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Direction is intelligence literature beside Radio Devon while they are in New York City presents the seventh program of the second series with Richard Lewis poet and teacher and leading authorities in the field of children's literature. At this time Mr. Pearce his guest is Herbert Cote de to and author of thirty six children issued by the new American Library. Mr. Cohen Mr. Lewis I heard in the first part of a two book discussion on teaching the unteachable. This is Richard Lewis. Today I'm going to be interviewing Herb Kohl on his recent book 36 children. I don't think it's every day that a book comes along which somehow reaches right down into the very truth of Firstly what children are all about. And secondly what a teacher is all about. And I think this book certainly does it. I'm going to be talking to her about a number of things that are contained within the book and to
sort of first give you a perspective about how this book was written and who Herb Cole is. Let me just say that Herb Cole was a teacher in the public schools of New York City working mostly up in the East Harlem area. And this book is a discussion a bringing together of his feelings his thoughts his reactions and very basically his deepest experience in working with in this particular case. Thirty six children in the sixth grade class. Herb I'd like to begin by simply delving into the book itself and asking you about one thing which you write right from the start I think is very clear about you as a teacher. You are in many respects an intuitive teacher. And you talk a great deal about intuitive teaching and the very fact that teachers can
make mistakes. I think a terribly important point. Could you sort of elaborate on exactly what it means first of all by being a teacher who makes mistakes. The value of making mistakes and what intuitive teaching is all about. I can't say exactly what teaching. Well the value of making this isn't is not going to the value of making mistakes I mean human beings make mistakes. The great discovery of one discovery that I made was that I could be a human being in the classroom and the value of making mistakes is is is it is a very you know it's very funny thing it's it means that you're really looking at what you're doing and you're looking at what happened with the kids and you're willing to say that either something works or doesn't work. It means that you don't have to follow and he said Planning get trapped into needing to move step by step along a given set pattern of it. If somehow a child doesnt acquire it you kind of accuse him of being a failure. You know it
changes the whole perspective of who's a failure in the class and what is failure in a classroom in the standard way of saying it is that the teacher presents a certain amount of material. Teacher present wisdom knowledge or wisdom know but knowledge but. Present knowledge. And if the child acquires in the child his success as a child doesn't acquire the child is a failure. No talk about the teacher being a failure to present anything relevant to the teacher being a failure to present anything in fact but rather parrot it. And I've found that it was very very important for me to to to be honest about the fact that often I said very stupid things often in the textbook but sometimes myself. Often I would end up in front of the classroom and found myself doing things that I did mostly to fill up time. Not not really. Not really to work with with the children and so I think that's the deeper failure that we have I mean is a simple failure in the sense of if we just make a blunder and say OK I'm sorry it's
wrong but the deepest failure is to pretend that we're teaching when in fact we're not teaching. That's not even our intent their intent is keep kids busy to keep them off our backs to keep them from bugging us and sense keep them from running. Let me just to sort of get you back a little bit further in terms of your realization of this particular aspect of teaching. What effect would this have on the particular group of children that you speak of in the book. When they realized that you were a human being what was your first they didn't believe me. First as I was playing some kind of court game with them I mean if I said I was wrong I must have been trying to trick them into something to give them. Another you know Yet another way of proving that they were. When they finally realized that I was very serious about the fact that I didn't make mistakes and didn't have any need to hide from them what the kids did was that they started talking about their own mistakes and they started talking about themselves and then
they started doing something which is very funny they start asking me about my private lives something the teachers usually hold away from the kids. And what I've begun to realize about those they want to know about music. And at that moment I was in one of a whole series of steps and stages I guess that I've changed as I've gone through when the kids started asking me about myself as a as a person. My immediate reaction was to say that's not your business. That's not my role here I'm a teacher not the person for you to to bother Besides you going to use those things against me you know you can use my name to make fun of and other things and I finally decided not to look at this look at what I'm being look at what I'm becoming look at the role the mask I'm taking So I said you know answer the kids questions directly. Because one question leads to another. And then when I ask the kids questions they answer to yes. If you're just speaking something occurred to me. I think I will. It seems to me one of the problems in teaching has been the word teacher. Yeah yeah
it's first of all always somehow has the connotation of having a capital-T next to it. Secondly it also has the implication that teacher means one who must teach. And in terms of what you were just saying that obviously that there has to be a reinterpretation I think of what the word teacher means I think this comes through very definitely in your book that you are not basically in the old sense of the term a teacher. Yeah well I also basically don't have the same image of what children are which I think is what the redefinition of what a teacher has to be has to deal with. Kind of looking again at children and finding out who children are and what learning means that one worries too much about teaching and too little about learning and one of the things that became really very important for me in the classroom was to see how children learned and not how I taught them and the effect that I had on them. One thing is that I've noticed that if you listen to teachers talk in in the
lunch room when they talk to each other you get some very interesting things. We don't keep those kids busy or never learn anything. Our kids are fundamentally lazy. You know we can't get them to work. They hate to do this over you know. And the image presented is that if we adults weren't somehow servicing these kids they would be stagnant. They wouldn't do anything. And I that's that's obviously a lie. And maybe what it means is that. That they won't do what we want them to do. You hear all in all a lot of people talk about the problem of motivation and you know how do we motivate the kids you hear about this a lot in special ed talk about ghetto kids. How can we motivate them. My feeling is that there's no such thing as a problem of motivation what people mean when they say how can we motivate the means. How can we get them to do what we want them to do. That's a whole different story. My experience has been that. We're looking at that I have a common contact with have been motivated and it's a question of how we destroy their motivation how we twist it
into something else and not you know there's no there is no need. As I was saying to motivate anyone right there's something you speak of in the book which obviously has been bugging Most teachers who get into the ghetto schools. They come in as you came in the day out into the schools with a very definite idealistic point of view and wanting in a sense to teach to help and they get in after a week they are absolutely discouraged by what they have seen by the children's behavior. It all then comes under the heading of discipline. We spend as they say most of our time being policemen and babysitters. Now in your book you do mention and I think this is a point which I'd like you to to elaborate again on the whole problem of discipline and our misinterpretation of the word discipline. Let me just start with that. Those guys who come in to help which I guess I was one of their I kid want to be a teacher than the help of the teacher in whatever sense you want like
we were. I've seen kids I've seen teachers at a certain point come in as you said with a great deal of enthusiasm a great deal of idealism as a situation in the classroom begins to disintegrate as the kids begin to take more and more liberties and as the teacher begins to respond and get angry and anger and suppress anger because he's a good liberal and you can't you know display your anger and take it internally and stand by in a kind of helpless passive stance as the kids grow up. I've seen moments when teachers say look I'm here to help you and the kids. Everyone saw a kid look up and say you helped me come on. And I think that's very important. You know what the whole helping role is it is a phony role. And and one doesn't have to look very carefully what people mean by helping other people is it really meeting their own needs and not the not the needs of the kids and can they in fact meet the kids needs or do they have to provide a
situation in which the kids are freed to meet their own needs and display what their own needs are. I go further so I don't think there is a any such thing as a discipline problem. I think that there are problems with teachers but in a good classroom from the very first minute that one is there and the kids understand the terms in which things are taking place and that it is a place where they can be honest with they can function as as human beings. There's no problem because the relationship. So there's only a so-called discipline problem when the relationship between the teacher and the children is not a human one but where there's a question of a struggle for power and authority. We want one factor was defined as right and good the teacher and the others whenever they defy or defined as bad. There's no flexibility in that situation. And therefore one inevitably runs into conflicts which cannot be resolved except violently. Like imperialism. Yes and if I may say one word that seems to come through again in listening to you is that although
we're separated by 300 years we are still under the. The shackles of a puritanical concept of job of children. Absolutely that that even though progressive education in quotes has supposedly made a breakthrough and define children in the doing. Do we ask terms of individuals. We still thank circlet. Unfortunately think of children in this very puritanical way that they on the other side of the fence. We the authority are on the opposite side and they don't know what we know. Your discourse one of the reasons for trouble in the classroom is that any kid looking around the world they live in can see the Apocrypha of any adult in this society stand up and say we know I mean we don't know how to clean our air and clean the water and maintain our cities and destroy you know racial hatred and and this is very much always lurking in the classroom to my mind always the kids awareness of the realities of many many conditions of life even very young kids and the blatant
lies that they are told by the adults who confront them about the way the world do. Well I think a perfect example of that is when you speak about the textbooks at the well that you had to use. In fact one statement that the children had to read United States is a modern a modern country is how we became modern America. Yes you're right and they look outside their windows in the school and. Right is a question mark obviously in them and yet the question is never answered. We see in it what if one looks at that situation and looks at whatever people call the problem in ghetto schools. I mean think about the position that the child is put in by that textbook and by the kinds of questions they are asked. How did we become a modern America. First of all what is modern America. It's a very fine equal clean society with opportunity for everybody. Now you start asking the kids what is modern America and teachers like to have chest checklists and you give the kids you know free equal except you etc. and you're
forcing them into a position where they either laugh at you or lie to themselves or lie to you. In other words there's no way in that situation which they can be honest without becoming defiant. There's an interesting category in the New York City schools by the way what they call socially disturbed children used to have a class category of schools 600 schools which are from nationally and socially disturbed children I'd like to know what a socially disturbed child is in in the kids who I've seen or been referred to 600 schools in an elementary school it means a kid who's too big to be controlled effectively by the teachers. A kid who scares the teachers and the kid who therefore is a threat in the school and is put into what I would consider an untenable position. I've said something a lot of people that don't think I'm serious but I really I do believe that under certain circumstances the pathology of the ghetto children ghetto classroom that that children are driven mad by teachers. Because in that context only the teacher can be
sane and only the teacher can be right. And I've seen children be sent to schools designated for disturbed children who in other contexts in the classrooms were perfectly fine and perfectly capable capable of functioning and instead of looking at the pathology either in the teacher in the classroom they just put it on the kid. Yes this is interesting in terms of comment you did you made in the book about your overhearing teachers refer to children as animals and then you're I think very brilliant rebuttal of that as far as the animal world. I wonder if you could just. Yeah. Well the final cry of desperation I think in the classroom when when the teacher feels a real sense of loss of control and this really loss of control of himself or herself. And it's not loss of control of the children since the control may never have been gained in the first place. If that's at all possible anyway and the teacher will yell at the kids that they're animals and the teachers will say to each other these kids are animals
we can't teach them in. What occurred to me is I know a little bit about animals not much but animals live very orderly and structured lives animals have societies and have relations with each other which are had quite civilized. That that out I'm also not what these people think of. That is I don't know of any animal that is out of control in a totally chaotic unable to control themselves unable to maintain any discipline or just what to function effectively no animal could possibly survive under those circumstances and so the only thing that it could possibly mean to me is when teachers say that they're talking about their own fears. That means animal to them is what they think of the children as being no living creature is that way. I've seen some very sad things. I've known some kids from I guess the time they were born to the time that they ended kindergarten in ghetto schools. I've known these kids as very active valuable intelligent kids kids who almost learned to read from
television who are very very open with people who come into their houses as people are welcomed into the houses and I've seen them go into kindergarden and to shop. Just totally clam up when that white teacher with a fist clenches tells them. All right stand up sit down. Move this way move that way get on line and line up and and the kid will really even at the age of 5 begin to rebel and begin to become closed and tight and an learn many things that they've learned before and they will go back home and for the most part will be fine. Yes the the final home to pieces and lessons and becoming much more honest and really finding a greater need to. To be publicly defined yes. One of the things you were talking about which I thought again was very important was the the
role of the teacher as in front of that classroom which either very openly says or subtly is saying look this is what you're looking at a model of success. And this is what you must someday become. And I think in a way talking about that child walk into that kindergarten class even that young child perhaps may have felt that immediately that the pressure of success and failure already by the time that child was five years old was already the seed of its being been implanted. Yeah. Unfortunately that's true. I think you know and unfortunately every time people seek for solutions there they're looking for other things to do to the children and they're not looking at the fundamental causes I think of the Union United Federation of Teachers plan for the change in the more effective schools and you know the what their solution are fewer kids in the classroom. Now for example and more services and more expect
you know more. Resource teachers as they would call it my feeling is that God fewer kids in the classroom with those teachers. That means that this teacher has more of an access to individual children. And I mean that that's going to create even more trouble not less and of course it's likely borne out by the fact that the more effective schools are not particularly successful according to the evaluation the Center for Urban Education did and you know one has to ask why I'm in the center is not a very daring organization so that it wouldn't go into this whole question of why does this thing fail the union won't dare face it and I think the only people who face it are some black people in the home community who says obviously that these teachers just just are not the people who want to be with our children. Yes and I think that. You know the teachers have to do an awful lot of soul searching and be awfully honest with themselves to admit that they're failing. Yeah. What I haven't been able to understand maybe I was too young is how these people can go on year after year and continue to fail year after year and be so satisfied with themselves be
able somehow to justify their work on a woman who taught in the school I taught at who retired after I think 30 years in the system and who was said at the party given her that she was very very proud of her work. She said in 30 years all of the kids in all of her classes had complete dental records their teeth were perfect. And she did she was right she lined them up and she forced them to go to the dentist. That was fine but in her classroom they drooled. It's again this this incredible placement of order in the minds of a teacher in other words that that success is equated with water. If you can if you can attain order within the classroom if you can have an orderly appearance both in the children and the room itself that is a sign that as far as the teacher is concerned the children are learning. You know you know how deep that goes though it's very strange I've found myself to have a young baby and I and sometimes when she's
crying it kind of gets on my nerves. And sometimes when she's quiet it is very nice to have a peace in the house and I find myself saying she's a good baby when she's not crying when or when she goes to sleep. Why is I good I mean well it means you see it as it's convenient for me and it protects me from a lot of things and makes the world fit more the way I would like it to be than the way she would like it to be and I found myself making these moral judgments from the very beginning of that that child is born saying that sleep is good at certain times that silence is good. That you know she's a good baby and she eats. I mean what's what's good about it but we say this it's so ingrained in the very very way in which we think about the world and in moralistic terms and and in fact the way in which our morals are not really moral in any way. Human humane sounds but are a very egocentric Yes and look how distant and extraordinarily distant This concept is from from what learning really is all about. Yeah particularly with these type of children. So I think it's the same for all kids.
Yes see I would would contend that these type of children just just isn't even a meaningful concept. I think the kind of things that I was doing in my classroom I did because of the only way it could work not only in my classroom but in any classroom if I was to maintain my own humanity through the kids. True now I'd like to be heard and started to minister to rupture but there's one thought that I want to get onto before we get to when they need it. Is that in trying to and I we haven't yet mentioned this word in trying in a sense to establish communication between yourself and those children right. Certain things had to happen in that classroom before that communication began. And in the book you describe how the one of the things that started the ball rolling in this direction was a chart of the Patterson fight that you happen to put up. Could you just tell us what happened in that
particular instance. Well what it was is that I was trying this is when I started teaching I did I guess what most teachers did I imitated my own teachers. Then I would stand up in front of the class with a textbook in my hand and you know ask the kids to respond and make a kind of unilateral thing it was me and the kids and the kids and me and there's no real exchange between kids and each other and all I mean it was it was the most ordinary classroom and I was getting bored and I was sensing the kid's restlessness it was about the time of the Patterson Liston fight. And the kids just came into the class just to live with excitement I mean it was a moral issue the good man against the bad man and some people like the bad men and some people like the good men. And so I had to I guess I was pretty excited about it too but I don't see any reason to talk about in the classroom after it would be a waste of time. You know teachers have certain sense of what time is wasted my time isn't wasted which is you know it's not a waste of time to write spelling words 10 times each. But it is a waste of time to talk about something that excites you and excites the kids.
But I decided to talk about the palace and Liston fight and I remember in the New York Times that they've given a rundown on Patterson enlisted in terms of height weight biceps the whole thing in the bottom they talked about the gate receipts an amount of money that each fighter was going to make from and the percentage of the cut and so I just put it up put up the whole chart on the board because it seemed like it was exciting I had no real this what I mean by intuitive teaching I had not planned this. But at the same time it fit into what was necessary at that moment in the classroom and so I used it and then I don't know exactly how I was going to use it. So what I did was that I waited for the kids to tell me how to use it because I became very excited about things like what percentage of the gate how much money just 40 percent of the gate mean and here's a great puzzle. The kids don't know what 40 percent of the gate man but they really wanted to know. They wanted to know what ancillary rights were and things of this sort and the things they learned there they didn't forget. People say here is No. There are two phrases that I just picked up Korean speaking
they came to the classroom just alive with excitement and just alive. I think that's again a marvelous key to this whole business of what learning is all about. The very fact that they were alive with what was on their minds. And the other one is when you speak of the. They are wanting to know. A phrase I think a key to learning the most used to get to children wanted to know not that they had to know this just right but they wanted to know and you know the fundamental thing is the children don't want to know. Even if even most of the things that we want to teach them they want to know but they may not want to know them when we want them to know them. It seems to me I've discovered that kids really want to understand what the worlds are all about. Not only that but they want to understand how they can play with the world that we often forget that one of the most you know kids would like to turn everything into play and so would we see if
we could turn our work into play. It makes our work at the greatest pleasure in our lives. And I know people always say well you start talking about play that way but this thing about serious discipline and the question of really learning how to do these things and you've got to drill in more. But you know people who play baseball teach themselves how to play baseball they go through the discipline people who want to do something and want to play with it and play well. And I think children want to play well. You have to learn how to play well and that it's not such a pain or such or such a problem. And it's also relating their learning to themselves or to their own environment or to what they know. But you see that present some very curious things. Not every child is going to want to know the same thing at the same moment as you know other children in the classroom and this is one of the things that I think the teachers of frightened with. It seems much more work to have a very open classroom with many children doing many different things at the same time
you know simultaneously. And it also means that textbooks and lesson plans and all of these things are somewhat irrelevant since you don't know what children are going to want to know in any given time nor how much know when they're going to want to change. So we have a whole wrong paradigm of learning in the classroom this goes in with the idea that you set out the premises and then you move logically from the premises to the conclusion step by step. You know going following all the steps is the way we design the things that we ask the kids to confront in the classroom. Perfect sitting I may interrupt you just here. I'd like to have this program continued next week. And I was wondering if we could just end on that particular point of the misconception we have of learning per se and continue next week with this particular problem. Thank you. You've been listening to Richard Lewis and Herbert coach teacher and author of thirty six children published by The New American Library on the topic of teaching the unteachable the first part of a two part discussion. Mr. Lewis is the author of four volumes of poetry
for children most recently miracles a collection of poetry by children published by Simon and Schuster. And out of the earth I sing the poetry of primitive peoples issued by W. W. Norton and company for a free summary of this program. Writer W. of the art department B New York New York 1 0 0 2 7. Please enclose a stamp self-addressed and with it. This is been directions in children's literature. The seventh in a series of 12 programs with Richard Lewis and leading authorities in the field of children's literature. At this time next week teaching the unteachable to directions in children's literature is produced by Richard Lewis and Cyril Peters for WRVO at the FM station of the Riverside Church in New York City. This program was distributed by the national educational radio network.
Directions in children's literature
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Chicago: “Directions in children's literature; 7,” 1969-01-27, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 29, 2024,
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APA: Directions in children's literature; 7. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from