About Tiorati Workshops
Names tell us a great deal about organizations. Yet good names do not reveal too much. The Tiorati Workshop for Environmental Learning, like Bank Street College, is named after a landmark. The College's name recalls its place in the fabric of the city. It conveys the strong tradition of social studies and geography that prevails in the education of children at Bank Street.
"Tiorati" is a lake in Bear Mountain/ Harriman State Park, forty miles north of the city. The word in our name reminds one of the beautiful surroundings of the Workshop. It speaks to a tradition of exploration of the natural world. The words "Environmental Learning" convey a sense of inquiry and exploration, of respect for the natural environment, of nature studies being part of the broad curriculum of learning.
In keeping with the Deweyan tradition that urges us to engage children in the study of the familiar world, the word "Workshop" conveys a sense of the social enterprise of learning in general and science in particular. When I describe Tiorati to teachers and others in schools who are unacquainted with our work, I like to call our facility a "nature center." This familiar term evokes images of the forest that surrounds the workshop, of the lake, streams, meadows, marshes, and rock faces where we work with teachers and children. It brings to mind our mission, to improve education by engendering curiosity and understanding of the natural world. Some of my colleagues prefer to call Tiorati an "educational laboratory." This speaks to our interest in child development and curriculum. In particular, it reminds one that our work is incomplete until it has made its mark in the classrooms of the teachers and children who visit us. It stresses that the core audience of our professional work is teachers.
Bettison Shapiro, founder of the Tiorati Workshop in the mid-seventies, held a holistic view of knowledge and human values. He wrote of science as the "great potential integrator." He believed that rarely in liberal education is "synthesis" of the subject matters of separate academic disciplines achieved. He saw an "integrative role for science" in "the identification of integrative foci capable of bringing together the learnings of science with learnings in the arts and humanities... The ... integrative foci," or themes, "stemming from science, reaching out to the arts and humanities," were to "[function] as the points of interception for a new kind of holistic understanding" in teaching. Bettison understood integrative themes to be particularly important to teachers, for teachers "perceive the role of science in learning through the filter of their own past experience. If science is, for so many of them, a specialized area of knowledge in which specific fact rather than general understanding predominates; if science is a tool for analyzing, classifying and compartmentalizing the world, rather than a tool for unifying it; if science is a study dispassionate and divorced from human feelings, epitomized by a method which seems to them disassociated from the creative experience," then professional education must open teachers' minds to new and compelling ways of thinking about science. Bettison's integrative themes (repeating patterns of form, repeating patterns of form and function, parts of the whole, and developmental change) were to reveal the "hidden likenesses" of science, humanities and the arts.
Bettison forged an alliance between the Palisades Interstate Park Commission and Bank Street College. "The Commission ... made available unlimited educational use of 51,000 acres of [the Hudson] Highlands in Bear Mountain/Harriman State Park..." In 1975, the Park converted a stone building which dates to a Civilian Conservation Corps project in the 1930's. The interior was designed as a laboratory of environmental learning: a model classroom where classes of children could pursue investigations of the natural environment; and where teachers could gather in courses and seminars for instruction and reflection on learning. The Workshop space was attractively divided into work areas, and appointed with aquaria, terraria, a library, and a kitchen. Distinct work areas separate small groups of children who may be studying natural science, history, geography, cooking, art, and crafts. All the work areas open into a spacious meeting area where groups assemble to share their discoveries. The Workshop design conveys a sense of the separate domains of our lives and the unity of all the parts in a larger whole. Bettison wrote, "the College found in this site a means of expressing its long felt concerns for the significance of the environment in the learning of young children, especially through staff development of teachers and administrators." The tradition of exploration and inquiry continues. It is represented in our workshops and courses for teachers, programs for schools, and the interactive portion of our World Wide Web page for children and adults to exchange their findings.
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