My grandfather used to bring cold lemonade and a homemade sandwich to the plains outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico where he grew up. The small lunch was the offering to his teacher, an old Mexican rancher who once rode with Pancho Villa, for lessons on everything cowboy. The old man would tell him the stories, teach him how to work the horses and cattle, and, my grandfather’s favorite: let him ride the horses.
One day, as my grandfather, or Poppie as I call him, was putting the saddle on a horse, it turned quickly and kicked him right in the kneecap. I remember Poppie telling me the story and still wincing with the memory of the pain. The pain in his voice would grow even deeper when he got to the part where the old rancher punished the horse, as Poppie always was a lover of animals – especially horses. But then, as always, came the lesson. The next day, the old rancher made sure that Poppie saddled up and rode that same horse.
Always, no matter what, keep trying.
I was in Karhuacalla last week where the students are finishing a lesson based on the traditional house building methods and customs. They learned about native and foreign plants and animals related to building materials and food served during the activities; they learned about traditional techniques and why things are/were built in specific ways; they used language skills and math to plan the materials needed, set the specs for the build, structure meaningful interviews with community elders, and assign responsibilities among themselves for the build. But their model houses didn’t completely fit with the criteria they had established as “well built.”
So they tried again.
And on the second try, they had the opportunity to evaluate again what was done well and what needed improvement. They could compare, rethink, and rework. The second house came out beautifully, fulfilling all the requirements, and reinforcing the academics, cultural knowledge, and value-based practice that are always the goals of our lessons.
Now imagine an exam in a regular school: one try, one grade, and you move on. Where is the deep learning? Where is the evaluation? Where are the problem-solving skills? At what point do kids learn the real lesson: to always, no matter what, keep trying and to help each other succeed?
Learning is a process of attempts and do-overs. The old rancher knew it, and the kids in Alma projects know it too.