We have spoken of the need to reach back beyond the rhetoric about public education in this country to ask “What is the Purpose of Public Education?” We have also mentioned the necessity of emphasis on teaching and learning as two critical parts of educating. In addition, we have mentioned the importance of the involvement of more citizens in this process, with schools becoming centers of lifelong dynamic learning. Without further ado, let me introduce what could, at the very least, be a basis for discussion of a general Purpose for our public education system:
“To involve an entire community of learners (administrators, teachers, students, parents, volunteers and other interested citizens) in the teaching of traditional and foundational curricula (history, English, mathematics, science, language, art, technology); at the same time drawing out experiential learnings and discovering talents, concepts, beliefs, values and facts (some that may have been lost, concealed, suppressed or forgotten) in order to produce responsible and accomplished individuals, informed citizens, critical and independent thinkers, lifetime learners, cultural literates, world-class workers and competitors, and compassionate human beings willing to advocate for the welfare of the human family.”
If we had such a common Purpose for all public education, what could we reasonably propose as strategies for accomplishing such a purpose?
First: we would have to hope that States and local school boards would be encouraged to set goals and strategies based on such a Purpose for their local systems, according to what each could reasonably accomplish, and fund!
Second: it would make sense to emphasize the community nature of teaching/learning by involving each teacher-learner in the development of an Individual Education Plan (with input from fellow teacher-learners) that would serve as the basis for a commitment to lifelong learning and discovery.
Third: work on development of public and chartered specialized centers of teaching/learning that will provide a wide variety of school choice for students and parents; in fact, student-learners might even attend different schools for specified periods of time, depending on his or her individual goals and needs;
Fourth: develop teaching and learning centers that will be beehives of citizen activity for the community, involving parents, mentors, volunteers and community “teachers” who will provide actual examples of experience, skill and talent as “experience teachers”;
Fifth: bring teacher-learners to the community and the community to the teacher-learners so that all persons involved will become involved and concerned citizens. This must be expanded to on-the-job training, internships; learning about work places; plus having workers and executives involved in sharing expertise and personal experience with the teacher-learners.
Sixth: involve “students” in teaching other teacher-learners; everyone must be seen as having something to offer others; this is where self-esteem is built. We all have a stake in teaching and learning; “dropping out” of school must be seen as a loss not only to the individual, but to all of society, particularly to the teaching/learning community.
What would a new teaching/learning paradigm class look like?
First: it might be in a schoolroom, but just as likely in a community setting like a museum, business, religious center, library, college, park, conference center, all depending on the learning that is being sought.
Second: there will be ergonomic furniture that is adaptable to various configurations, depending on the mode of teaching or learning that is involved;
Third: there will be more people in the room than just students and teachers: mentors, tutors, aides, learning supervisors, parents, and guests might be interacting with each other and with students
Fourth: lecturing or Socratic questioning will be used only when either can contribute to learning; methods of imparting knowledge or drawing out learnings will vary, and the lead facilitator (formerly known as “teacher”) will bear responsibility for developing a team methodology and input that will lead to group as well as individual learning based on IEPs.
Fifth: learning will be a mutual endeavor: all will be teachers and all will be learners; therefore communications between others in the room will reflect this mutual endeavor: it may be noisy (requiring sound-deadening material in walls and ceilings).
Sixth: there may be diverse stations or learning kiosks throughout the room, so that research and teamwork, and special projects may be done in a particular space; some learners may be out of the classroom in other areas (library, media room, computer room, etc), and, in order to build personal responsibility and integrity, there will be no passes needed; however, there will be a responsibility to the classroom community to sign-out or sign-in just to learn to use time responsibly and to determine where people are in case they are needed. But let’s get rid of forced dependence and conformity; we need responsible independence and inner integrity to dictate actions.
Seven: testing and grading are always difficult concepts to change, but change they must. In a teaching/learning community, testing must be based on IEPs, not on a standard set by someone outside the teacher-learner. Grading must be a community exercise: teacher-learners must grade themselves based on their own IEP and their own goals; then the community teacher-learners need to give their input based on how they see the progress being made. IEPs then need to be adjusted to reflect whatever changes, advances, goals and challenges are needed.
Eighth: bullying from anyone toward anyone cannot be tolerated; it is a destructive denial of the importance and uniqueness of each member of the teaching/learning community;
Ninth: in case it is still unrecognized from all of this, let me emphasize that such a Purpose changes almost everything; especially current ways of doing education because it calls for new attitudes and questioning of established ideas and concepts. Indeed, I can’t even begin to list all of the changes that might potentially happen if such a Purpose were to be adopted nation-wide!