Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Interests and Power

"I believe that interests are the signs and symptoms of growing power."
I was recently introduced to the writings of education philosopher John Dewey. It was love at first read. In his “My Pedagogic Creed”, he addressed the thoughts and concerns I have had for a while on education but in a far more elegant way than I ever will. The creed has a lot of good stuff, mostly about how education should build something and how students are more than empty heads to be filled, but the sentence which jumped out at me was "I believe that interests are the signs and symptoms of growing power”. I had to think about that for a moment. If knowledge is power, then perhaps interests are signs of growing knowledge but also pathways to further knowledge.

I think about my time in secondary school. I did not feel powerful. I felt like no matter what I did or what I learned, someone was telling me that I was just a kid and didn’t understand anything. I think about the middle schoolers I’ve been working with and how powerless they must feel. I think about what they’ve told me when they don’t understand something or when the older kids push them out of the way for games. They don’t look powerful. But they have interests. I have a dog lover in my class. I have a soccer player. I have a student who does origami and collects tiny erasers. They don’t come in with empty heads and a set ability. They already know things and have interests and abilities and understandings that I don’t. This rant isn’t meant to be a touchy-feely proclamation of “everyone’s special” but rather the statement of a goal for myself: Learn my students’ interest. Learn what they already know or what they could know and excel at if given the right tools and environment.


  1. I think the goal you have created for yourself is not only very necessary, but also feasible. Establishing a relationship with your students is the key to understanding what it is that they need to succeed, and once you can figure out their interests, you will be in a better position to provide them with the tools to increase their knowledge. Once students make the connection between their interests and knowledge, they can put it to good use and go on to become engaged citizens who hold the power to make changes in society.

  2. Liz,
    A recurring theme in the program is to tap into students' prior knowledge and interests. The latter helps us to build relationships with them and make relevant the information with which we will bombard them, while the former, I believe, is a resource which, when used right, enables us to exponentially accelerate and expand the rate and scope of students' learning. The problem, however, lies in knowing HOW to apply students' prior knowledge and manipulate it so that we foster more productive learning environments.

  3. Liz, if your statement about your students and, if you will, your sense of and responsibility to them is touchy-feely, please bring on more touchy-feely immediately! You've very simply, but very eloquently crafted a sort of manifesto that provides powerful support for the idea that we teach KIDS and not subjects. My feeling is that if you can understand and deeply internalize that idea, that you are well ahead of the game. Of course, enacting that idea isn't always easy, didn't expect that it would be, right? ;-)

    1. I never do anything the easy way it seems. :-)