The Big Heart: Using Science + Caring to Improve Education (and the World)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Written by Rick Kubina

Early in my career, someone taught me about a Precision Teaching concept called “the big heart.” Below see a rendition of what I learned.

Figure 1. The big heart all Precision Teachers strive to employ.

I have sometimes seen the big heart as science + love. But either way, we think about it, the big heart touches on a wonderful idea.

Element #1 of the Big Heart – Science

Some people define education as an art or a social movement. For example, a blog post here explains science, education, and then art. The author concludes education functions more as an art. Science receives less than a warm depiction. In the author’s words:

“Our children are not laboratory rats and in the daily experience of education we only have a one-time shot, we can never duplicate a day or an hour or even a minute of our experience with them. No day full of children can ever be experienced the same way twice. The results of our ‘experiments’ cannot be fed into a computer and statistically analyzed.”

The author misses some fundamental aspects of science. First of all, we all live in nature. More to the point, we exist as part of nature. And nature has laws that govern everything from motion and biology to matter and behavior.

Science seeks to uncover the deep truths of nature. For example, the science of behavior, behavior analysis, has discovered various laws that explain the occurrence of behavior. The law of reinforcement describes how behavior followed by a reinforcing event will result in an increased likelihood of the behavior occurring again in the future.

Example: Rick hasn’t had a drink of water in 4 hours and sees a water fountain. Rick pushes the button on the fountain and water comes out. In the future when Rick hasn’t drunk water in a while (water deprivation), Rick will push the button on the water fountain to produce the consequence of water.

Side note: once in high school, some prankster lodged a small object in a fountain and when I pushed the button the water shot out and drenched my face and clothes. Kind of embarrassing, walking into Spanish class with a water stain on my shirt and pants. Even to this day, I check those fountains before drinking!

Because we humans now possess an understanding of some of the laws of nature, we can use that to benefit others. Some people, like the author in the previously mentioned blog post, miss fundamental aspects of science. When we conduct research in the classroom with students we do so so that the information discovered can benefit other students and teachers.

Part of “the big heart” means we must use science and science’s products to better our world. Engineering an effective learning environment for all students based on folk wisdom, common sense, or subjective preconceptions about education does not lend itself to reliable, valid, and meaningful information about learning and performance change.

Element #2 of the Big Heart – Caring

Education does form an official scientific discipline. And the practice of science has certain tenets. One of the tenets deals with the nature of scientific knowledge; information exists outside of humans desires, values, and prejudices. In other words, what we may want to believe as true doesn’t matter.

For example, take gravity. We have so much information about gravity we call it a fact. But if we want to believe Artistotle’s notion about gravity, that objects fall because they move towards their natural place, we find ourselves on the wrong side of scientific knowledge.

In education, we also have knowledge about many aspects of learning. And without getting into all them, the fact remains if we do not heed scientific knowledge we do so at the peril of our students. With our technological world, the stakes for learning and achieving at the highest levels of competence has become a worldwide imperative. Therefore, the big heart needs science like never before.

But education deals with people. And as a science, education fits into the category of “applied science.” Working with people in applied fields like education (and medicine) comes with values—namely, that of caring for our fellow humans. Caring covers the warm-hearted, compassionate, thoughtful acts we do to improve our world.

Not too long ago I visited a preschool classroom. I saw a scene unfold during snack time. The teacher passed out milk and straws to all the children. One little boy didn’t get a straw for whatever reason. The teacher didn’t see this boy desperately looking around for his straw. Tears started to well up in his eyes and he said something I couldn’t hear. Then a little girl sitting next to him gave up her straw and said: “You can have mine.”

I have to admit that scene caused me to get a little teary. An act of kindness meant all the world to the little boy who could now drink his milk with a straw.

With teachers, I always see similar caring acts on a daily basis. Creating a list wouldn’t do justice to the diversity of teacher kindnesses. But for all the caring teachers may do, hugging children and treating them with tenderness and attention will not teach them to read better. Science and the products of science reign supreme when it comes to knowing how to help students learn faster and more efficiently.

Compound #1 – Science + Caring = the big heart

Precision Teachers use the big heart because they have excellent scientific knowledge and embed it within a nurturing, considerate environment. Precision Teaching began in the 1960s. Perhaps some of the cultural zeitgeist affected and shaped the practice of the first generation Precision Teachers. I know from firsthand knowledge many of the practices from first-gen PTers involved:

● openness (e.g., “Chart Sharing” where people talk openly about data and celebrate student success)
● fun and inclusion (e.g., making up songs about charting and singing them with the class)
● student-centered compassion (e.g., “the learner knows best” which means understanding the data reflect the learners own unique responses to instruction)
● gentleness and warmth (e.g., chart parenting – people spending a great deal of time teaching others how to apply Precision Teaching – for free and with nothing expected in return, aside from actually charting and doing PT)
● deep concern (e.g., learning the science of measurement to ensure the most complete and accurate picture of the student’s learning is evaluated).

As time moved forward, the first generation of Precision Teachers has instilled their values in the second and third generation Precision Teachers. The best of caring and science live on in each chart and with all the performers. The big heart epitomizes an important idea for all of us to apply.