Recently, a Snuneymuxw elder came to speak to my students. She softly insisted that they keep still, sit up straight, remain silent. You cannot listen if you are moving or talking, she said. She gently removed the pencils they were doodling with, placed her hand on tapping fingers, gestured slouching students to straightness and soon, like some sort of sorcerer every teacher wishes she could keep, she had lulled the class into quiet, calm and still. They listened. A student tried to ask a question, but she stopped him: now it is time to listen, she reminded him, not to talk.
Such a classroom, one of an elder sharing her wisdom and the children, silent, still, attentive, listening – is now, according to the latest pedagogical theories, considered outdated at best and at worst, detrimental to the students. We are told to be a guide on the side, a facilitator, a coach with the children constantly talking, experimenting, discovering concepts rather than listening, following their passions rather than receiving information or ideas. If we must talk, we are to give students doodle paper, fiddle toys and special bounce or wobble chairs so they never need to be still. Every 20 minutes, we should have them run, dance, skip, jump, clap.
Yet anyone who knows children knows this: they can sit silent and unmoving for hours in front of a television, computer or game system.
What, I wonder, is the wisdom they are absorbing as their attention is thus captured? What values are instilled as they stare at the screen, attention complete, watching reality shows and playing first person shooter games?
And what wisdom from their years in school - or do we now believe there is none - do we hope they may take with them into the future? Do they have to listen, I wonder, to hear it?