Let's jump right in…
There's nothing wrong with helping kids to develop a sense of determination and resilience. Too often though, the word 'grit' becomes a form of victim blaming, with schools (and society) defending their outdated (and often cruel) systems by saying that the victims of these just need to toughen up and be more flexible. Instead, we should be fostering in our kids a sense of compassion, and the courage to stand up against cruelty, intolerance, hardship and abuse, rather than being 'resilient' towards these things.
Here's an excellent read on the limits of teaching grit: The Problem With Teaching Grit.
The word 'rigor' is the last defence of the traditionalist and the teacher who has not read an academic article on education in the last two decades. It usually follows a phrase like: “Yes, this is all wonderful, but what about…” And while this may sound like a plausible point, what it actually means to people who use the term is that they see no merit in teaching hands-on learning, problem-solving, communication skills, as well as independent and innovative thinking, because these things have no bearing on high stakes assessments. Leaving aside the fact that this is an incredibly myopic perspective on the ultimate aim of education, the fact is, teaching critical thinking, creativity, collaborative and communication skills has a more positive impact on grades than the old 'rigorous' methodologies.
Often used as a synonym for 'rigor', or as a strengthening adjective for it, the word 'academic' is often used to try and lift dry, abstract, content-based learning to a place where it is venerated and above critique. It also implies that students need to be lead through the complexities of the academic with the careful guidance of an 'expert'. The truth is that much of what is lauded as 'academic' is anything but. I by far prefer the implications of the root of the word, which is from Plato's academy – a 'school' which preferences one-on-one dialogues, independent learning and critical analysis. More on why I loathe the word 'academic' can be found here: A Very Academic Problem.
Mindfulness means to be fully aware of the present moment. The term comes from Buddhism, and it has some rather nice, fluffy benefits, most of which have to do with not worrying about the past and the future, by only focusing on the now. Of late, there is an increasing move towards transplanting mindfulness into classrooms, where it is supposed to increase attention spans and eliminate a host of negative behaviors. Leaving aside the fact that we may be tainting our kids' critical thinking abilities by tacitly supporting idiotic practices like transcendental mediation, my problems with 'mindfulness' are twofold:
- Firstly, it's all fine and well encouraging focus and eliminating stress, if we don't also prescribe homework, make use of high stakes tests or over-assess. All this does is to postpone the stress until after class, and make it someone else's problem.
- Secondly, Hakuna Matata mindfulness encourages both a lack of planning as well as a lack of reflection. It means “no worries, for the rest of your days”, or, in the present vernacular, YOLO! And that's just irresponsible and stupid. Young people need to be taught responsibility, how to stand up to injustice (including those injustices endemic to the schooling system), and to have the courage to change the world. They also need to be encouraged to grow and improve themselves. And the only way to do this is to think beyond the now. Like King Simba eventually did.
I've written a post on why I despise tradition. Here is an excerpt:
Traditions are simply archaic rules that you want to entrench by calling them traditions. Tradition means doing what you’ve always done and obscuring the real reasons you’re doing it. You don’t question a tradition. Traditions are inculcated by schools simply because they make students easier to control. Students can never criticize any of these traditions because they’re traditions. They’re trapped in a circular argument designed to be self-reinforcing.
It is no coincidence that most traditions are about archaic rules. Tradition means you are able to enforce uniform regulations strictly and that you worry more about the length of a student’s hair and what’s stuck on their faces and in their ears than you do about what’s in their heads. Tradition means war cries and tribalism. It means group-think and conformity, and students become so brainwashed by a school’s traditions that they begin enforcing it themselves.
It’s classic social engineering.
Grades / Marks / Standardized Assessments
I hate 'em. I do. Even though I can't really think of a viable alternative. Reducing a child's learning journey to a number or a letter symbol borders on abuse, and it is the main motivating factor behind standardized, norm-referenced assessments, as well as our dangerous stigmatization of failure. But what do we do instead? There has to be a different way. More here.
If we build a culture of fear around failure, then not only do our students fail twice when they do fail, but we fail as teachers.
Discipline / Respect
Respect is a two-way process. You shouldn't expect it. You should earn it. If we want kids to question and to stand up for themselves and to be more independent, then how can we tell them they have to respect us simply because of our age and positions?
Most discipline problems result from boredom, stress, alienation and family issues. And from teachers failing to see kids as individuals. Seen this way, the best way to overcome disciplinary issues is through openness, compassion and empathy. It also means that we as teachers need to have a serious rethink about how we do things. But detentions, demerits and other punitive actions are just so much easier.
Creativity in education is supposed to be about encouraging students to think divergently, to find innovative solutions and to uncover their own unique passions. All of which is absolutely amazing and truly revolutionary. Unfortunately, like much of what is translated into classrooms from other spheres (see philosophy, critical thinking and problem-solving), creativity has become semantically bleached. Far from revolutionizing pedagogy, in practice, 'creativity' in most classrooms involves having students create a presentation, or teachers applying a thin veneer of prettiness to class notes, or asking kids to solve problems – to which there is only really one or two set answers. And of course, many think that 'creativity in education' is about how a teacher presents a lesson, where it is really about making a meaningful shift to student-driven learning. Almost anything is seen as creativity in classrooms these days, except that so little of it really is.
The thing with policies is that they are seldom written down anywhere. As such, 'policy' is most often actually just thinly disguised groupthink, and usually means either “we've always done it this way”, or “it's just easier this way”. Except the word sounds more formal, official – and above critique. A policy is supposed to be something to which the majority agree, except that in schools it is most often used to protect outmoded practices. The best way to get around a 'policy' is to ask to see it on paper. And if it isn't written down, and it isn't agreed to by the majority, then it can be questioned, even if the “policy” comes from the highest authority.