A Year in the Life: Ambient Math Wins the Race to the Top!
For one year, 365 days, this blog will address the Common Core Standards from the perspective of creating an alternate, ambient learning environment for math. Ambient is defined as “existing or present on all sides, an all-encompassing atmosphere.” And ambient music is defined as: “Quiet and relaxing with melodies that repeat many times. Why ambient? A math teaching style that’s whole and all encompassing, with themes that repeat many times through the years, is most likely to be effective and successful.
A couple days away from Grade 2, to talk about teachers and students, with a visitor who touches on this magical relationship. This guest blog was written by my daughter, Cassie Lipowitz. Cassie teaches World Religions, Islam, and Women’s Spirituality at Notre Dame de Namur University, in Belmont, CA, and is midway through a doctoral program in Berkeley, CA. The writing below is the part I of her Philosophy of Education. Part II of that piece will be posted on this blog tomorrow.
Philosophy of Education – Part I
Ph.D. Student, Graduate Theological Union
Lecturer, Religious Studies, Notre Dame de Namur University
When I was in first grade, my mother and I spent our weekdays for the entirety of the school year living in a tiny attic apartment a few hours away from our home. This was so that both of us could attend the nearest Waldorf School—I, as a member of the first grade class, and my mother as a teacher trainee. She had recently discovered Waldorf education and, disillusioned with the public school system, she decided not only to provide an alternative education for me, but to become a Waldorf teacher herself. Many years later, when I first started thinking about entering the teaching profession, she told me some memorable stories from her time in teacher training. One story, in particular, has stuck with me. This story was related to my mother by one of her best teachers in the Waldorf trainee program, a native of Scotland named Norman Davidson. This version of Professor Davidson’s story, entitled “A Lesson in the Dark,” appeared in print in the Summer-Autumn 1978 edition of the journal Child and Man: A Journal for Contemporary Education:
I walked across the school playground towards the classroom thinking about Ernest Hemingway. It was a fresh, sunny day in late autumn, but inwardly I was transporting myself to the seas around Cuba where big fish are caught, and to the sun drenched arenas of Spain where the ritual of killing the bull is enacted. In both, the human being relates to nature in a strange and contradictory way—predatory yet awe filled in the presence of death; hunting for challenge, yet really hunting after oneself. Similar contradictions, translated into social relationships must surely lie, I thought, somewhere in the feeling life of many a young teenager, and wait to be solved.
Many things go through the mind of a teacher on his way to the classroom, especially if he is new to the school as I was. Had I prepared the lesson properly? Would it be received well? Would it relate to the young people before me? I was sure that Hemingway related sooner or later to the class of thirty or so boys and girls around the age of fifteen towards whom I now walked in this British Waldorf school. But nevertheless the night before I had wondered about presenting Hemingway just at that time in these literature and English lessons. I entered the school and walked down the corridor. It was too late now to change.
When I arrived outside the door it was shut. On opening it there was a double shock. Firstly, I stepped from a bright, sunny atmosphere into complete darkness. The window blinds were tightly down, and I could hardly see my way to the teacher’s desk. Secondly, although I could sense a lot of people in my presence, there was hardly any sound. I had to think quickly. This was not a particularly easy class in some ways. A few days before, a group of them had sat in the playground in a circle after the school bell, protesting against something. So now they were testing me. Instinctively I knew why they were doing it. “Who are you?” they were saying. “Throw away your book and your briefcase. What are you going to do now?”
I walked towards the window where light showed, but quick hands closed up the chink. The first impulse was to admonish them strongly for being so silly, switch on the light and demand that they immediately pull up the blinds. After all, my lesson was being infringed, and time was being wasted. But the hush in the class made me hesitate. I could hear them breathing and listening and occasionally whispering— all thirty of them. The air was full of expectancy. I stopped myself from reacting as a conventional ‘teacher’ and wondered what I could do as an unconventional one.
I felt my way round to the front of the teacher’s desk and stood staring into darkness. Boy, could these children wreck a lesson! So I thought that the best thing would be to say the first meaningful thing that came to me and take it from there. I heard myself say, “For today’s lesson you are going to have to use somewhat more imagination than usual.” (There was a ripple of conceding laughter. Well, that was something). “You will have to listen to my voice today without the help of seeing my movements, gestures and facial expressions. A kind of reversed mime. So you’ll have to listen more carefully. (Sounds of “Shh.”)
“When you don’t see someone’s face who is talking, you can more easily be led astray as to shades of meaning. I might, for instance, be saying all this to you in a serious voice, but without you knowing it, I could be grinning like an ape.” (I grimaced crazily into the darkness and, sensing it, the class rippled with laughter again, then fell silent, waiting.)
I was at sea, but it was less and less Hemingway’s Caribbean. The big fish and the bulls were receding into the dim distances in my mind. I was brought intensely to the here and now of thirty young people who needed something and were teaching me how to teach it. So I plunged into this new sea and into the uncanny experience of having to imagine the young people to whom I was talking, even though I knew them. Gradually, the lesson was drawn out of me. The following are paraphrases of parts of it.
“You’ll have to see today with your thoughts. For someone like the great philosopher Plato, to think was to see. Even in English we say ‘I see’ when we understand something with our thoughts. Some people can see with their thoughts very well. Being without sight is a help. During the last war there was a blind resistance fighter in the French underground movement to whom all recruits for the resistance were brought. He could tell by the tone of the person’s voice in answer to questions whether he was a spy or not. It is also known that blind people dream in pictures…
Knowledge ensues in an environment dedicated to imaginative, creative knowing, where student and teacher alike surrender to the ensuing of knowledge as a worthy goal.