Monday, January 24, 2011

Yikes! My Students Relate School to Medieval Hierarchy

My students relate school to Medieval Hierarchy

       Last Friday, we started Medieval Europe for 7th grade Social Studies by doing some vocabulary. I like to construct meaning for vocabulary words through pictures and stories. The goal is for students to come up with the definitions themselves, making the words personal and relevant. One of the words we were constructing a definition for was hierarchy. It should come as no surprise that as we discussed the term, the symbol of a triangle was referenced quite often and this intrigued the students.  The students then asked what happens when the bottom rises and replaces the top. Their peers pointed out that eventually one rises and it goes back to the “old way”. Although I hope that one day we can move beyond this structure of leadership (and many companies have) it was great conversation and I was pretty pleased with the lesson.

     Then the conversation turned to school hierarchy. One student gave as an example the school. He wanted to show how the principal was at top, followed by vice-principals, teachers, and finally students way at the bottom. Students started wondering how there was so many of them but they were so powerless. I was humbled by this and somewhat alarmed. Students should feel as if they have a stake in their own education. They need to be motivated and empowered by choice. It is a shame when students relate education to hierarchy and bureaucracy. We need to model learning as a cooperative and active exercise where “power” is shared between both learners (teacher and student). I believe my school is making great strides in this (can always do better), but I feel that in many schools students will feel relegated to being a nameless being at the bottom of the powerful school hierarchy. 

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