Broken Bell Education in Israel - Wash the Dishes

Broken bell classroom
Broken bell classroom

"A Philistine giant measuring over nine feet tall and wearing full armor, came out each day for forty days, mocking and challenging the Israelites to fight. His name was Goliath." The problem with much of schooling today is that we have all too often been transformed into Goliath's. Every time we use our position of power to force students to submit to our wishes, we are calling them out to bicker or brawl.  There is a better strategy.

It goes like this:  "While washing the dishes, one should only be washing the dishes."

As Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen master, and chairman of the Vietnamese Buddhist Peace Delegation during the Vietnam war War, discusses in his book, The Miracle of Mindfulness, A Manual on Meditation, one should be completely present in the moment. He recalls that as a novice monk, he had the unpleasant task of washing the dishes for sometimes well over one hundred monks, often in the winter with freezing cold water.  How did he manage to keep his cool?

At first glance, it might seem so silly: why put so much stress on a simple thing?  But that's precisely the point.  The fact that I am conscious of my presence, thoughts and actions in the moment, there's no way I can be tossed around mindlessly like a bottle slapped here and there on the waves.

When a classroom is unruly, and the deck is stacked against a lone adult, there is a natural tendency to be drawn to the fire by adding more fuel. As a result, the classroom environment becomes at best noxious and no platform becomes available for real learning to take place.  Using your power to try and control students only fans the flames and fails to address the underlying cause of the lack of discipline.  It's a lose-lose situation.

Ever tried to stifle a band of 7th grade banshees by screaming for quiet, only to feel some muscle in your lower groin pull?  The next moment you are sitting in the teachers' room, berating yourself for endangering your fitness routine for a lousy 35 shekels and hour.

Just wash the dishes.  Wait for quiet.  Be the mirror for the children.  Show them exactly how you want them to behave.  It works.

Jugglers will tell you that the most difficult audience is children because they don't listen to what you say; rather they look at what you do.  Doesn't make much sense to be bellowing at the top of your lungs for QUIET!  And corporal punishment?  All of us have seen the occasional parent hitting their child for acting aggressively towards a younger brother or sister.  What's the message being transmitted to the child?

Through mindfulness, you are present in the moment to model what the students are precisely unable to do for themselves. Send your questions or comments for discussion.  Next column I will discuss lateral thinking in the classroom.

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3 comment

Glenn Horvath5 year, 11 month ago

Dave , this reminds me of that zen guy we saw in Pennsylvania...Focus, focus..! I think kids know if you generally care about them or are only in it for the money.

Nita Reguer5 year, 11 month ago

Dave, it's been tried and can succeed with a lot of patience. I like the zen approach but sometimes it's too time consuming. Nice attitude though.

David Siegel5 year, 11 month ago

I agree Nita that patience is very difficult to apply in the classroom. But I have to tell you that when I took the risk of waiting for quiet (not to mention accompanied by a look of disgust, removal of glasses, etc.) eventually the class quieted themsleves down. Initially I was quite worried about losing time on the lesson. However as the students got to know me and internalized the message, it was effective. It's taking those first few lessons and risking. Of course this doesn't work with every class, but many, in my experience. Thanks for your comment! All the best, David