Teaching For wisdom in High School English Class Michel Ferrari, Joan Peskin, Anda Petro & Nic Weststrate Two Wisdom Traditions
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“Before you retire, teach him about what has been said in the past; then he will be an example to the children..., when understanding and precision have entered into him. Instruct him, for no one is born wise.”
“‘This is what Zeno said.’ But what do you say? ‘This is Cleanthes’ view.’ What is yours? How long will you march under another’s orders? Take command and say something memorable of your own....It is one thing to remember, another to know. To remember is to safeguard something entrusted to the memory. But to know is to make each thing one’s own, not to depend on the text and always look back to the teacher....Let there be a space between you and the text.”
Sternberg (2004, 2007) proposes that teaching for wisdom goes beyond memorization of school subjects, or critical thinking about them, to include socially responsible decision making.
Study: Students in Grade 8 history are encouraged to transcend their own egocentric perspectives to generate ‘balanced’ decisions about historical events in US history through units on nation-building and slavery.
They are also encouraged to apply this kind of balanced thinking in their own lives.
Teachers are responsible for setting tasks to accomplish these learning objectives; students are responsible for gaining insight into their own lives through these activities.
Results are still being analyzed, but this is work is in line with Ricoeur’s theory of wisdom as involving reflection on personal identity, constructed between literature and history.
“I would not give them a lot of questions because.. it does take a long time to go through even something as short as this so I might give them 3 or 4 questions and ask them specific questions about the text..[I- right.] P- and then.. um I might ask them what they noticed stylistically about it.. so you know about repetition.. um what else did I- I notice.. you know poetry.. (pause).. passion.. things that.. they're part of speech but also I found in his autobiography so I might ask them .. you know about .. about those types of things that they see.” (N1)
Wisdom comes from content mastery:
“Umm I'm not sure about the Birney one because again I'm not sure about about the content of it [but] Bertrand and the Macbeth.. yes.. there's lots to be learned and there's lots to.. you know.. things that you should do you should not do—and especially with someone like Bertrand Russell who is a philosopher.. you know you need to do a lot of deep thinking and you might come to a higher level of wisdom after reading someone like him.”
“.. the excerpt of Macbeth. [...] I’d want to teach them to understand that he was appealing to audiences at that time and use that sort of lesson to help teach them how to generate things with the audience in mind... so... I don’t know if I said that clearly... but ... [I- makes sense] it’s literary devices to get the audience attention... so the way I wanted to do this was to start by showing like the most famous one... or one of the more famous scenes from anything Shakespeare... I just wanted to show Romeo and Juliet like the first part of the Bass Luhrmann movie....um... and yeah get some class discussion on how Luhrmann is actually making it interesting cause it’s the most successful Shakespeare movies that’s come out but actually about one of his plays... and yeah there’s a lot of reasons for that so I want the class to see some of those reaons..(N2)
“if I taught this early on in the process I would uh....model you know how you write a paragraph about diction I would put the students in groups and try and get them to write a paragraph together...and then I would give them some feedback like they’d stand up say you know if this was your text this would be what it was worth and this is the rubric what would you do with it? “ (E2)
This can’t be used to teach for wisdom
You see with the problems in our schools right ....I’m going to Downsview Collegiate tomorrow half the kids fail the grade 10 literacy test...and so.... like wisdom...it’s such – it’s so far away from that I mean... the problems are real and so....you know if you’re trying to give a student wisdom I think you should be a poet or a ....you know a religious leader...or uh... what else I don’t know I guess that...like I don’t think that I don’t think that’s what we do.
“I tried to have conversations that were more political, ideological etc., and they struggled even with that so incredibly because abstract thought was such an amazing challenge for them. They, these were kids who had almost no intellectual stimulation in their life, and completely unprepared for abstract thought and it became pretty clear to me, pretty quickly that they needed me to help them to be successful in the small ways in life, above all else. They had to pick up certain skills such as, you know, arriving place, punctuality, uh speaking politely to each other and to others because in the work world, you know, these are the kind of kids who lose jobs all the time because they don’t know how to communicate with the people. Uh anger control (laughs) uh and basic literacy skill that they would need for employment, for raising a family at some point. And so my teaching became much more skills focused, very quickly, then I ever imagined it when I was thinking of becoming a teacher. (Expert4)
S- Yeah, I’d be pretty reluctant for wisdom, uh, in them. Again uh, Shakespeare, I’m very confident he’s not showing us Macbeth as any sort of role model and, and I think, I mean Shakespeare’s brilliance is in the fact that he shows us humans with all their foibles and mistakes and complexities, [a]nd I think Shakespeare presents us a world in which wisdom is very rare. [...] No, I can’t find, I can’t find wisdom but to me, what I keep coming back to is letting the kids know in class “Wow, life is so complex!” Trying, all the best that we can hope for, is to try and understand and our situations and others better [...] Uh, so if, again if I have another, any other piece of wisdom is that I’m more and more certain that there’s no right answers, that I’m no, I don’t even look for right answers: I look for the answers that’s right for me right now. And I think of intellectual approaches to literature in English, most be as pleasure. Analyze the poem for pleasure! What do you get out of it? And if, what emotionally, intellectually what do you get out of it? […] and just enjoy that process but try and be aware of how your life experiences have led you to the conclusions that you came out to, that you found at any one time. (Expert 4)
“well probably the most obvious one [to use in teaching for wisdom] is Bertrand Russell because he is talking about life and in a sense he is talking about wisdom I suppose. Um so yeah he talks about what he has found he says ‘This is what I sought and though it might seem too good for human life this is what I have found’ so lets take a look at what are we seeking, what was he seeking and what are you seeking? What are some of the other authors we have looked at seeking? What’s Earl Bernie seeking? Or the person he’s created here. But it always has to come back to what are you seeking and what have you learned so far? Has it been easy to learn? Has it been hard to learn? Has it been painful? Where id you learn it? Did you learn it by sitting and thinking? Did you learn it by reading? Did you learn it from experience? [...] You know this is what I think it has to come back to you. How does this text speak to you? How do you feel about being ambitious like this? Have you every gone to a psychic? Have you ever you know looked at your horoscope how seriously do you take it? And how far would you go you know if you were told that you’re going to come into possession of a gazillion dollars, how far would you go to make sure that that really happened? And I think that’s how we start to acquire wisdom, because you have to start to look into your own heart. (E8).
Transcendent wisdom is often tied to particular ideologies, typically religious ideologies (christianity, Islam), and have no place in a secular classroom that relies on a transmission model of teaching.
We should mot be teaching particular values, as happens in ‘Character Education.’
Knowledge Building classrooms can better create the emancipatory conditions for acquiring personal wisdom.
even discussions of transcendental wisdom may naturally emerge as children carry knowledge building about wisdom outside of the classroom and the educational institutions.
Wisdom and character emerge through knowledge building about personal life.
Despite the difference in the richness with which expert teachers are able to engage students in English class, their students often remain subordinate to the teachers’ cognitive objectives.
An emphasis on knowledge building and collective understanding can enhance teaching for wisdom:
Not in the trivial sense of conveying some specific life-lesson from the texts, but in the much more profound sense of having students engage the English curriculum in such a way as to deepen their knowledge about life and to foster a climate that promotes the development of emancipatory personal wisdom.
But it is essential to give students responsibility for the learning objectives of the curriculum, especially as regards what they find important about life and what literature and poetry can teach them.
Only with this kind of teaching can they please a Seneca, by having something memorable wisdom to say for themselves.
7. Democratizing knowledge (all participants legitimate contributors to communal goals and take pride in them)
8. Symmetrical knowledge advancement (expertise is distributed within and between communities—giving knowledge is getting it.)
9. Pervasive knowledge building (KB occurs in and out of school)
10. Constructive use of authoritative sources (knowing state of the art of a field and being critical of it)
11. Knowledge building discourse (knowledge itself is transformed through KB discourse).
12. Embedded and transformative assessment (assessment is integral to advancing knowledge, by identifying problems; KB communities develops their own assessments better than external ones to assure highest quality knowledge)