A different style of teaching and learning

Traditionally in horticulture classes
we emphasize three ways of learning:
one is to listen to the teacher and read the assigned materials
two is to chat with your classmates, share and learn from one another
and three is to observe and work with the plants
all three are important if you are going to become a plant person

In old-time learning
we followed a structure that would help you get through life in a nice way
the main lessons were:
one – show up, be present, be accountable, be on time, help clean up at the end
two – do the work – mental or physical – this is on you as an individual person
three – work well together with others
respect yourself, respect others, respect mother nature
work safe, be strong and healthy
that is what it comes down to

These days, we are learning through the computer
this has been coming down the pipes for a long time now
administrations, managers, bosses, governments
all are going online, switching over to all tech, flipping the switch on all electronic digital
this has resulted in
a change in the lifestyle of education, coupled with changes in society
and our interactions with one another
this is what I have learned so far with regards to
adapting to technology as a school teacher
and watching students’ learning processes

Well youtube is great, you can learn any number of things from watching people’s videos
you may miss details due to the camera work,
and sometimes you need prior knowledge to understand what is going on
on occasion, it goes by too fast –
when you try to back it up or pause it, still no comprende amigo
nevertheless, the good graphics and visuals explain things well,
and it’s all right there at your fingertips
super entertaining, easy to access
amazing stuff!

Heard some teachers now they just show videos all day in class
why not? the folks in the boxes know way more than me, kids are used to the screen
kids like the screen, stay calm with the screen, been pavlovved with the screen since birth
I’ll just click my mouse, play video games on my phone, while they watch videos
later, I’ll take the role and do the grades, easy paycheck

Some folks say there is a plan to get rid of the teachers all together
whether at the college level or the high school level
I guess I do see a bit of that trend
why not? if the grading of tests is automatic,
if the curriculum is all written out and standardized,
really, who needs a teacher?!
pay the fee, do the online work on my own time, then
give me the diploma already!
give me my license!
give me my permit!
That has been the way of driving school
of hunter education
of the arborist exam
of qualified applicator license
and so on
no teacher necessary in the process
technicians yes, teachers nope
the train is on the tracks
so you better figure out the route to success, and get on the road!
cheaper, faster, and more convenient schooling
do it whenever you want to, no set hours to attend
works for me!

For the past year and a half, we have been doing this style of teaching called zoom
every student shows up as a box
the communication lags cause only one person speaks at a time
not everyones got high-speed internet, not everyone wants to show their face
the fact is, most people don’t want to show their faces
maybe for privacy reasons
maybe cause they are doing something else, not paying attention
not there in class 100%, I have no idea
so you are talking to a bunch of dark boxes with a name
you are not sure they are really there, not sure they can participate in the conversation
still, I do the lecture like always, record it so anybody can watch me later, at their leisure

I am missing a lot of information in this style of teaching
in class, I would be able to notice the
empty glances, under-the-lip remarks, a knitted brow
I’d try to respond, maybe present the material in an alternate fashion
give another relevant example
a hand would be raised; somebody would tell a funny distracting joke
another person would ask a tangent of a question about a related plant issue
there would be a nice natural flow and rhythm to the class
zoom way –
I get a lot less feedback,
oftentimes, no human interaction, no cues or clues
I feel – nothing
so then I drone on and on in my teacher spiel
flat, really no better than a video
it’s awkward and one sided, sad

If all I was communicating as a teacher was information
this would be fine, but I’d like to think that we are imparting more than that
more than just the facts
what might that be?

what I value about an education
is that it gives a broad view of the whole situation
a perspective this is often missing when you start working working
where they tell you what to do
you do it
you get paid
you see a tiny part of the whole, but don’t think, just do
again, it’s easy
It’s alright, work is good,
but when you see the bigger picture
of how plants and nature and people interact and help one another
it gives you an appreciation for the importance of gardens
it helps you to make in-the-field decisions based on common sense and science
and allows you to dream, innovate, and make changes
rather than stay in the same corner pocket hole, drilling
or go around in circles, pacing
yep, you see the light
and the connections that tie us all together
hopefully, an education does that

There is a tendency in the industry
to jump on board with whatever is fashionable
when you are in the thick of it
it’s sell, sell, sell
play up the positives ignore the negatives
in other words ‘lie’ ‘spin’ and ‘cheat’ whatever it takes
then walk away when you have made your buck smiling
always more money to be made
there is not much of a sense of history, or of how nature works, or ‘why are we doing this?’
kind of a blind maniacal leader way of doing things
let somebody else come and clean up the mess, later

Well in horticulture, that cleanup person is the gardener
we are on the ground, in the thick of green leaves and thorny spines
and we notice when things are not going right
cause we are in nature day after day
what is different in horticulture
is that you are dealing with living creatures
that respond to water light air and soil
they will give you feedback about their health
and whether or not you are doing things correctly
that is number three in our learning process
learning from the plants themselves
you cannot learn from plants online, you can only learn from plants in person
you cannot learn from plants right away right now, it takes time to see the changes –
like when a seed germinates and spreads its cotyledons, that is something to see!
or when you cut a large limb, it falls and goes thunk on the ground, accomplishment!
okay, batters up
swings and misses
thats one strike for online instruction!
no plant – human interface

A cool thing happens when you gather a bunch of plant students together
a whole green world opens up
students share their experiments, their difficulties, and their secrets
they try to outdo one another, they compete, they are on a quest
‘who knows the name of that plant?’
‘what family does it belong to?’
‘how many Anthurium species do you have?’
and so on
later, this same spirit of networking and cooperation
enables the building of partnerships between newly licensed contractors and arborists
jump starts a system of referrals and “I know somebody…”
allows specialists and generalists to thrive in the horticulture community

For the most part, the students seem to be motivated by –
okay, not really a scientific word –
seem motivated by love and joy
okay I said it
What this means though in terms of learning is that you see a person unfold their petals
and their flower of the mind blooms
yes that is what happens when you have that camaraderie friendship rooted in the garden
when people are working together towards a common goal
folks become grounded and part of the earth
that is why old time subsistence agriculture led to a fantastic leap in human evolution
people worked together
there is so much work in the garden that needs to be done,
it is only possible with many peoples’ hands
it is not an individualistic endeavor, no way possible,
it needs everybody
so team building, horticulture style, is the act of planting and pruning
no, you don’t get to sit in a mountain acreage,
at a retreat sipping tea, eating healthy vegetarian food, in a circle talking
no, you don’t get to express your gripes or make snide comments and troll people
in some dark web or a hidden room or secret chamber
it is not that kinda team
it’s all out in the open under the sun and the rain
the garden is manual labor and work, pure and simple
people working together
afterward, stuck with sticky sweat, groaning aches, and scraped skins
you are in a garden, you see what you have done, and that is the cheerful reward
online, you don’t have to work together,
online, you are by yourself in a dimly lit room
you can do whatever you want, but you miss out on the whole experience
this is number two, in our learning process
2 out of 3, shut down
the grade is already an F at
minus 66%

Number one on our list:
the brainy mental aspect of
lectures, readings, homework assignments
this part does lend itself well to the online format
the beauty of the internet
is having access to all those scientific papers, county extension reports, amateur videos, countless market goods, etc.
all related to horticulture and plants
super sick, crazy mad cornucopia
sometimes the problem is the overload, the sheer abundance of it all
and the inability to discern truth and fact from made-up stories or outright advertising
that is, in and of itself, a skill that ought to be taught to kids from a young age,
by an impartial teacher

Part of the fun
of this sort of catch-all, international, bright lights flashing, internet approach
is that you find out that the universe is infinite
knowledge is infinite
and you will never reach the end even if you had forty life times
you will never grow all the species of orchids in the world
you will merely skim the surface of the botany of the amazon jungle
there are more cultivars and species of roses to cut and groom than I can count
you can either be frustrated by this
or be humbled
then get back to planting some poppies
digging up more bur clover
and watching the sun set and moon rise

As a teacher forced to go online
I have been making videos, writing blog essays,
and making new appropriate assignments for at home learners
all the curriculum is out there and online
for anyone to peruse, critique, and disseminate
forget about buying those 300 dollar new edition textbooks every year
yippee, no more of that racket
the administration and forces that be
have been pressing an online agenda now for a number of years
covid made the final push and made it a reality

Thus far,
I learned that you have to compress videos to upload them easier to youtube
I learned that when the zoom screen goes black, you have to restart the computer and that it takes about 8 minutes to get back to the virtual classroom
I learned that no matter how many times you click the box that says “Don’t show this again”, the box keeps coming back
I learned that HEIC is not a file format that our online software uploads well
and a whole lot more
I’ve been clicking, clicking, clicking clicking
staring, staring, staring, staring
in many ways its not more efficient, just more tedious and numbing
never thought I would sit in one place for so long as part of work
feels like I got constipation of the brain and glutes just thinking about it

What is neat is the thought that now, anybody could learn this information
using our accumulated knowledge, experience, and notes
its all out there, all free, in the sea of information
what is not so cool is the creepy thought that once we put it all online,
they will say bye bye to the teacher and you will be out of a job
‘I got your curriculum, I got your quizzes and tests, hahahah, heres the exit door’
so it is a leap of faith, a belief in humanity, and basic survival as a college
theres no other way forward at this point,
and this fish (myself) is not a salmon bout to go in the opposite direction upstream
as Joey the Roo says about surfing Ocean Beach on a hectic ten foot day with nobody out in the water
“when in doubt, paddle out”
what choice do we have? Go!!!

The thing that is important, knowledge wise,
with regards to horticulture
is that it is grounded in a specific place,
and in constant interaction with the forces of nature;
it is also in flux with regards to our cultural perceptions of what nature is and ought to be
the garden is not solely conceptual, it is not a bunch of abstract ideas,
it is not an install then walk away, a buy it and return it kinda object
it is real, it cant go anywhere
its going to grow and morph with time
and the gardens are different wherever you go
cause the climate differs, the elevation changes, the weather is moody
and the plants grow different, even if they are clones of one another
its not a cookie cutter, one size fits all, cheapest bid, generic product we are engaged in
its a garden – a happy place of nature communion
that is why local knowledge is of foremost authority
that is why you need people with “boots on the ground” in military speak
that is why you need trained gardeners to take care of the garden

Math, you can go to Poland or China or Germany or wherever
I imagine that math is the same math
English, you might have English with an Indian accent, or an Aussie accent
but y’all still reading Shakespeare or Moby Dick or Angelou or Allende
English is English
in horticulture we teach basic principles and structures
but then you gotta go out to the landscape and verify them, use em, adapt them to fit
to the local surroundings
its just a wee bit different everywhere you go
you gotta
find out what flowers grow well in the western part of town but not so well in the east
figure out what plants favor the sandy soils, what cultivar of apples doesn’t get root rot
you learn stuff like this –
endless pertinent variable sometimes ambiguous information like this –
learn it from a teacher, from being in the field
its not all in books, nor all online…
yeah its really fun, if you like flowers and trees and stuff like that

So as far as the learning process is concerned
if you have access to a computer, with reasonable wifi or high-speed internet
the computer is a good friend, online is nice
we could actually be real productive online,
if we didn’t have to deal with viruses, ads, spam and group emails, software glitches, hacks, bad connections, messed up backs, muscular and joint pains, and other complications of a digitized modern world
it’s like we traded one set of challenges for a whole new array of contorted specialized problems
alright, for the sheer cerebral aspect of learning, I give online systems an A
out of three ways of learning, one out of three works good, the other two work not so well
for horticulture,
in the end, my grade is closer to an F than an A
would like to improve
sorry students

As for character building, human civility, and respect for the community
there were also three criteria
for the first – general accountability of students
online learning gets a a half way mark
take a screen shot of zoom session
end of discussion
compared that to a buzzing herd or flock of students in the classroom
no comparison
the energy, the feeling, the excitement
yes some students are on time, present for the whole session, active participants
but most of them, you are not sure what is happening
you hope for the best
outcome: 50%

For the second – doing the work itself independently
online learning scores in the mid range again
if you do the quizzes, the homework, the field trip reports
upload them, this is good
if you did the quizzes, the homework, the field trip reports
but never used your pruners or your loppers or hand saw
or fixed an irrigation leak
then your understanding is all theoretical and basically worthless
because nobody is going to pay you to answer true-false questions in the garden
they are paying you to do the work
that is why, this sections scores a regal

For the last, number three, working with others
online learning earns a zip nada
some skills you have to learn in person –
how to maneuver around diverse peoples
how to ask for tools or help politely
how to say sorry or thank you or let’s go
how to make plant friends
its the human interaction, that over time,
rubs off the rough edges and makes you more well rounded
plus it brings a smile to your face
being together turns the sometimes ho hum repetitive boring work of the garden
into a joyful task
so nothing for round three, zero
in total overall, given equal weight to all sections
taking into account techno fear, techno illiteracy, techno overload
I scored around 33 out of 100%
Still failing
grrrr….. doesn’t feel good

Like I said,
this has been slowly gurgling down the pipes for a while now
the diminishing of plant education throughout our range
and the move from analog to the digital age
there is a general lack of understanding stemming from the higher-ups,
for what is required to become a practiced horticulturist
the gardener has increasingly become viewed and used as an
unskilled laborer
an outdoor cleaner for the outdoor living room; an outdoor custodian
and a come and go, disposable, hire-off-the-street phenomenon
nearby down the peninsula, the College of San Mateo horticulture program shut down about ten years back or so
across the bay at Diablo Valley Community College, a big part of their funding is their own plant sales and hard work, barely holding onto survival
we (CCSF) are one of the last such places that still teaches plant identification, horticultural machines, and how to sow seeds, for miles around
and we have had numerous close-call near shutdowns for the last decade or so

Thinking about this…
if you have an app and a phone that identifies everything by name, why do you need plant ID?
if you can buy a new machine for cheap off so and so online website every time one breaks down, why learn how to fix ’em?
and why sow seeds for the future, when the future is far away and filled with uncertainty?
when the future is one that is forecasted as being one of
planetary ecological doom and annihilation,
climate burning up with global hellfire,
people being robot-like slaves mentally chained by a corrupt elite,
and other such really dreary scenarios
scenarios coming from people who guide culture but don’t know nature
these are the best reason to be opening seed packets,
and lightly tamping fine black seeds into the soil

What use is horticulture in-person in our modern-day world?
if roses are grown in Ecuador greenhouses
plants are mail ordered from Oregon
mow and blow gardeners are from border south
park and recreation bosses are suits and ties from back east
community college administration are corporate managers and not public educators
and you don’t have to know plants for any reason at all
it’s true
you don’t need a homegrown anything,
whether that be a pepper, a tomato, or a sprig of canna and amaryllis
you don’t need
an in-person student versed in the language of flowers who lives and works here
we are all rootless, ungrounded, non-photosynthetic, un mycorrhizal, top of the chain consumers
we are always hungry and taking, never giving back
this is the end result of a people no longer bound by survival to remember and respect nature
this is the product of reliance on bit, ram, and byte mechanisms of control,
this is why horticulture has been slowly fading into the background of our consciousness and day to day living
its sad,
the hardness and lack of appreciation for natural beauty
the constriction upon the human psyche and imagination
it’s sad

not trying to convince anybody of anything here
just expressing and finding an outlet for thoughts
in teacher fashion
will get ready to close out in multiple choice fashion
there will be five questions
each is worth five seconds of reflection
there is no time limit
you will know your grade when your eyes sparkle like that of a child
here we go:

When I hike in the forest, I want to:
A look up at the sky beyond the canopy of the trees
B find a mushroom
C smell the cedar mixed with pine
D follow the creek upstream
E identify the cone laying on the ground
F focus 100% of my visual attention on my iPad

When I walk in the woods, I want to:
A climb a tree
B say hi to the squirrels
C listen to the crinkle of leaves under my feet
D sniff the dampness of an impending storm
E gather some acorns to plant later
F move my finger left to right repeatedly on a flat plastic surface that is 14.36 cm long by 7.09 cm wide

When I take a walk around town, in my neighborhood, I like to observe the
A architecture and the variety of plants
B the infrastructure and methods of construction for all manners of things
C diversity of people and dogs
D signs of urban wildlife like coyotes, raccoons, and ravens
E species of weeds that survive in the cracks and are host to butterflies
F latest updates that happened on my software operating system that fixed glitches and bugs

If things go bad, and we go into crisis disaster mode, it would be nice to:
A identify what wild plants are edible and what plants are not
B know how to turn off and turn on valves, fix leaks, and have access to clean water
C be able to work together to help each other to survive
D understand rot, decay, decomposition, disease; and how to keep them at bay
E have the knowledge of how to grow food and animals
F charge my phone so that I can keep playing games

When i am on my death bed, passing over into another place, I will remember:
A the goodness and kindness of family and friends
B the beauty and miracle that is this world
C a few happy moments
D some turbulent events that were hard hills to climb
E to brush my teeth and floss before going to sleep
F check my email one more time for new messages and notifications

That’s it. Test is over. Turn the paper over
wait in your seat until the proctor picks up the exam

Was chatting with friends
some on the left, some on the right
politically speaking
its true that education has changed over time
is it getting better or worse?
public education that is
not the private schools that got warm swimming pools, the latest computers, airplane class trips to exotic locations, and a guaranteed pass to elite universities
public schools
I remember the times when there was shop class, metal and wood arts, welding auto shop
a buddy remembers when they used to do the custodial duties and it was acceptable for students to clean the toilets
when it was not a bad, looked-down-upon thing, to engage in basic maintenance activities
another friend reminisces about home economics
and raising and slaughtering your own chickens and sheep at school with a bunch of cohorts
and everyone remembers the erosion of the classes like art or music or foreign language
yeah all those wholesome, cross cultural, body mind spirit engaging classes
bleh, who needs those!?
many classes have gone the way of dinosaurs in a public education
so what are we teaching the youth of today?
education or indoctrination, simplification or complication?
or, on the other hand, what are they learning on their own?
from videos, social media, music lyrics, and each other?
have priorities and basic life processes changed? that much?!

Not sure, that is a broad topic for another day
for now, gonna stick with the plants
and try to hold off the disembodied,
unconnected to anything,
do what you want, anytime you want,
no seasonal cycles,
don’t acknowledge mother earth ,
ideal fantasy show kinda world view
back to the slugs, weeds,
and moss tickling my toes

oink oink