Ten Education Resolutions for 2014
1. That teachers will resolve to welcome every student (and I mean from the heart) every morning and then spend the day helping them to recognize and express their innate worthiness.
More of a prayer I suppose, this sentiment was inspired by the late Jean Liedloff, the author of a very important book called the Continuum Concept who once told me in an interview that two of children’s most fundamental needs are to feel worthy and welcome. Then they’ll be perfectly capable of taking care of everything else.
2. That parents will likewise recognize their children’s instinctive goodness, as well as their natural ability and desire to learn and succeed.
This trust will serve to immunize parents against the educational system’s constant fearmongering and also enable them to demand that their children’s schools stop turning education into a race to nowhere. If you haven’t seen the 2009 documentary by that name, then make a resolution to watch it in 2014. The film came into being after director Vicki Abeles discovered that the relentless pressure of school, homework, tutoring, and extracurricular activities was making her middle-school daughter physically ill.
3. That schools will stop quantifying learning and measuring students’ progress against each other or some arbitrary standard.
Science has now made it official: every child is absolutely and indelibly unique. And besides, as Einstein reportedly once said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” So I say, let colleges and employers develop their own means of determining who are the most suitable fits for their organizations, and leave children and their teachers out of the sorting process altogether.
4. That schools will throw their prepackaged curriculums out the window and leave teachers and students free to invent learning generated by wonder and curiosity.
I once met an elementary school teacher in Toronto who did exactly that. One morning, a month or so into the school year, she fully took in the expressionless faces staring back at her when it was time for the reading lesson. So she collected the children’s primers, carried them over to an open window, and chucked them down to the ground below. From there forward they created their own reading program and student progress increased by leaps and bounds. Also, Sylvia Ashton-Warner and Herb Kohl both wrote wonderfully iconic books about how their classrooms were transformed as soon as they abandoned the prescribed curriculum and started making it up as they went along.
5. That school systems will realize the fallacy of large, consolidated schools.
The prevailing myth that bigger schools are more cost-effective because of the economy of scale is just that—a myth. Regarding short-term costs, for instance, the ratio of teachers to other employees in large public schools has now reached one to one. In small schools it averages only three to one. Then there are the long-term social costs of students who drop out of high school and never make it successfully into the job market. A recent study shows that the graduation rate at New York City’s 125 new small high schools—many of them serving primarily low-income students—has already risen nearly 9% in less than a decade.
6. That we as a nation will demand that the education system reverse the trend toward the federal control of schools and the imposition of a homogenized curriculum with its accompanying set of national standards.
Meaningful learning is deeply contextual, and place is a fundamental ingredient of context. With our country comprised of so many distinctly different regions and sub-regions each with its own unique history, culture, climate, geography, etc., insisting that children everywhere all learn the same things at the same time defies all reason. Meanwhile, educational founders rightly recognized the dangers of placing the education of our children under one central authority when they insisted on the local control we are steadily drifting away from today.
7. That schools will stop pathologizing kids who don’t perform well in passive, sedentary, teach-to-the-test settings that reward compliance and punish independent thinking and behavior.
Only according to an educational model centered on identifying a child’s deficits is the unwillingness or inability to sit still, do as you’re told, and passively absorb skills and information considered a symptom of disease. In the school where I taught for 35 years, where learning is active, self-initiated, and freely chosen, there is no such thing as ADHD or other so-called disorders.
8. That next year’s release of the PISA (Program of International Student Assessment) test results will be met with a collective yawn.
Until now, the announcement of U.S. scores on PISA tests in math, science, and literacy administered to allegedly representative groups of 15-year-olds from 65 countries has caused a nationwide, sky-is-falling educational panic—which then becomes the justification for ramping up even further the pressure on schools to produce students who respond well to this narrow measure of intelligence. Meanwhile, little heed is paid to the fact that in the Asian nations that are the perennial winners of the PISA race (to nowhere), children spend nearly every waking hour training for the exams. Nor does anyone happen to mention that the test cohort from the #1 Shanghai schools belongs almost exclusively to high socioeconomic status families.
9. That schools—and especially preschools—will rediscover the developmental and educational value of organic, child-structured play.
Thankfully, play has been making a comeback of late in the broader culture, as the negative effects of the lack of play on children’s physical and psychological well-being continue to pile up. Our schools, however, continue to eliminate play from their daily agenda in the name of improving student performance on standardized achievement tests—despite the rapidly growing body of research showing play to be one of the most important ingredients of deep learning and development.
10. That all of us will resolve to remember each and every day that learning and living are synonyms, and that there is no necessary link between school and education.
Evolution theorists are making it increasingly clear that evolution itself is essentially a grand learning process. We literally live in order to learn, and so it’s important for adults to model for children that learning is an exciting act that we never stop doing. Take my nearly 90-year-old mother-in-law for example, who reads voraciously on a wide range of topics, took up painting for the first time at 87, and is currently enrolled in a high-level online course—on of all subjects, human evolution.