have tried to start disrupting the deficit-narrative embedded in my community:
who the faces of gifted children from diverse backgrounds are in school and community. Who are the faces of underrepresented gifted children in your school or district? They can be students of color, poverty, learning disabilities, and multilingual. Reach out to specialists or coordinator of advanced programs and gifted services for more information
the ways in which gifted students from diverse background experience gifted services in your school. What kind of gifted services are they receiving? How are they served? What acceleration, enrichment opportunities, or after-school activities are they involved? How can you help as a stakeholder?
how you can attend public meetings, parent-conferences, open houses, and other events to advocate for them
affinity groups or organizations for mentor or apprenticeship support
work with school administration, counselors, or psychologists to refer students to screen and identify them for gifted services
I grew up with a brother who struggled with mental illness.
My parents must have looked at the boy and thought something was wrong. He wet his pants in his third-grade classroom or hesitated to mix in with other shirtless boys who didn’t mind getting their shoes muddied from outdoor activities.
As a talented and sensitive artist, my brother did not cope well with the conflicting parenting styles; while our father harnessed him with reigns and latches to man him up, our mother hovered around him to compensate for what she thought he didn’t get from her husband.
By the time I was born seven years later, my brother saw my presence as a reflection of his own incompetence and an emblem of shame. I was my parents’ hope of what he could have been. At a young age, I witnessed his unmasked agony, which was raw and wild, often manifesting itself in verbal and emotional violence against me.
Looking back, his world of what it meant to be a man was a collage of parental obsession, a false sense of masculinity, and overprotection. An already a sensitive child who loved simple things in life, my parents’ norms and pressure drove him to run after the things he abhorred: power, success, and masculinity.
Parents must invite their sons to be sad, afraid, hurt, silly and affectionate, and must embrace them as often as they snuggle their daughters. Sweet boys learn early on that they can defend themselves against loneliness by reaching out and asking for support rather than turning into people who, literally, grab for power.
In his early 50’s, he is still searching for the boyhood he never had nor will ever have.
Before Father passed away, I remember how he summoned his courage to tell me that, as a father, he had so much anxiety about raising a son who seemed aloof, distant, and fragile. He didn’t know how to instruct him as he himself was raised by a father who always expected his to be “the man”.
I am not sure how to navigate this field of boyhood, becoming a man, or even how to listen to them.
Perhaps there’s nothing I can do to help the parents and the boys who struggle. Maybe “help” is not a right word to use here. Perhaps that’s the point. They don’t need my help. I just have to listen and know that they struggle to come to terms with their identities.