Traditions

This past weekend I had the pleasure of watching a high school performance of Fiddler on the Roof. If you are unfamiliar with the play it is basically about a little village having to deal with changing times, and one man’s struggle of over coming his traditional ways as his children grow up and break traditions of how and who they marry.

Old school roomI’ve been thinking a lot about the play and how it relates to where we are in education. Education, much like the little village of Anatevka, is rooted in traditions. School starts at around 8:00 and ending around 3:00. We have 180 day calendars, and we have nice square classrooms with a chalkboard/white board at one end for teaching. The classroom is part of education’s tradition. Year after year, school after school, we continue to build in the traditional fashion. How do you bring change about to traditions that are generations old?Modern classroom

Tevye, the father and main character in the Fiddler on the Roof has his traditions changed by his children. In the little village of Anatevka, the match-maker picks who you are going to marry. It is tradition, it has been done for years and: “That’s just the way it is.”

Tevye has three daughters who get married in the play all in stark contrast to the traditions of the town.

Daughter #1: Refuses to marry the man the match-maker has picked for her. He was a lot older then she was, and she was in love with someone else. The father gives into his daughter’s plea, goes against tradition, and gives his approval for the marriage. Of course this upsets the town’s people because tradition is not being up held.

Daughter #2: Meets an educated man from out of town (trouble to begin with) falls in love and does not ask for the father’s permission to get married, but instead tells the father she IS getting married, and to whom she is marrying.

Daughter #3: Meets a man who is not Jewish and falls in love. She tells her father about him and he blows up, stating that tradition will not allow her to marry outside of the faith. The tradition of inner faith marriage is to strong to over come for even Tevye. Who ends up driving his daughter into running away with the man. He is so rooted in this tradition that he even states “She is dead to me.”

As I reflect on the play and on where we are in education I can’t help but draw parallels to these above scenarios and ones playing out at this moment in education.

Daughter #1=The traditional library
We continue to try and force students to research in the library. The old books on shelves, straight rows, be quiet library where you can not eat or drink while you study. Our students plea to us to allow them to use the Internet, to search for information that is up-to-date and accurate and ‘with the times’.

The 2003 NetDay study indicated that far fewer students would opt to visit a school library to find a book on the topic (10 percent) or ask their teacher for help (9 percent). Even fewer said they would turn to textbooks (Murray 3-4; NetDay 23). A 2004 NetDay study showed that only a quarter of students report using books and magazines from a library (U.S. Department of Commerce 7). In 2003, most self-assessed advanced technology users said they would turn to the technology-based solution first, but just 46 percent of self-assessed beginners would do the same. This poses a challenge for teachers and schools, which must address both cohorts (NetDay 23).

Daughter #2=IM, chatting, texting (communication)

I had a parent tell me today “I just want her to sit in a friends bedroom and put on makeup and paint their toenails and talk.” I told the mother they are still talking and painting their toenails and putting on makeup but they are not in the same bedroom. Instead they are in their own bedrooms connected via cell phones, IMing, chatting, and texting. We continue to want to choose our students means of communication, but they are not asking us any more, they’re just doing it and telling us what they are doing. “Mom I’m going to the mall.” is now “Mom, I’m going to chat.”

Students say they use computers and the Internet first as communication tools. Then, as tools to complete schoolwork. But the word “tools” is an adult framework imposed by study designers. Students don’t view email and instant messaging as technology tools, but as a fundamental way to interact and relate to their peers (NetDay 21).

Daughter #3= The future of education

Our students are telling us we need to change, we need to break our old out dated traditions and see things in a new light. As the above quote states, our students see technology as fundamental to their lives. But education sees it as another tool, another thing we use. We can not give up the tradition of math, reading and writing being done on paper, with a pencil and in a linear way. Of a classroom being anything but square and a library being anything but quiet.

Students want adults to increase opportunities for access to computers and the Internet, particularly in-school.

Students complain that blocking and filtering software applications often raise barriers to students’ legitimate use of the Internet (Levin & Arafeh iv).

Many students describe schools that do not allow them to access their outside email accounts, and the vast majority of students are not provided with school-sanctioned email accounts.

A high school boy said, “A lot of time when you use the Internet at school, you’ll get on a site—even for educational purposes—and you’ll be blocked out…They don’t think you can handle it, so it hinders your research. I went on to the history page and I typed this thing about a country that I was doing and they wouldn’t let me see it and it happened four times and it got on my nerves so I stopped using the Internet for [the project]” (Levin & Arafeh 20).

How long before students run away, find a better way to educate themselves and leave us standing in our traditions looking around saying: “Where did we go wrong?” Yes traditions are great things and sometimes they are hard to let go of, but we are nearing a point where the next generation is telling us we are out of date. That our traditions are dated and that we either need to reevaluate our traditions or they are going to run off some place without us.

Of course there is always a middle ground a place where we can accept that things are changing, and change with the times, keeping an eye on our traditions (Standards and Benchmarks) but not allow them to run our lives. If we allow traditions to run our lives, then we too will end up like Tevye standing alone wondering where we went wrong.

Education Evolving (2005, Dec ). Listening to student voices on technology. Retrieved March 3, 2006,

from www.educationevolving.org/studentvoices/pdf/tech_savy_students.pdf

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3 Comments

  1. Wow, Jeff, that’s all I have to say. No deep response here but I really dig the metaphor you use. I’ll be tossing this one around in my head on tomorrow’s commute.

  2. I agree-finding that middle ground is essential. It’s also vital that we not confuse the forms of traditions (or specific practices) with the values they represent. Sometimes the practices and values are two sides of the same coin–but sometimes the practice is simply the way we’ve always gotten after the values, and the practices can change even as the values remain the same.

    Thanks for a thoughtful post.

  3. I love technology and I use it in my teaching and in my own practice, but…

    1) All content is not on the internet. Some content is through foot pounding research. Some content is found in a lab or through trial and error. Some content is in those dusty old books you disparage and students need to be able to deal with all venues.

    2) Chat and text messenging is NOT fully participatory. It’s the lazy man’s way of interacting without actually having to put on clothes, go somewhere, move his body and engage in activities with others. It’s useful and we all do it, but it’s shadow side is real. It can be isolating, encourage living through alter egos and potentially dangerous. It is a perfect place for predators of all types to troll because not only does it give access, but it obscures identity. Mom is right on this one, send the kids out to play. Get them involved in the play, the team, etc.

    3) Technology is venue. Our job is the content, not the venue. There are certainly some shifts in delivery that are changing the way education is delivered: interactivity, multimedia, internet access, revolutionary software… etc. And schools should teach effective reseaching techniques on the internet research, familiarize students with common software applications, teach programming (I think it should be taught as a core subject), and encourage content delivery through a variety of systems. But, technology is not ALL. The youth says that technology is fundamental to their lives and that learning that does not include technology is out of date. That might be what they say; however, they would be wrong. Expecting that all learning can happen in front of a screen is just pedagogically lazy. Exclusive reliance on technological systems results in a dull nation of citizens unable to embrace anything that is not received through picture, sound, and clickable event. Some learning requires no access to technology. An iPod on a survival hike through the wilderness is more than just unnecessary, it detracts from the experience. Learning on simulations of experiences can not take the place of actual experiments, actually measuring a piece of wood and cutting in or shaping it on a lathe, actually mixing colors on a piece of watercolor paper, learning to throw clay on a wheel or make paste paper.

    The impatience of youth needs tempering if they are to learn and grow effectively . The next generation always thinks the former is out of date. The truth is that the young mind wants a comfort zone. Our job is to stretch them and give them new places in which to be comfortable. Our job is to give them context, their job is to use context to inform the new. Trying to BE the generation we are educating is a failure to educate.

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