About fearless Teaching®

Books discussing classroom management and curricular development are abundant. But a book that prompts educators and education lovers to take control of their journeys both in and out of a formal classroom environment are few and far between. Fearless Teaching® is one of these books. Dr. Grauer’s tireless dedication to empowering, emancipating and enlightening education comes through loud and clear in stories that encourage you to approach every moment of your life fearlessly. With anecdotes that elicit delight and accounts that prompt deep reflection, Fearless Teaching® will inspire you to strive for a better understanding of yourself as a human being…. which will help you reach greater heights as an educator, and as a positive catalyst in the lives of learners, than you ever dreamt possible!

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An excerpt from the Fearless Teaching® story entitled: Too Nice a Day to Stay Inside….

Early in my career, I used to think, “Keep them busy” and “We only have a few periods a day” and “Those parents expect their kids to get instruction every minute.” But now, decades later, after thousands of hours spent with teens and their teachers, I don’t think that way anymore. Besides, brain research shows that a break of about four minutes every 20 minutes or so tends to allow for maximum mental efficiency.

“Neuroscientists, developmental biologists, psychologists, social scientists, and researchers from every point of the scientific compass now know that play is a profound biological process,” said Stuart Brown of Stanford, whose home office happens to be a treehouse. But must it really take neuroscientists to understand the obvious, explained around the year 400 B.C.by Plato: “Do not then train youths by force and harshness, but direct them to it by what amuses their minds so that you maybe better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.” I wish I’d understood all that my first year teaching middle school back in the 70s, back when I obsessed on my curriculum but not on my students’ learning needs.

….On one side of the field seven boys were weaving in and out of each other, further apart, then back again, several of them moving up the bank of a hill, roving like a pack. I had spent time observing wild horses up in South Dakota, and these boys’ movements reminded me of those majestic animals. On the other side of the field, five girls gradually moved under the shade of the holly oak tree forming a close circle of conversation and connection. Everyone seemed to be moving as nature intended. It was a veritable field day for gender studies. Then a boy wandered over to the group of girls, and from a distance it looked like they could have been talking in sign language since they used so many hand gestures.

Nothing teaches youths to self-organize and learn to socialize like play in true open space. All but the best teachers I ever see are unable to teach to open space, if not fearful of it. Children learn roughhousing from real fighting by eye contact, expressions, and the kinds of sounds they make. Try that online! Boys are generally much more aware of the importance of rough and tumble play in establishing dominance while girls are much more likely to see it as simple play, and they avoid shows of supremacy.

An excerpt from the Fearless Teaching® story entitled: Bigness….

 We’re settled into a comfortable flow. The President has figured out that there will be three seconds per student. (At Pepperdine Law Commencement in Malibu it was seven seconds per grad, nine seconds at Bates College in Maine.) It’s going to be two hours no matter what.

I’d flown 2,000 miles for those three seconds. We scan a bit more for Danielle. But we’ve adjusted to the scale of this whole show, and we know she’ll come around in good time. I have a little emailing on my smartphone to catch up on anyway; I understand that I’m complicit in modern disruptive technology. Now we’ve gone through Masters of Real Estate, Agribusiness, and are up to Bachelors of Spacial Science, then Rangeland Ecology and Management.

“Is that her? Look, is that Danielle?” Flo asks. No, it’s not her, but Flo figures out that Danielle would have to be in the second to last row on the far side. We’ve been looking completely in the wrong section.

The College of Science Dean is up now. “Biology: Francisco Adolfo Barrios . . . Bret Shannon Taylor.” Hispanic and Irish, I figure. The names are amazing. The students all have three names, and most of them express two or even three different nationalities for their roots. I give the whole idea of ethnicity in American maybe three more generations of relevance. The president shows no sign of wear as the two people assigned to hand diplomas to him keep them fl owing. They can’t hand out a single wrong one! But they seem confident. After all, these are folks who manage a football arena that holds 40,000. That’s about the size of a typical Roman Empire city. Their quarterback has just won the Heisman trophy.

And at last we reach page 29 of the program, Danielle’s page. Our hearts quicken. Danielle’s group has risen, we’re sure of it, and have proceeded down the side aisle, taking their places in line leading up to the podium. “Applied Mathematical Sciences.” Yes! We look madly for her, scanning the line from front to back, but she is not in there. She must be in there … but what of the computer transcript thing? We go down to the railings and lean over but none of us can find her anywhere.

“Danielle Andrea Grauer,” we hear over a long-range acoustical sound throw, oh my God. There! That is actually her ascending the portable steps unit to the stage. Now she is hugging the president just as she had planned in advance, to save his hand, as we fumble for our cameras, but it is too late for that. Now she is walking off the other side of the stage and we are clapping and maybe screaming a little. I have a grainy photo of the back of her head, with her waving somewhere, just after the hug…

An excerpt from the Fearless Teaching® story entitled: Boulder….

On the last day of the gathering, Sugata Mitra, the celebrated global educator and advocate for youth and their innate sense of wonder and wisdom, was seated in a tight circle of chairs with four other educators and community organizers, all of whom intended to tell their stories. This was striking because, Mitra, whose TED Talk featured on YouTube was approaching two million views, would clearly have keynoted at almost any educational conference in the world. Just that past February, he had won a $1 million prize from TED to advance his work, and yet at IDEC his name appeared in the conference program brochure in small print on a single page along with over 60 other conference presenters.

An organizer from Tennessee described the total “annihilation” of the public schools in her state. She said we needed a new collective liberation movement since the Tea Party had routed the teachers unions. The next woman introduced herself as “white, straight, middle class.” She detailed, however, that she was married to an Hispanic and makes sure every day to share in the advantages of her white privilege.

The mic was passed to the next person. It was “I and I,” who said, “I feel like where we are, we need equity and dignity for the underprivileged who are disenfranchised.” Then she (“I and I”) proceeded to give details. Another person took the mic, and from all appearances she was coming from that place of white privilege, and she expressed the sense of marginalization she experienced here in Boulder, suddenly a member of a small and little-represented minority. How unusual this was given her background. Was this the marginalization of privilege? Could it be that disenfranchisement comes from being in any class, however high or low?

Sugata Mitra at last got the mic. He spoke about how people could get the basic skills from school that the workforce needs by the age of 10. After that, the best schools could do, would be to leave the students alone and respect their innate curiosity. He added that our standard curricular programming of academic skills and content was largely meaningless and of little value to 90% of families in the world since their largest hope is finding any kind of work whatsoever.

Focusing on his words didn’t last long though as someone from Detroit said their schools had 75 pupils in a class, that students were suspended for 4 days if they didn’t have their ID, and that students go to jail for minor school infractions. It was the school-to-prison pipeline…

An excerpt from the Fearless Teaching® story entitled: Unschooling….

We pulled into a heavily wooded clearing where the Hadza had already set up the mess tent for us. They were dressed in hand-me-downs, animal skins, and colorful beadwork. Hence, the Hadza lifestyle is similar to the way it’s been for hundreds of years, maybe thousands. Soon after our arrival we followed the men and women into the woods, as it was time to gather tuber roots for food. This we did successfully with our digging sticks. A small child always seemed to be toddling around, punching his little digging stick here and there. We felt responsible to observe but not influence, as though we were in a museum.

Way back when the missionaries came and left Bibles, the Hadza used the pages to roll and smoke tobacco. They seem impervious to the western and increasingly global illusion that we can and should make life whatever we want it to be. The Hadza have fended off such influences with incredible tenacity and consistency. What’s more, their children receive no education. At no time does a Hadza parent tell the child what to do, nor did they tell us what to do. This creates a paradox for us but is the most natural thing in the world to them; they pass along their culture primarily by not schooling.

Such concepts, occasionally called “unschooling,” where students pursue their own inclinations freely and with trust, are well known to Western educators and psychologists, and supportive research is easy to find, even if it is widely ignored in practice. For instance, as Deci concluded, “In terms of education, it has become ever more apparent that self-determination, in the forms of intrinsic motivation and autonomous internalization, leads to the types of outcomes that are beneficial both to individuals and to society.” In fact, there are hundreds of “free schools” in the United States and thousands worldwide, a whisper of a movement whose time will surely come.

World over, most schooling emphasizes accountability, meaning that the will and free spirit of a fair number of our youth are drummed out of them over years of mandatory sitting in rows for hours every day and ranking the value of each based fundamentally upon how compliant they are with our requirements and standards. Hadza children are subject to no such competitions or judgments. They merely play. Through mimicry of their elders, they care for infants, build huts and tools, make fires, defend against make-believe predators, and tell stories. If their parents have quarreled, they may rehash it the next day in playful mimicry. Suicide and anxiety are incomprehensible. They learn to stay alive and healthy naturally.

An excerpt from the Fearless Teaching® story entitled: Find Your People….

And there it was. “The system doesn’t support me.” I know this is not exclusive to education. It happens wherever systems replace people: in law, health care, corporate life, social services. In athletics and in governments. There is so much despair wherever we look. Can we really pretend this will get better? I have almost never met a person from a current, large comprehensive, secondary school system who feels that either things are getting better, that enlightened people will arrive, or money will flow in, and somehow save them.

The systems required to hold all this together are growing faster than the systems they are set up to serve. We can try righteous anger but righteous anger does nothing. People either dislike the system, or they take it on faith that this is the way things are supposed to be. The thought that “we can rise up against this, we can fix this,” is the very falsehood that prevents facing what is. “Humans have always risen up in the past,” or so goes some thought, which is also false. “We’ll create technology,” some people love to claim too with their “Magical Thinking.” And this is false. Here is the way it is: This system is not getting better. It is not going to get better.

We can cruise along imagining blissfulness and being avoidant, or we can make some decisions. As teachers, do we leave a corrupt system or just close our classroom door and pretend to ignore it? As teachers, do we just insist that our work matters, smile and press on knowing that things are falling apart? The systems required to hold all this together are growing faster than the systems they are set up to serve. And what if there are no answers? Can we live with these questions?

“You have to be willing to risk your job and reputation— either that, or stop complaining,” I say to these teachers in the coffee shop. Maybe that’s cruel of me to suggest.

“I just close the door,” answered one of them, world-weary from overcrowded classes, relentless hurrying, and the ceaseless specter of judgment. So we close the classroom door. We close out evil, fear and hope, and in there we can have open space and some tiny pocket of freedom, which is our very own. It is the new millennium resignation: resign but stay in the job. These two teachers felt spurned. They can close the classroom door and live in this separateness from their communities. Inside, perhaps there will even be a pocket of wonderment, however hidden away from the system it is. “If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction, we lessen the importance of their deprivation,” said the poet Jack Gilbert. Happiness can be our weapon. Perhaps we can at least permit our own, sequestered joy.

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Fearless Teaching® is a “must-own” book for educators, administrators, parents, and every person who strives to make a positive difference in schooling and society!

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