A New Mission for Public Schooling

How do we take our most valued learning experiences, and capture that essence? How do we put the most transformative learning moments (most if not all were beyond intellectual ah-ha’s and tied into our emotional selves) together into a package, so that the rate of their occurrence is very high, as compared to modern public schooling which tends to be very low?

In order to transform the public schooling experience, the work needs to start with the mission. We could attempt one of many quick fixes that approach how we educate students, or do thorough data analysis of test scores and the number of student absences on odd numbered Tuesdays. Without changing the mission that is at the core of why educators show up to work every day, and why parents drop their kids off, and why those kids are sitting there, the quick fixes do not last.

To borrow a phrase from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits, we need to “Begin with the end in mind”. What do we want for our students as they walk across the stage at graduation? Are we all about job skills? Perhaps we should  strive for all students to exceed state and national benchmarks on high stakes tests? While these two goals seem positive on the surface, they are misguided. First of all, most employers will do on-the-job training for new hires, so that they perform their duties in alignment with the company needs. Schools are ill equipped to simulate corporations in 90% of the types of work that students might do. The test passing goal ignores the fact that not all students can pass a rigorous paper and pencil test, no matter how hard we coach and prepare them to do so. The most ludicrous fallacy springs forth when we equate good test scores with being ready to enter the workforce. Certainly if all other factors are equal, a student with a superior score will ber a better employee in most jobs than one with a lower score. However, in most cases, a superior test score does not also mean that a student can get along better with people, show up on time, be creative, and a good problem solver. Also, if the test is truly rigorous and the bar set high, we have then by design started with a goal that some students will be failures…a tenant I am not willing to promote. If we lower the bar to where all students are juged to be successes, then why do we have a bar? I think we need to throw the bar away altogether.

The test and the desire to see students be successful in their post-high school endeavors are rooted in our concerns that students should be preparing for the time after high school by absorbing knowledge, skills, and abilities. The missing component is that of the emotional, or social. We want for students to be a valued member of society, not only through their work but also as a parent, a volunteer, a citizen. Most school classes do not allow for the practice, or hands-on application, of students to use their knowedge, skills, and abilities to be a valued member of our society. To further refine what we should want for our students, we obviously should want for them to be part of a good society, as opposed to a bad, malfunctioning, or evil, society. Put together, I have stolen from Thomas Mahs-Pugh a mission for public schooling in America, that is, to have students become Valued Members of a Good Society.

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