Geometry Through Art

Norman Shapiro

Learning How to Learn & Geometry Through Art

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Table of Contents
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Teachers teach, but saying this doesn't say enough. What is it they teach? Is it not the state's, or the school district's syllabus: i.e., 'subject matter' ? I am saying that this doesn't say enough, does not go to the heart of the matter as to this profession. Teaching includes another aspect of instruction: call it 'coaching', if you will, addressing the issue of school children understanding what it is to 'learn how to learn,' the matter of the how-to's of becoming 'a student.' Our schools, it seems to me, are remiss in this aspect of pedagogue. Coaching per se is not an after school, extra curricular thing, In one way or another, many competent teachers do it everyday, perform these functions as a matter of course, in their classrooms. It is the aspect of having to do with creating an environment and an ambience for learning. It is to inculcate the need for study habits and attitudes that best achieve the business at hand -- which is of learning and how best learning is processed and retained. Teachers who engage in thus denoting and promulgating practices such as keeping well organized notebooks, the ability to take meaningful and useful notes, possessing purposive attitudes and motivation, obtain in their classes a viable consensus as to who and what is being served when students take their roles seriously and work meaningfully and cooperatively with their teacher and their peers.

Children need to know these matters. They must obtain such attitudes, if not from their home environment, then from their teachers and peers at school. The authentic role of students in what we believe to be is a free society, is towards attaining personal literacy and freedom to inquiry and self expression. -What we mean when we speak of 'academic freedom.' It is not about conformity to authority, but about assuming responsibilities as citizens in a free society.

If there be any indoctrinating, it is to promulgate what this means. Being a citizen in a free society begins in school, it is about taking responsibilities and acting on commitments, performing the protocols daily in an environment where both students and teachers work collaboratively, consensually together towards a mutually arrived at set of objectives.

The devil is in the details. It is in the teacher's skills in coaching, in classroom management, in designing effective instruction, in honing basic and necessary skills, work habits and attitudes. It is in inspiring the need to achieve, to work at one's fullest capabilities. It is to streamline the process within the time limits that one has. It is what all good teachers now do. Nor should it be said that it does not include all children -- those who may be too young to become cognizant of 'learning how to learn'. If such leads to anything, it is to a love of learning. In the best of all possible worlds, it occurs when work and play mingle coexist without differentiation.

Coaching is not only in the here and now of the details, it is discernibly accumulative -- long-term. Each and every culmination, outcome allows us to peer into to what may become a promising, better future than we have today.

The goal it seems to me, is in the obtaining of our student's complicity. It is in enlisting each and every person in the class into this collaborative partnership. It is to practice a pedagogue in which serendipity and improvisation are a constant. It is to imbue in learners with a sense of one's personal contributions and pride in ownership in the achievements that are obtained. A given to this is that it all depends on having a different attitude about one's own identity: that of being 'a student.'

Attaining that different sense of self is not a prevalent one in many schools today (in America.) More prevalent is one that expresses abject purposelessness, an ennui of feeling oppressed and coerced, children feeling imprisoned by having to attend school. By middle and high school age, there are far too many behaving as though they are serving out a kind of enforced servitude. They are impatient with its confining rules and dress codes, hoping to escape as early as possible the impositions imposed on them, do only the very minimum they can to get by on.

Whether as educators we be called coaches or teachers, we countenance every single day the existence of these realities, acknowledge that we have no real handle on countering them. The present ambience for learning is insufficient and does not hone or address fully what students have, to this the point in time and their school careers, mastered. For too many students, it is all "remedial," and for the teacher playing "catch-up." The "out-there world" to which these students are heading mandates more than what we've so far equipped them for. Our schools, as they are presently structured, do not embody, are not paradigms of a "free society." The requisite attitudes and learning tools are not in place, as do far too many of our children's performances in our schools attest. If good pedagogue be a continuum, the teacher in the classroom must take as the point of departure where the students are. Each beginning of a school term one must take account of the assorted stages of readiness one finds, the prevailing attitudes, the actual capabilities, the arrays of their work habits. What orientations must we provide for their going forward to a doable there from this given of here?

Will the process and the content we serve motivate them, nourish, be flavorful and digestible, be appropriate to the stages at which we've found them? These are the questions that teachers on the so called front lines, those who are full time teachers in the public schools must address. These, to my mind, are the very real pragmatic issues teachers must grapple with. It is with these in mind that I dedicate 'Geometry Through Art,' its scenarios and resource materials.

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Norman Shapiro
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4 November 1995