Not long ago Doug Johnson commmented on the proliferation of manifestos in the blogosphere. Lately, I have come to the conclusion that I need my own manifesto. If only as a record of the ideas which this year in graduate studies has reiterated for me.
1 that public schools are a necessary part of a functioning democracy. It is the mandate of the public school to deliver the finest possible education to all the children and youth of the society regardless of their race, economic status, gender, religious or political affiliation. In fulfilling its mandate the school brings together the members of society to improve their understanding of each other, the world and their place in it.
2 that developing empathy and compassion in students through our relationships with them is more valuable than the subjects taught and more important than any academic achievement. Part of the reason that measurement and accountability do not bring about excellence in education is because accountability and measurement do not know how to account for and measure the quality of relationships formed in a school community.
3 that being a literate community and developing a literate society is a vital function of the public school but neither begins nor ends within its walls. Becoming literate means a great many things; I may be literate in one area and illiterate in another. I have developed my ability to discuss issues in education and in technology in the edutech blogging community but I have not developed my ability to discuss issues in oncology in the medical community. I am literate in one field of discourse and not the other. We can not expect the public school to make students literate in all things for all time. We can expect the public school to set students on a literate path, to develop a literate identity in students.
4 that students learn best when they can ask the questions and develop their own answers. Independent and self-motivated learning is more powerful, more engaging and more lasting than learning for the Test. One of the most damaging byproducts of standardization, standard curriculum, standardized testing; is the limitations placed on individual classrooms and individual classroom teachers to teach students what they want to know. This means that students and teachers need the space and opportunity to learn for themselves, to teach each other and to integrate their lives and their learning. For public schools and public education to remain relevant, students need to see a connection between their society and their lives and the learning of school. It remains an important role of the school to guide students in thinking critically about the world around them but we first need to know about their world.
5 that people learn by doing and observing and then trying again. The constructivist and exploratory models of Vygotsky and J. Dewey remain valid. We need to let students try things, solve problems, write and think. The listen, read and test model does not produce critical thinking and life-long inquiry.
6 that people learn and communicate in many different ways. Society values the reading and writing model, even as modern technology begins to take us towards a model based in image and sound, we hold on to ‘the basics’ as a panacea. The 1920’s needed functional reading and writing and calculating – girls who could grow up to be clerks or mothers, boys who could grow up to be factory workers. School was helpful but the skills needed and developed were minimal compared to the demands of today. Yet we are asked to teach ‘the basics’! Do we need the basics? Of course. Do we all need to develop them at the same rate,in the same order, to be used in the same way? NO. People learn and communicate in different ways and we have developed tools which can respond to these different styles and yet somehow ‘they’ want us all to do the same tasks, in the same length of time, at the same point in our lives. Such is our advancement.
7 that schools need to teach students the use of information and communication technologies so that the students with the least social and cultural capital have a chance to enter into the global conversation. The gap between those who have and those who have not is widened by access to technology and the ability to use it effectively. In order for schools to fulfill their mandate within a democratic society, students need to be taught information and communication literacy.
8 that we need to play. All of us, teachers, students, people need to play. Play is how we learn best it is not the thing that we do for the free time at the end of the day. It is not reserved for recess. Play needs to be a part of the classroom. Play is about engagement. Play is about trying out the ‘adult’ world. Look at what young children play – they play house, they play truck driver, they play the things they see the adults around them do in their ‘real’ lives. We have to play and have play in classrooms.
This is likely not the end.
P.S. Take a look at Doug’s biases page. I wish I had written the education part.