“Sesame Street” first aired in 1969. I was born in 1971. We’re practically twins.
As I grew up watching the show, I was particularly drawn to the characters Bert and Ernie. In many ways, they were as different as they could be. Ernie’s short, broad head and horizontal stripes conveyed happiness from first sight. Bert’s long, narrow head, vertical stripes and bushy eyebrows practically triple-dog-dared you to like anything about him.
But no matter what life threw at them, they handled it and came out better on the other side.
Here are five important lessons about learning that I got from Bert and Ernie.
5) Bert and Ernie respect each other’s differences. Bert and Ernie are different in a lot of ways, but they know they can still be friends .
And did you ever notice anything different about Ernie’s and Bert’s hands? “Ernie is a Live-Hand Muppet (unlike Bert, who is a Hand-Rod Muppet), meaning that while operating the head of the puppet with his right hand, the puppeteer inserts his left hand into a T-shaped sleeve, capped off with a glove that matches the fabric “skin” of the puppet, thus “becoming” the left arm of the puppet. A second puppeteer usually provides the right arm, although sometimes the right arm is simply stuffed and pinned to the puppet’s chest.” – Muppet Wiki
4) Bert and Ernie learn together, through their differences. When Bert and Ernie see or do the same thing in different ways, they talk about it. And when they combine their unique perspectives and talents, great new things emerge (like combining boring ol’ bread with sticky ol’ peanut butter)!
3) Bert and Ernie get on each other’s nerves. And that’s perfectly okay. A few tight-lipped grumbles aren’t enough to cause them to abandon each other. They address the situation themselves, without someone swooping in to save the day for them.
2) Bert and Ernie could “go solo” when they wanted or needed to. Two of their most iconic songs are Ernie’s “Rubber Duckie” and Bert’s “Doin’ the Pigeon”. They were able to do something great on their own when called upon, and it was about something they really loved.
1) Bert and Ernie allowed others to learn and play with them, too. I was so jealous of Shola Lynch getting to spend time with Bert and Ernie. Even with the seemingly perfect dynamic that Bert and Ernie have going, they aren’t isolated from the rest of the Sesame Street community! Sometimes you see Bert without Ernie, or Ernie without Bert, or you see someone else along with Bert and Ernie! The interactions change because of the “personality” of the characters, but they are always Bert and Ernie.
Twiddlebugs and Bottle Caps. Rubber Ducky and Oatmeal. Drums and Pigeons. Practical Jokes and Paper Clips. Hard to imagine one without the other.
My friends do something very important for me. They make me think.
Beyond that, they challenge me to formalize my thoughts into coherent messages. This is what happened on Monday, March 10, during the weekly #OHEdChat twitter chat.
We were discussing “learning”. Yes, that’s right, “learning”. Sean Wheeler (teachinghumans.com) made an excellent observation about learning being sparked by a) utility, b) curiosity, and/or c) whimsy. My graduate school friends would say that means we learn through what is useful, unexplored, and/or interesting.
I thoroughly agree with that observation, but it does just tell one side of the story. These sparks can tell us a lot about the motivation to learn, but that is not where the journey ends. It is not enough to want to learn. The resources to support learning must be accessible.
Professor Douglas Biklin won the UNESCO/Emir Jaber al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah Prize to promote Quality Education for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities in 2012. His work focuses on providing equitable access for all students, regardless of labels such as socio-economic status and disability.
Can you explain the concept of “presuming competence” and how it relates to inclusive education?
When Anne Sullivan first worked with Helen Keller, she approached her with the presumption that she was competent, that Helen’s problem emanated from her not having an effective means of communication. Even before Anne began to work with Helen, there was evidence of her desire to communicate—she used pantomime to show her interest in making ice cream or wanting toast with butter. But it was Anne’s introduction of spelling and words that proved liberating for Helen.The principle of “presuming competence,” is simply to act as Anne Sullivan did. Assume that a child has intellectual ability, provide opportunities to be exposed to learning, assume the child wants to learn and assert him or herself in the world. To not presume competence is to assume that some individuals cannot learn, develop, or participate in the world. Presuming competence is nothing less than a Hippocratic oath for educators. It is a framework that says, approach each child as wanting to be fully included, wanting acceptance and appreciation, wanting to learn, wanting to be heard, wanting to contribute. By presuming competence, educators place the burden on themselves to come up with ever more creative, innovative ways for individuals to learn. The question is no longer who can be included or who can learn, but how can we achieve inclusive education. We begin by presuming competence.
Every educator realizes at some point that it is not enough to merely want all students to learn. It is likewise not enough to believe that every student wants to learn. Students must have available the necessary resources, tools, and skills to facilitate the mechanics of learning.
Problem is, our foxes are being tested on how many grapes they’ve eaten. And instead of putting the grapes where the fox can get them, we conclude that if the fox were hungry enough, he’d find a way to get the grapes on his own.
Lifelong learners have both a strong motivation to learn and a firm grasp on the mechanics of acquiring and applying new information. They have both the spark and the fuel that results in a roaring fire for learning.
If we hope to produce lifelong learners, we must attend to both of these essential factors. We must protect and develop each student’s innate curiosity and desire to learn, and we must foster and support the development of appropriate, practical skills for all students to access the general curriculum.
If the next Helen Keller registered for your class tomorrow, could she learn there? She has the motivation. Are you supporting her in developing the mechanics?