Sunday, May 27, 2012

Kids as Geniuses

I received quite a few interesting comments on my last post. Thanks.Here are some of the comments:

From Sensei Mel:
“Your observations on how people teach and communicate are so, on point! As you observed, many teachers don't communicate their thoughts clearly, especially to children. When teaching children, I tend to become a child, in thought. I've seen teachers, not just in the dojo, where they speak in vocabulary words way beyond the comprehension of young children. When I bring up a word, let's say like, "noble." I asked them their perception of what the word means. Then we take it from there. The one pet peeve I have when it comes to teaching, is my intolerance for sarcasm. I really don't find a place for it in teaching both children and adults. It undermines our goals for virtues. It can cause confusion in commands being given, as well as ideas and concepts. Worst of all, you really don't want children emulating that behavior being learned in the dojo. When we keep our karate and our concepts "pure" in the way we teach them, it shows in the way the advanced kyus teach it to the beginners.”
It is literally impossible for these little guys to be as big as Sensei Harrison. He is a great example of bringing karate to their level.
 I whole-heartedly agree with Sensei Mel. In a course I published a little over a decade ago, I said (and still stand by) in 10 years 90% of the kids we teach will have left the dojo and forgotten a large percentage of the technology we taught them. But they will never forget you (or me), the teacher. We represent so much more than an influence. Try to go back to the beginning of your training and think of how you saw your Sensei. Some adjectives that seem on point are talented, powerful, dangerous yet patient, and indefatigable. Many people who read this blog may still idolize their Sensei, while others have traveled far beyond that and have grown to love their teacher as a person; idiosyncrasies and human foibles included. If you aren't a Martial Artist in training, think of the character of teachers you admire. No matter what your individual experience,  your teacher's opinion matters. When we are off-handed, condescending, or just plain rude, it affects students in ways we may not realize. Another maxim that I included in that first course all those years ago is this:
“Your students will become what you are, not what you tell them to become.”

This brings me to the feedback from Sensei Mark S. He is a principal in a school in FL. He sent a quote they use in his school by a man named John Herner:
“If a child doesn't know how to read... we teach.
If a child doesn't know how to swim... we teach.
If a child doesn't know how to multiply... we teach.
If a child doesn't know how to behave... we punish (rarely works).”
Interesting, don’t you think? Again, I’d like to add some comments:
I’m not advocating no punishment. I’ve talked about win-win / repetition / choices et al in many posts. Read back or write me and I’ll send you the links. Here is a short version: If I want my kids to be able to hold still, I need to be able to hold still. (I often laugh with my students about how hard this one is!)
1.      How handy is balance and forethought in dealing with behavior?
2.      If I constantly tell someone that they are useless, they will definitely agree with me and fulfill that reality. (Fill in untalented, rude, weak, or stupid where I wrote useless.)
3.      Conversely, I have seen children grow from gawky, uncoordinated pre-teens into very talented black belts. Black belts that will achieve the ultimate compliment to their teacher and rise to greatness that I have not achieved. I have also see kids pass on through the rude stage, the not listening stage, the can’t keep their hands to their self stage….all because I didn’t give up on them.
I talk (1 on 1) about behavior.
4.      So much of a karate teacher’s job is to repeat something in a voice that makes it sound fresh and then wait for the student to make that concept their own.
Now to finish by addressing the idea that we need kids to see themselves as they really are, use tough love, and make them tow the line. Those of you, who know me, may be surprised to find that I agree with this! The only stipulation I want to add is this: Does it all have to happen at the same time, on the same day, to every person. Is it a huge weakness to let the discombobulated child think that I see talent hidden there and have the patience to wait for it to surface?
If I continue to punish Johnny for interrupting class with unrelated comments, but leave out the humiliating references, and always give him plenty of chances to get it right, if I notice when he does get it right by walking by and saying “I saw that you wanted to make a joke and you held it in. Way to go!” Is that weak teaching skill, or individualizing my teaching skill?
If I have a child who can’t hold his hands and legs still and those hands and legs constantly hit his neighbor and I say “I know you’re really trying so I have good news and bad news: The good news is no push-ups for you. The bad news is I forgot to bow just now so I’m going to do 25 push-ups.” (Therefore we’re all doing 25 push-ups!) And as we do them I joke and tease the class about how strong we’re getting. 
I do push-ups with the class.
Isn’t there a chance that, instead of giving them “My way of the highway” ultimatums or worse, ignoring them and through that making them realize their insignificance, keeping those kids in training will potentially create a strong, dynamic, capable, and diverse generation of karateka?

I’m going to slip in two quotes from Albert Einstein here:
“It’ is almost a miracle that modern teaching methods have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiousity of inquiry; for what this delicate little plant needs more than anything, besides stimulation, is freedom
Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."
— Albert Einstein
Sometimes my mind becomes overwhelmed at the thought of what teachers of an internal martial art actually do. Adult students and parents trust us to have the technology and character to judge them, and using that as a basis, help them reinvent themselves as strong, willful, patient warriors.

I’m going to finish with the feedback Sensei Andrew wrote me about the tone of voice post:
“…in Karate class. I put on some music and then I conduct the entire class in a non-verbal way. I start with exercises, but instead of calling out “50 jumping jacks” I simply start doing jumping jacks in time with the music and everyone follows. To stop an exercise I make a giant [keoske] gesture and then commence with another exercise. Each time I want to start something else I come to [keoske]. My music changes and I change with it moving from exercises to blocking to kata and I never say a word.
Kids enjoying a musical workout.
 The first time I did this I discovered something very interesting. At our 6pm class for the youngest kids I didn’t have to say anything at all. At 7pm the next age kids needed only a word or two along the way but in the adult class I needed to speak quite a bit to keep people from just doing whatever they wanted. I attribute this phenomenon to kids being willing to suspend their free will more easily than adults who know everything. The adults didn’t instinctively follow like the kids.
I had about 40 minutes of music that played continuously and the class never stopped. At the end I put on some Led Zeppelin and we sparred. The only downside was that after conducting 3 back to back to back classes like this I was physically exhausted, but it was well worth it. Everyone enjoyed it and it’s something I plan on doing regularly at our dojo.”  
Thank YOU Sensei Andrew, for reiterating something I agree exists…..the kids will put themselves completely in our hands and with that comes a great responsibility to teach with care, dignity and grace. Thanks goes out to ALL people who try to do it.