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(Shanker, 1990).

Positive attachments between adults and youth are the foundation of effective education.  These individual bonds, however, must be part of a synergistic network of relationships that permeate the school culture.  These include positive peer relationships among students, cooperative teamwork relationships among school staff, and genuine partnerships with parents.  Administrators also must see their roles as co-workers in support of their staff, not as superiors trying to dominate.  In the final analysis, only adults who are themselves empowered will be free to build empowering relationships with youth.

Fostering Mastery

I was walking down the hall and said “Hi” to Mr. Nilson.  He looked at me and said, “Oh, you’re still here.  You haven’t dropped out yet, huh?”  I know people have this in their head and think of me as being less than them.  I would like to put Mr. Nilson in the situation I’ve had in my life, and I’ll bet any amount of money he’d fold his cards.-Lincoln

In traditional Native American culture, children were taught to celebrate the achievement of others, and a person who received honor accepted this without arrogance.  Someone more skilled than oneself was seen as a model for learning, not as an adversary.  The striving was for personal mastery, not to become superior to one’s opponent.  Recognizing that all must be nourished in competency, success became a possession of the many, not of the privileged few.  

Maria Montessori, Italy’s first female physician, decried the obedience tradition of schooling in which children sit silently in rows like “beautiful butterflies pinned to their desks.”  She tried to revolutionize learning with the belief that curiosity and the desire to learn come naturally to children.

The desire to master and achieve is seen is all cultures from childhood onward, a phenomenon that Harvard psychologist Robert White called “competent motivation.”  People explore, acquire language, construct things, and attempt to cope with their environments.  It is a mark of humanness that children and adults alike desire to do things well and, in so doing, gain the joy of achievement.

Tragically though, something often happens to the child’s quest for learning in school the very place where mastery is supposed to be nourished and expanded.  Schooling in the traditional setting, often fragments learning into subject areas, substitutes control for the natural desire to learn, co-opts naturally active children for hours in assembly line classes, ignores both individual and cultural differences, and is structured on competitive learning (Overly, 1979).

EDMS 512, Hood

Summer 2006

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