Re: The school game

Eric Crump (wleric@SHOWME.MISSOURI.EDU)
Tue, 13 Aug 1996 01:32:13 -0500

Richard says:
>Come now. Sure, Pirsig says,
>>"The best students always are flunking. Every good teacher knows that."
>but to accept that as a given is a trick itself.

I know. It's hyperbole. You can tell by the 'always' and the 'every' in
there. It's less accurate, but more powerful, than saying: Some good
students flunk and some bad students pass. You and I have carefully
qualified our statements. Yours and mine can co-exist because they've
allowed for the exceptions and variations that might cancel the other out.

So we're closer to right. But Pirsig's closer to truth.

>If education is a game, then it should be played to the student's
>advantage, but that doesn't mean the student makes the rules because the
>rules created by the student will likely be the game the student already
>knows how to play: avoidance, circumventing, and, worse, resistance to

How do you come to that conclusion, Richard? I would include as a factor
that our assumptions about what rules students might make are tainted by
the fact that we mainly observe students in an environment where we make or
enforce the rules. When they do get a chance for freedom, they are not in
natural rule-making condition. They are reacting against their confinement.
By us! so we have no way to predict what students might do if their role in
making the rules was *normal*!

I just got done quoting John Holt over on WPA (sorry, but it's what I'm
reading!) so apologies to WPAers, but here's something he says that
pertains, I think. He's talking about a bright, enthusiastic boy (this is
5th grade, I think) who has bad trouble with math and with school in

Here is Andy, whose fears make him almost incapable of most kinds
of constructive thinking and working. On the one hand, I try to
disspate those fears. But on the other, I have to do something to
get him todo the work he so hates doing. What I do boils down to
a series of penalties, which are effective in exactly the propor-
tion tht they rouse the kind of fears that I have been trying to

When children feel a little relieved of the yoke of anxiety that
they are so used to bearing, they behave just like other people
freed from yokes, like prisoners released, like victors in a rev-
olution, like small-town businessmen on American Legion conven-
tions. They cut upl they get bold and sassy; they may for a while
try to give a hard time to those adults who for so long have been
giving them a hard time. So, to keep [Andy] in his place, to please
the school and his parents, I have to make him fearful again. The
freedom from fear that I try to give with one had I almost instantly
take away with the other.

What sense does this make?

How come teachers assume that students would devolve into brainless slugs
if we quit trying to control their every intellectual move? I know, you
didn't say that, Richard. But it is a slight exaggeration of my sense of
the collective teacher-attitude toward students.

--Eric Crump