Tag Archives: binary

This and That: Consider the Microclimates

I live in a place filled with contrasts.  There is the breezy casual of the beach to the west and less than a thirty minute drive away you can be hiking into dry, hot hillsides, exploring vineyards or admiring the abundance of avocado groves.  Our weather reporters call them microclimates…and we tend to be adapted to the microclimate where we spend most of our time.  But what I love most about this place that I call home is that it is not either/or, it is this and that.

Just this weekend I spent time in two of these contrasting spaces…equally beautiful, equally interesting, but entirely different from each other.  I loved exploring the old oak forest as I walked in the dappled sunshine…and looking up in surprise as I watched a mule deer leap across the path I was walking.  It was hot early as I hiked uphill and I could see evidence of wildfires past and the dry brush that continues to be a threat for future fires.

coast live oak

And the beach is always a source of inspiration.  The holiday weekend prompted us to get up early and walk the beach before the crowds arrived.  It was sunny and warm and the water was unusually clear.  We noticed sand sharks and stingrays swimming a few yards from us as the waves crashed.  The water was warm by our standards…up to 70 degrees, perfect for barefoot walking.

beach castles

I’m so happy that I don’t have to chose to love and visit only one part of my place.  I’m feeling like there is such a push to simplify our choices, to turn every decision and discussion to the binary choice.  Right or wrong, left or right, boxers or briefs, apples or oranges.  In my experience, those binaries just don’t represent the rich complexities of everyday life.  Just this morning a friend sent an article about “balanced literacy” where the author lamented the kind of “conventionally rigorous” instruction he had received as a young English learner.  The article implied that “balanced literacy” was essentially an absence of teaching compared to the experience with the effort-full teaching he had received in his childhood.

I’m reminded of the reading wars in the not too distant past.  The phonics versus whole language debate that implied an either/or approach to teaching.  These arguments miss the subtleties and complexities of teaching and learning.  This “all teacher” or “all student” approach ignores the body of student-centered teaching that effective teachers practice every day.  It dismisses the diversity of the needs and interests of students as irrelevant and assumes that if the teacher simply transmits enough information, students will learn what they need to learn.

Let’s start a new conversation.  One that is about learners: teacher learners and student learners. Let’s bring their microclimates into the conversation.

Going Beyond Either/Or (Threes)

Black or white, the fork in the road, Republican or Democrat, male or female, smart or dumb, phonics or whole language, cats or dogs, tea or coffee, win or lose, right or wrong…  the list goes on, always focused on choosing one of two choices.

Why are we so drawn to these dichotomies?  And do they actually serve us in any positive way?

I often feel that these forced either/or choices close down conversations and limit the options and possibilities that would exist if we broadened the conversation to include more gray area, pathways between the two opposites typically posed.

What would happen to our country if our political system worked to solve pressing issues without regard to political party?  And what would happen in our schools if instead of classifying students as high or low achieving, we paid more attention to students’ strengths and interests and piqued their natural curiosity?  What if there were more options for success?

So when I saw the weekly photo challenge at the Daily Post today, I looked for a photo that not only met the challenge of threes, but also worked as a metaphor for me about moving away from these all-too-common dichotomies.  (In a footnote to this, after reading the threes prompt more closely, I see that I re-interpreted it before noticing the invitation to tell a three picture story.  I may be trying that in the next couple of days!)

I took this photo today from a bridge over a freeway leading to downtown San Diego.  I like the way you can see three distinct paths curving toward the city in the distance.  It’s interesting to me because I know that the freeway has southbound and northbound lanes…but at this juncture, there is a third route.  I love the idea of including additional options, of getting a more complete picture, of considering a bigger understanding of the story.


I’m not suggesting that three is the answer…we do enough with the ideas of high, medium, and low…but three does suggest getting beyond either/or thinking, making it at least a starting place for expanding the conversation.

What image would you chose to represent going beyond standard dichotomies?  How do you get yourself to go beyond the binary?