Famous American photographer Gordon Parks, is the person who is most associated with the term “the learning tree”. In 1969 (I believe) he directed a movie by the same name. More on the learning tree further down the page.
First a few of my pix.
My first two images below, are both archetypal of the American West. They are at the same time dissimilar. First we see the sand desert in Whites Sands New Mexico, in afternoon light, and then a reflective early morning image of a mountain, in Yellowstone N. P., Wyoming. Each carries with it its own terrain and mood, yet each says the American West.
This is a scene that many people in the U.S. are familiar with this winter. Even if you live in Georgia or Louisiana. One of my favorite things to do has always been composing trees, whether they are wearing their autumn glory, or are covered with the snows of winter. Special places like we saw in our first two images are great, but just the right amount of snow, or autumn flavor, or the right kind of light can make any place special.
The Learning Tree
As battles continue across America as to what is and what isn’t the job of public education, we find that 25% of all Americans believe that the sun orbits around the earth. I know for a fact, that a small portion of Americans think that the earth is flat. Take that Columbus! On the positive side we do know that some pupils in each class do graduate knowing how to read. Keep teaching those kids your social opinions and who to vote for….I’m sure we will be okay.
When I taught workshops, very often my favorite students were under the age of 16. Particularly during the digital era. In some cases they initially didn’t even want to be there. It often only took a few minutes to teach a young person how to mechanically create an image. I would do a small amount of coaching and a little work on basic composition and then on to freeing up the way they looked at things. The first time they made a good image I would ask them to review it, and then scroll back to their first couple of images. I would compliment them and make sure they knew that it was they who created that image, not me. The light “upstairs” would go on, and I had an attentive and engaged student ready and eager to learn the rest of the day. Ultimately they were fulfilled and so was I. The only thing better than learning is helping someone else to learn.
Much like a school teacher I got paid for my workshops whether I was successful or not. Sometimes I was and sometimes I wasn’t. I still struggle today with guilt over those times when I failed. I vowed that when the day came that a workshop was about me, or about “only” the money, or that my communication skills would fail me, or any combination of those three things occurred, I would quit. That is exactly what I did.
I used the above example because it is the only first hand experience I have as a teacher. Of course like all of you, I also have experience as a student. I would never suggest that teaching workshops is in any way on a level with or as important as being a school teacher.
My hopes of a higher education were dashed when I oh so wisely opted for a teenage marriage instead. Notice I did not say my “dreams” were dashed. I cannot say that higher education was ever a dream of mine. Just the same, I did receive a fine education from our public school system.
In the area where I grew up, our primary education was divided up k-6, 7-9, and 10-12. Three different public schools and three different educations.
The grammar school I attended deserved an award for their educational excellence. Of course at the time I am quite sure I did not know how good they were. I would imagine the parents merely felt they were doing their job. They were.
This was a public school that stood on its own. It was not connected to the rest of the public schools in the area, which was called the Unified School District. They were not a part of the new teacher’s union that represented the other schools in the county. They did things their way, and worked things out amongst themselves, the administrators, and the parents. No, we the students were not consulted, but we were on their minds. Like any school, our teachers were all different. Some taught with discipline, some taught with understanding, but they all cared. We were taught science. We were told which was theory and which was fact. We pledged allegiance to our flag every day, and did so using the word God. We were of all religions or lack there of, yet I am quite sure nobody believed anything but good would come from that statement of allegiance. We were told what to do, and usually we did it. If we didn’t there was a price to pay. Just like in life. There were no sexual perverts that I know of. If there was, it didn’t work its way into the classroom. There was a trust between teachers, parents and students. Teachers seemed to know that school was not the place where they could fulfill whatever whim made them feel good. They had a job and they did it well.
Moving on the Junior High School (7-9) was a culture shock. I am sure that when any child realizes they will have six different teachers a day, instead of one, your life and your relationship with your teacher (s) will change. I was now a part of the Unified School District. The education continued to be overall excellent. There were many fine teachers here. The attitude was admittedly just a little different. Teachers might have disagreements with administrators about who had to stay late, or who had to take over another class today. This was the first time I heard a teacher use the phrase “it’s not my job”. Still the education was extremely adequate.
In High School everything was different. We were growing up and the good that came from within us was better, and the bad was worse. The same for the teachers. I met some of the best educators, and most thought-provoking people here. I was getting a preview of college. The good, the bad, and the ugly. This was the first time I had a teacher tell me what I had to think, concerning politics. He seemed to be campaigning. This was the first time I saw lazy teachers. I had an economics teacher who would greet us in class with pages of text to read. He would leave and come back in 20 minutes and give a “grueling” five question test on what we read. He would leave again. Yes he left the class unattended while we took a test, and returned at the end of the class to collect the papers. That was it. Every day.
With all of the ups and downs, I am grateful for the public education I received. I could probably pass some college exams with my grammar school education alone. There are still thousands of good public school teachers today, we just need to tell the rest, that school is actually not about them. Indoctrination is not a substitute for education. Your opinions will always be a part of your teaching, but learn that those opinions should not be the focus of that teaching. If you want to simply go through the motions, just enough to fulfill the stipulations of your union contract, please find a job in a factory. Tenure can be a dirty word. If you have sexual fantasies of young girls or boys, whether you yourself are a man or a woman, please seek help and find another profession.
I am not suggesting that everything was perfect “back in the day”, or that we never need to change. The problem is that we throw the good out with the bad. In fact we throw the good out first. Corrections will always need to be made, we just need people who have the motivation to educate first, to make those decisions. You can be so fair, that you are unfair. You can be so concerned with political correctness, that you kill common sense.
Honest doctors/scientists will tell you, that even before we are officially born we begin the learning process. It is a journey that should never end. That process is indeed like an enormous tree that has to be scaled one branch at a time. The goal is to savor every step, but to never reach to the top of “the learning tree”. There should always be a few more branches to climb.
Thank you for stopping at earth Images, Wayne