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The title of this piece is the goal of my friend Lynn Stoddard, who has worked for over 50 years as an elementary school teacher, principal and consultant.  His goal is to elevate the profession of teaching and inspire teachers to truly facilitate the development of a young human being rather than merely instruct them on standardized curriculum so they can pass the tests.  I am aware of no greater contemporary champion for a holistic approach to teaching and education consistent with the great education innovators of the 20th Century like John Dewey, Waldorf founder Rudolph Steiner, and Maria Montessori.

From chapter 1 page 1 of his book Educating for Human Greatness, Lynn frames the challenges for the profession of teaching in the current US educational context...

In 1983 a National Commission on Excellence in Education issued a “Nation at Risk Report” and set in motion a series of government imposed reforms, all based on a false goal: student achievement in curriculum.  One of these reforms, “No Child Left Behind,” put extra pressure on teachers to ignore the diverse needs of students and, instead, standardize students in reading, writing and math.  More recently the U.S. Department of Education has installed a set of national standards for student uniformity.  Subject matter specialists, along with major influence from business and industry, have decided what all students should know and be able to do at each grade level.  Tests are administered to assess student learning of the prescribed material.  In some cases the tests are used as an assessment of the quality of teaching.  This top-down, misguided pressure is evidence that public school teaching is not regarded as a profession in our society.

I note the hard line Lynn takes against standardized curriculum, later calling it an “obsession”, and saying that it goes beyond constraining our youths' in school learning and is in fact creating a “mass mind-set” and turning unique young human beings into trained widgets.

From Lynn's half-century of experience, including conducting surveys of parents in his home state of Utah, “teaching curriculum” should not be the object of education.  Curriculum is a tool but not the goal of education.  The goal is to help young people grow as people.  Lynn has his “Seven Priorities” rubric, which in classic teacher fashion all start with the same letter...

Identity – Help students learn who they are - as individuals with unlimited potential, develop their unique talents and gifts to realize self-worth and develop a strong desire to be contributors to family, school, and community.  Nurture health and physical fitness.

Inquiry – Stimulate curiosity; awaken a sense of wonder and appreciation for nature and humankind.  Help students develop the power to ask important, penetrating questions.

Interaction – Promote courtesy, caring, communication and cooperation.

Initiative – Foster self-directed learning, will power and self-evaluation.

Imagination – Nurture creativity and creative expression

Intuition – Develop emotional intelligence, the sixth sense.  Gain the ability to recognize truth with the heart as well as intellectually.

Integrity – Develop honesty, character, morality and responsibility for self.

Here is a classic manifesto of the holistic teacher, to nurture the whole person - mind, body and soul - so that person can develop to their full potential.  Instructing students on a standard curriculum so they can demonstrate that knowledge acquisition on a test just does not cut it!  Instead we are talking about teachers who are truly gifted and multi-dimensional professionals.

Looking back on my own experience as a kid in school and later as a parent of kids in school, I would say only perhaps ten percent of the teachers I have encountered fully practiced nurturing these seven attributes.  I suspect a others might be capable of such but felt it was impossible or otherwise inappropriate given the constraints of the school environment including the pressure to “teach to the test”.  

But I think Lynn's high “bar” for teachers does beg the question if the teaching profession as presently constituted and compensated has the impassioned, talented and skilled people to meet this challenge and provide this level of support for their students (given state “educrats” somehow loosening the reins on standardized education).  It is one thing to be able to nurture these seven qualities in a single or several young persons (as a parent might do).  It is yet another to do so for a classroom full of thirty kids or more!

Lynn shows the zeal of a die-hard progressive and social activist when he poses questions like, “What if you were to discover that many of the brilliant, talented people wasting in jails may be there partly because our society failed to nurture each person's unique potentiality?”  Behind that question is perhaps an impossibly utopian vision that schools and teachers should be able to develop their charges and transform society for the better.

Another provocative question he asks is, “What if you were to discover that students, teachers, and parents are all innocent victims of a false philosophy of education, and that all three of these groups promote this philosophy consciously or unconsciously?”  I for one appreciate this challenge to the limitations of conventional wisdom and failure to be aware of and move beyond the path of least resistance.  Lynn rejects a whole laundry list of conventional education related wisdom put forward mostly unchallenged by politicians that he labels as “tradition”.

Under the heading of “Political Interference”, Lynn criticizes the drive in recent decades by legislators and businessmen to reinforce a traditional view of school (and the meekness of teachers not to resist this more forcefully)...

The new motto, higher standards, was not a call to redesign education.  It was merely a summons for teachers to do what they have been expected to do all along – mold students into a common form, but at a higher level.  It was a tradition that must be obeyed.  The governors and business executives, without any input from educators, opted to maintain a system of education patterned after factory, mass-production assembly lines.  In this system educators are not viewed as professionals who can make decisions about the needs of children, but as line workers who must carry out the mandates of managers.

Here is the voice of a true “progressive”, reminding us that the goal should be to progress, that is to move forward, not merely build upon and reinforce tradition.

Lynn calls out and elaborates on six pivotal progressive education principles to help us move beyond tradition and conventional wisdom...

Value positive human diversity – Resist standardizing students and instead nurture each to develop their unique gifts, talents, abilities and skills to benefit society.

Draw forth potential – A process of “loving interaction” brings forth the best in each student (rather than focusing on overcoming “deficits”) and is the opposite of filling them with information.

Respect Autonomy – Encourage and expect students to be responsible for their own education.

Invite Inquiry – As opposed to imposing compulsory learning.

Support Professionalism – Do not treat teachers as assembly-line workers by mandating what and how they teach.

CommUNITY for Great Schools – Parents should move from being “spectators” of the education process to full participants as partners with teachers and their kids.

I suspect some of the teachers I know would argue that they are already doing all this even in the context of our current highly standardized, test obsessed schools.  As a parent (and not a formal educator) I have my doubts.  

Though I admit there are some truly gifted teachers out there, I suspect that the natural talent and acquired skills to do all this in and for a classroom of even twenty students is a fairly rare skill, and certainly above and beyond what can be expected of teachers, given how much we pay them.  Imagine trying to put a sufficient number of teachers that meet Lynn's high “bar” in front of our 57 million young people of school age.  That's roughly 2 million stellar teachers.  No offense to the teaching profession, but I don't think any profession in the US can boast 2 million stellar practitioners.

But if we are truly talking about shifting the paradigm of education from a top-down hierarchy of control to internally motivated learners directing their own education, maybe kids can spend a significant amount of their time involved with each other or with other adults who are not necessarily teachers, but otherwise interesting and talented people.  Time spent in the presence of a real teacher, that meets Lynn's qualifications, can be the exception rather than the rule.  

Maybe the title of “teacher” should be reserved for a smaller more select group of highly-paid professionals while a larger pool of “instructors” have a lesser expectation to just know and be able to convey their subject matter when students choose to partake of such instruction.  The “teacher” would function more as a counselor or consultant, interacting with the student for only an hour a day or even just an hour a week, now completely relieved of the custodial function that is the other function of today's schools.

I'd say Lynn's provocative ideas raise more questions than answers.  But then inspiring inquiry is what a great teacher is all about!

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (4+ / 0-)

    Cooper Zale Los Angeles

    by leftyparent on Wed Jun 08, 2011 at 04:35:47 PM PDT

  •  Where is respect for reason and science (0+ / 0-)

    as far as an educational value?

    Why isn't that high on the list?

    God is the problem, not the solution.

    by Sam Wise Gingy on Wed Jun 08, 2011 at 04:47:59 PM PDT

    •  Lynn is focused on the process of teaching... (0+ / 0-)

      not so much the content.  Any content, including science, is a tool for human development.  Those kids who are exposed to science and have the desire to inquire further, are facilitated in doing so and becoming the next generation of scientists.

      And reason, as more of a process, would be one of the methodologies of inquiry to be encouraged and modeled by the teacher.

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles

      by leftyparent on Wed Jun 08, 2011 at 05:58:06 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Because folks here don't believe in actually... (0+ / 0-)

      knowing stuff.

      No different than Americans generally speaking, although they put pretty words in front, to market their intellectual nihilism.

      "I'm gonna go eat a steak. And fuck my wife. And pray to GOD"
      - hatemailapalooza, 052210

      by punditician on Wed Jun 08, 2011 at 06:29:24 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I would argue (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sam Wise Gingy

    that a certain amount of standardization is a good thing. Mind you, I don't think that education has to be all fun all the time for children. One important lesson for the child to absorb is that we sometimes have to do things that we don't particularly enjoy.

    Certain subjects are hard and will involve frustration on the part of the child but the satisfaction of 'getting it' makes the previous hard times worth while. I would think that lesson in delayed gratification would be priceless in today's society.

    Education is hard - but the results are worth it as the solid foundation provided by an in depth understanding of the 3Rs, science and the liberal arts will do a thousand times more for the kid's self esteem in the long run than cheap ego boosts and easy lessons.

    Teachers work really hard for very little fiscal or status based rewards. You are asking them to do even more and to be downgraded unless they are really really special. This all seems very unfair.

    •  From my experience learning is not hard... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      it is an exciting adventure of discovery that most people feel blessed to be able to pursue, particularly when that voyage of discovery is self-initiated and self-directed.

      I would put forward that you and I are operating under completely different paradigms for human development.  Yours seems to involve others filling you full of wisdom where as mine involves ones personal pursuit of wisdom.

      In my world view and from my experience learning and developing is the main thing in the world that is fun!

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles

      by leftyparent on Wed Jun 08, 2011 at 06:07:47 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I did not enjoy learning algebra (0+ / 0-)

        I would not have learned it if I had been allowed to avoid it. I would have sailed on and learned many things and left that as a big hole in my education.

        I did not enjoy or appreciate algebra until at least 6 years after I mastered it.

        My degree is in engineering, and as it happened I ended up going fairly far in math. Left to my own devices at that time, I would have ended up in a very different career.

        Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

        by elfling on Thu Jun 09, 2011 at 12:20:38 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  So yours is an anecdote where the external... (0+ / 0-)

          mandates turned out to be important to you developmentally.  Fair enough.  

          But say, in a different educational paradigm of real choices, what if you had had a counselor or mentor who looked at who you were back in high school and saw your potential as an engineer and made that recommendation to you.  Would you have listened and taken the Algebra or would you have blown it off?

          Cooper Zale Los Angeles

          by leftyparent on Thu Jun 09, 2011 at 08:01:51 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Blown it off (0+ / 0-)

            My mother has a degree in mathematics and there was plenty of encouragement. I routinely attended "teaching women in math and science" type conferences with her even.

            But, the only reason I completed it was because it was required. It made no sense to me and I saw no purpose to it. It was not until I was far older that I came to appreciate the power or importance of the concepts.

            Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

            by elfling on Thu Jun 09, 2011 at 01:33:14 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I guess the waters are a little muddier... (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              than any of us with a principled position would like them to be.  grin

              Cooper Zale Los Angeles

              by leftyparent on Thu Jun 09, 2011 at 09:31:09 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Plus there are alligators (0+ / 0-)

                I think you always have to be willing to change course based on the situation on the ground. :-)

                Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

                by elfling on Thu Jun 09, 2011 at 11:09:57 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

              •  By the way, one might say (0+ / 0-)

                and I had a public school teacher say to me recently for that matter, that the fact that I never got a compelling answer for "why are we learning this" was the failure of my teachers. I would agree with that. Teachers need to have a good answer for that question (or as he would say, teachers need to answer it before the student even asks).

                The value in answering that question and the answer itself is something that should be part of teacher training.

                Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

                by elfling on Thu Jun 09, 2011 at 11:13:44 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  If people are going to be compelled to do stuff... (0+ / 0-)

                  and fortunately our species is moving slowly away from compulsion, but to the extent we still do it, you have a right to know why, what the point is, what the logic of it is.  This gives you the opportunity to appy your own agency and decide whether to participate or resist.

                  Cooper Zale Los Angeles

                  by leftyparent on Fri Jun 10, 2011 at 11:18:16 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

  •  I'd say the most important goal (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    The Red Pen

    of educational system is to instill in students a desire to learn and the ability to continue doing so for the extent of their lives.

    Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

    by a gilas girl on Wed Jun 08, 2011 at 05:45:15 PM PDT

    •  Would you call that the ability to reason? n/t (0+ / 0-)

      God is the problem, not the solution.

      by Sam Wise Gingy on Wed Jun 08, 2011 at 06:06:33 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  My take is that people are natural learners... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      The Red Pen

      born with the desire to learn.  The mantra for school, like for a physician, should be "do no harm" to that natural urge, and create an enriched environment to let that natural urge thrive.

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles

      by leftyparent on Wed Jun 08, 2011 at 06:10:31 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  That might be your take... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        The Red Pen

        but in my experience it isn't true, since any number of people believe that learning stops once they know something.

        So a relationship to learning (of all kinds) is something that doesn't come naturally, but needs to be cultivated.  That can be accomplished in multiple ways.  It can also be obstructed.  In multiple ways.

        Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

        by a gilas girl on Wed Jun 08, 2011 at 07:52:13 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Sounds like you have had a very different... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          The Red Pen

          experience to my own!

          Cooper Zale Los Angeles

          by leftyparent on Wed Jun 08, 2011 at 09:55:22 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Education (0+ / 0-)

          A lot of people don't realize that "education" comes from the verb "educe."  To "educe" is to "Bring out or develop (something latent or potential)."

          I agree with you that educators are in the business of developing what the student has, not installing "knowledge" into empty spaces.  Each student is different, and, therefore, approaches need to be flexible.

          Harboring resentment is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.

          by The Red Pen on Thu Jun 09, 2011 at 10:32:46 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  A couple of points here (0+ / 0-)

    seem suspect.

    "Unlimited potential"? Is that true of anyone? Including something like that is more or less an announcement that this is not meant to be taken as objectively true.

    The "Intuition" section only includes the side of intuition that seems least likely to be the business of the state. There are major teachable sides to intuition in, say, statistics that are ignored.

    Michael Weissman UID 197542

    by docmidwest on Wed Jun 08, 2011 at 07:04:13 PM PDT

    •  Lynn can be a bit utopian perhaps... (0+ / 0-)

      with the "unlimited potential", but I would say that every person begins their lives with a great deal of potential including a unique gift that they may or may not be able to give to the world.

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles

      by leftyparent on Wed Jun 08, 2011 at 09:58:13 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  fair enough (0+ / 0-)

        but when trying to persuade people on a contentious issue, it's a terrible idea to put a big label on your back saying "unrealistic dreamer". That's especially true on issues where people ae grounded in immediate personal experience.

        Michael Weissman UID 197542

        by docmidwest on Thu Jun 09, 2011 at 05:23:06 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Agreed... Lynn on principle wears that label... (0+ / 0-)

          though he would probably say he trusts in human potential.  He started his teaching in the 1960s in those days of dreaming of a better world.

          Cooper Zale Los Angeles

          by leftyparent on Thu Jun 09, 2011 at 08:04:45 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

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