I am Peter Ivan Poutiatine. I read and write and study and think – mostly about people, nature, and education. What else is there, really? Subject, context, meaning. I think school can be different. And it should be. My reasoning is the ongoing content of this blog.
I am an educator with a commitment to improving schools, schooling, and education for all students. I believe that real improvement in education will take remaking schooling as a societal institution to serve a changed set of societal needs. Mainstream schooling was intentionally designed in the 19th century to meet the particular needs of an emerging industrial economy – and for most of the 20th century it worked. It launched and supported industrialism, enabled the emergence of a world-class tech sector, and allowed a country of people to flourish – mostly. No small feat.
Our economy is shifting again – and schooling, which raises the human capital needed to grow and succeed, must shift with it. Otherwise, we will be faced with a problematic mismatch between what our people can do and what our economy requires. Some say we are already there. I believe that we are witnessing broad, deep, and rapid changes in American society, global connectedness, and the needs of a sustainable population. But not in education, which is the keystone support system.
School reform is not a bad thing, but it is not sufficient. Incremental changes proposed will bring about incremental improvements. The last shift in education was not incremental; it was fundamental. Not reformation but transformation. And it worked. We need to do it again.
CAVEAT – None of that is to say that education is broken or that there are not amazing and positive changes happening in spots and regions all over the country. There are, and I can name dozens of educators, schools, and districts that make me proud to be a part of this profession. Make no mistake; education is alive and well everywhere you look. But the enduring improvements made by the incredible educators I meet and the super schools I study all came about as the result of deep transformational thinking. We used to think in one way; we have now to think in another way. And it works.
I taught English, directed an Outdoor Program, advised the school newspaper, coached, and became fully involved in the life of the schools where I worked. Whatever the course, the curriculum was always deeper than the subject, the pedagogy always more important than the curriculum. Students sometimes noted, “Your class is only partly about English.” Or discus. Or beekeeping. And that was true. Whether we were reading Hamlet, or doing drills in the throwing ring, or inspecting a hive, what we were doing was simply an avenue to making choices, developing potentials, and deepening understandings. The curriculum is always about People, Nature, and the Human Condition. It is what we talk about when we talk about English.
I am moved––sometimes a lot––by the work of John Dewey, Miles Horton, Parker Palmer, Roland Barth, Peter Senge, Frank Smith, Michael Thompson, Steven Pinker, Dennis Littky, and Tony Wagner.
My other more-than-full-time job is my family. My wife of 20 years and I are in over our heads most of the time raising three most excellent kids in a small but lovely fixer upper on a small piece of land just outside the San Anselmo city limits. We raise chickens and honey bees, we plant vegetables and grow berries in a garden, and we drink coffee on a deck that overlooks a valley where crows like to play in the fog that hangs in the bottom. Sounds idyllic, but I assure you the kids are a challenge, the roof leaks, the bees die, and the bobcats kill the chickens. There is nothing idyllic about it.
My most profound mentor in child rearing is my wife. She is the best mother I have ever known. For 18 years now I have been telling my wife that I am not well suited to the demands of parenting, but she doesn’t listen. She refuses to accept my limitations.
I have three fabulous children, all school aged at the time of this writing. They all have unique talents and things to offer the world. They have all approached schooling and responded to it in different ways. They have achieved different kinds of success and different levels of it. And to one degree or another they have all been troubled by schooling. My motivation to explore the possibilities in a new model of schooling comes as much from them as anywhere else.
READING & WRITING
I have always read a lot but I don’t read fast. I’ll probably never consider myself well read; I just don’t get through enough books. I buy three times as many books as I read––not for laziness, but because I read slowly. For years now my only new year’s resolution has been to read 40 books. I figure if I read 4o books a year, in 25 years I will have read 1000 books, and that would constitute a really good start on all that was worth reading. I know of people who read 85 books a year. Inconceivable.
I tell my students that reading is so important because for whatever evolutionary reason, for humans books are the way the species has decided to communicate with itself. Books, regardless of genre, record the human condition for others to see. On a day to day basis, one is never more than 100 yards from a book. You can if you set out to do so, if you drop everything and walk into Mojave, but even then, I would argue, most people have a book with them, even if it is a pocket medical guide in their first aid kit. There are summit registers on mountain peaks, books on the space shuttle and on submarines, books in every car that drives by and every store you walk into. But the ubiquity of books is not the reason to read; it is what that indicates about the human species.
Books––and more generally written language––are what we do. They make humans unique. Other species communicate with vocalizations. Other species use tools and plan for the future (did you hear about the chimp who stockpiled rocks to throw at gawking tourists later?) Other species think and remember and have emotions. But no other species writes.
I write for all of the same reasons as I read.
I am most moved by Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy, Gene Wolfe, Tim O’Brien, H. P. Lovecraft, and Jose Saramago. I know they are all men; I can’t do anything about it. I love the male voice. It is not by design or politics.
OTHER ENTHUSIASMS––in no particular order.
Neuroscience, Batman, Mars exploration, aikido, fly fishing, orchids, telescopes, poetry, mountaineering, coffee of any kind, SCUBA diving, transformational leadership, mountain culture, the Pacific Northwest, kites, bee keeping, woodworking, construction projects, dangerous ideas, creativity, truth, life, and the nature of reality.
You can contact me here.