Sunday, June 18, 2006

Holons, or Organic Education...

Having just read Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma" (see previous post), I can't help but think about how the comparison between the industrialized food production cycle and the nature/organic/localized one can be made re education, especially in the US at the moment.

The industrial model pursues efficiency via standardization and (over) simplification, while in natural systems efficiencies flow from complexity and interdependence.

Pollan cited one 'beyond organic' farmer who described how he stacked enterprises, layering diverse and interdependent activities on one piece of land. The farmer called each of his stacked enterprises a "holon", a word (Pollan explains) originating with Arthur Koestler and meaning an entity that is both self-contained and a dependent part of a bigger system.

For example, one holon on his farm is to have cows graze a new pasture every day, with another holon being to have chickens feed in that same field three days later in order to eat the larvae just hatched in the cowpats. The farmer described himself as the orchestra conductor, "making sure everybody's in the right place at the right time".

I'd like to think of the school library as a holon -- just as every primary school classroom and the other specialist lessons are holons -- each self-contained and yet part of an interrelated system, with collaboration and communication between teachers and teacher-librarians necessary to make sure that the flow of intellectual nutrition is gathered at exactly the best moment.

So who's the orchestra conductor? The curriculum coordinator? Better yet, the teacher-librarian...

The Omnivore's Dilemma as Inquiry-Based Learning

"What should we have for dinner?" is the essential question driving Michael Pollan in his latest book, The Ominvore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. His narrative of how he explores that question is an excellent model of inquiry-based learning -- in adults, in the real world, on a topic that definitely addresses the big 'so what?' criterium.

Did you know that food production burns almost 1/5 of the petroleum consumed in the US? Just as much as cars consume... "And how could it come to pass that a fast-food burger produced from corn and fossil actually costs less than a burger produced from grass and sunlight?" By the way, his website provides access to all of his articles over the years, many of which contain ideas pulled together in this book.

I would love to see such a book re-written for upper primary and middle school students (much like Eric Schlosser took his Fast Food Nation and re-wrote it as Chew on This with Charles Wilson -- not to mention the movie just coming out).

Pollan tunes in, finds out, sorts out, goes further, make conclusions, takes action, and then shares and reflects -- in continual loops (to use Kath Murdoch's model of inquiry -- though any one could be used, e.g., the Big6, PLUS, etc.) -- about food chains, a topic included in many curricula.

Having kids see that adults get excited about big questions and pursue them is so important. Unfortunately, I haven't seen all that many primary school teachers who are committed to inquiry projects of their own -- or perhaps I should say I haven't seen many teachers share their outside passions within the school. Perhaps in my new school come August I'll provide display space in the library for teachers to do just that -- share their reading interests and personal ongoing inquiries.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Books and time

A quote on books and reading that I'd never come across before:

To buy books would be a good thing if we also could buy the time to read them. -- Arthur Schopenhauer

But I like the version of it quoted by Gerrie Lim, who credits Warren Zevon with this rephrasing of Schopenhauer:

We love to buy books because we believe we're buying the time to read them.

Which sums up how I felt when my kids were young and time was terribly precious -- I just had to keep buying books....