On Monday I visited a cooking/gardening class at Willard Middle School in Berkeley. One student told me it was his favorite class. “Why?” I asked. “Because you can talk,” he said. He and two friends were standing by a stove. They were making grits and waiting for the water to boil. Out in the vegetable garden — the students are divided into three groups, and one groups spends the class period in the garden — another student told me it was his favorite class, too. “Why?” I asked. “Because you can move around,” he said. I was very impressed. Two different students say the class is their favorite — for two different simple non-obvious reasons. The cooking and gardening program at Willard is run by Matt Tsang, who has been at Willard ten years.
Later that day I saw a slide show of architecture theses. One slide showed a page of a thesis that said: “Work with nature, not against it.”
Maybe middle school students have strong desires to talk and move around. Maybe “work with nature” means, in that context, teaching in such a way that students can talk and move around. Maybe classes can be set up so that the existence of those desires makes learning easier rather than more difficult. Like swimming with the current rather than against it. In the typical Willard class students can’t talk and move around. And teaching at Willard is hard; the average teacher lasts only five years.
The existence of the slide in the slide show showed that work with nature, not against it needs to be learned; it wasn’t obvious. Nothing like that is taught in schools of education, I’m pretty sure.