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I am becoming more and more uncomfortable with the whole concept of “school” and “education”, seeing both as formalized and standardized bureaucratic mechanisms that awkwardly attempt to both facilitate and direct human development.  I think that is at the heart of the issue and my discomfort, because facilitating people and directing people are two very different approaches to human social interaction, often incompatible with each other.

A recent piece I read in Education Week,"Superintendents Push Dramatic Changes for Conn. Schools", highlighted my discomfort with this discordant duality.  From the intro to the piece...

The Connecticut classroom of the future may not be limited by a traditional school year, the four walls of a classroom, or even the standard progression of grades, based on a proposed package of unusually bold changes that are being advanced by the state’s school superintendents. Instead, the current system would be replaced by a “learner-centered” education program that would begin at age 3; offer parents a menu of options, including charter schools and magnet schools; and provide assessments when an individual child is ready to be tested, rather than having all children tested in a class at the same time.

As a broken-record advocate for “many educational paths” this all sounds very good to me.  Build an entire infrastructure of different and differentiated learning venues, which in some cases is a school, in other cases perhaps a library, in other cases a “real world” venue like a work place or community center, and even a kids' home.  Leverage the Internet as well to link all these together, students with teachers (only when teachers are needed by the learners) or create new virtual venues beyond all the brick and mortar ones.

I certainly will bear witness to the idea that learning can happen outside the classroom.  I know from my own experience growing up, plus watching my kids do the same, that most of my and my kids most profound learning happened outside of a school classroom and not under the direction of a teacher.  That said, I know other kids who really resonate with that whole academic classroom milieu.  For those kids that seek it out, great.  But why as kids do we have to build our “school days” anchored around sitting on our butts in a generally information-impoverished classroom environment being spoon-fed instruction by a gatekeeper adult, unless that instruction is what we have individually decided we are seeking?

Finally the idea that mastering a particular body of knowledge should be done on the learner's timetable rather than the state's.  And the related problem of all kids the same age having to learn the same thing at the same time.  To me this is a remnant of a 19th century industrial paradigm that facilitated building a million Model T Fords, but not help kids transition to adulthood in the 21st century.

So starting to imagine all these wonderful transformational possibilities, I continue to read about what is motivating the council of the state's school district superintendents to move forward with this plan...

“We’ve seen a not-so-subtle transformation in the education world from providing students with an opportunity to learn, to an obligation to be sure that every kid does learn,” said Frank H. Sippy, the superintendent of the 4,500-student Pomperaug Regional School District 15 and a member of the 16-person panel that developed the education transformation proposal. “We superintendents recognized we’re pretty well equipped to do the former, but not terribly equipped to do the latter.”

My heart sinks reading this.  I am enough of a believer in people having the liberty to direct their own lives to feel that the state has no business going beyond giving every young person the opportunity to learn.  You start forcing people to learn and there is a profound paradigm shift which corrodes the natural internally motivated urge every human being has to learn things.  

Once it becomes the state's obligation to direct rather than facilitate each person's development, then it justifies the use of standardization and centralization to force schools to teach and students to learn.  The justified use of force leads to all sorts of coercion and corruption that we see in all this teaching to the test and the inevitable cheating that is the collateral damage of that.

Then I read...

In 2008, at an annual policy conference that brought together 123 of the state’s 165 superintendents, the leaders talked about how the mission of education had shifted to the expectation that all students should be achieving at high levels.

I thought we progressive people had figured out that the goal is to offer people equal opportunity, not try to engineer equal results.  That is the critique of progressivism that conservatives are always putting forward.

So here again is my ambivalence.  Somehow whenever learning and human development are framed in terms of “education” and particularly in that learning venue we call “school”, it becomes a bureaucratic exercise where we are trying to do things to people rather than do things for people.  The state of Connecticut is talking the language of learner-centered facilitation but accepting the obligation to have kids achieve concrete learning objectives rather than just ensure that they have the opportunity to do so.  It seems like such a slippery slope!

So sill with some hope but also a great deal of concern I will continue to watch the unfolding events in Connecticut.  Hoping that the benefits of making formal education more differentiated and more on the learner's timetable will outweigh the costs of the state taking ever greater responsibility for the outcomes and direction of individual human development.  

Originally posted to leftyparent on Sat Jan 28, 2012 at 02:12 PM PST.

Also republished by Education Alternatives.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (3+ / 0-)

    Cooper Zale Los Angeles

    by leftyparent on Sat Jan 28, 2012 at 02:12:14 PM PST

  •  What a coincidence… (3+ / 0-)

    I just posted a comment, entitled "Outside the Box" on this post in which a parent is agonizing over school choice for their youngster.

    In my comment I go on and on about homeschooling, an activity with which my daughter is having great success. No, it's not the right wing, fundie based homeschooling—it is totally secular. I flatter myself that the comment is worth a read.

    •  exatc... We also homeschooled our kids... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      during what would be their high school years.  I'll check out your comment!

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles

      by leftyparent on Sat Jan 28, 2012 at 05:27:01 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Read your comment about homeschooling... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      exatc, historys mysteries, WarrenS

      Good to see all the progressive homeschoolers letting people know we are out there.  We tried the directed curriculum with our son Eric at first, but he was not comfortable with it and ended up completely directing his own learning, what they call "unschooling".  

      If you are interested here is a piece I wrote on that experience plus a link in the end to a follow-up on their young adult years and alternative to going to college...

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles

      by leftyparent on Sat Jan 28, 2012 at 05:31:42 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm glad to see this too (0+ / 0-)

        I was beginning to think that this group was co-opted by public school teachers.  Unfortunately, they view anything outside the traditional public school setting with suspicion.

        " is believing what you know aint so." Mark Twain

        by nyskeptic on Tue Jan 31, 2012 at 03:25:26 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I guess its understandable these days... (0+ / 0-)

          given the siege mentality that many teachers rightfully feel with all the standardized curriculum and testing and the bureaucratic squeeze that is looking to manipulate them from above.  It would be nice though if everyone involved in education could acknowledge that it takes "many paths of learning" to help everyone develop to their fullest.  A one-size-fits-all approach is just not going to cut it!

          Cooper Zale Los Angeles

          by leftyparent on Tue Jan 31, 2012 at 05:49:03 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Yes, in a way I do understand (0+ / 0-)

            where they are coming from.  I'm a nurse, and I am sometimes in the same position.  I may look at a homeopathic style of healing or treatment, but sometimes I can't help that my formal training pushes me into a more traditional direction.  Most of us can't help the way that we are trained by our professions to think.  On the other hand, I so want people to start understanding that a crazy quilt of methods is the only way to teach and educate the myriad of learning styles that are out there.  I really want them to acknowledge that children are individuals and different from one another and forcing them into the same stiff patterns is detrimental to them as people.  And again, it bothers me that every argument ends up being about teachers unions.  I am in favor of unions in a general sense.  I acknowledge the good that they do and that it's essential for people to have some representation.  Unfortunately, when discussing what is good for children and their education, it is deemed an attack on teacher's unions, and I am tired of fighting the same battles over and over again.  I admire you your patience and understanding whenever I see this "alternatives" group being co-opted by the traditional same-old, same-old set.  One day I would really like to see a real argument for different learning styles, but until someone acknowledges that not every child has to be educated in public school, I don't think we can have it.

            " is believing what you know aint so." Mark Twain

            by nyskeptic on Thu Feb 02, 2012 at 04:13:30 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  We homeschool our daughter... (0+ / 0-)

    ...and it's utterly, unbelievably, incredibly awesome.

    Freedom isn't "on the march." Freedom dances.

    by WarrenS on Sat Jan 28, 2012 at 07:12:03 PM PST

  •  expecting all to learn is a good thing (0+ / 0-)

    I think you misunderstood the comments.  For too long, schools allowed everyone to just pass through, nothing much was expected of low ses or trouble makers.  Now schools are held accountable for students and are finally expecting all to learn to the best of their abilities and are finally trying to get all to learn to the best of their abilities.  Will all learn to the same level--no.  But at least they will not be given a pass when they cannot read.  

    As always, schools cannot force a student to learn, if kids do not take advantage of resources and opportunities to learn, the schools are not going to try brainwashing.  

    I hope the schools are not just talking about it again.  This is what usually happens, talk, new jargon, same old same old, more jargon, then a whole new paradigm shift to all new learning strategies.  

    •  I hear your concen that in "letting kids pass"... (0+ / 0-)

      that the adults in the school and the larger society they were acting as agents of were signaling to these kids they don't care about them.  I think we are still saying that to many of our poorer young people today when we require them to come to schools poorly maintained, poorly equipped and poorly staffed rather than the schools for kids with more economic privilege.

      But I think the current prevailing school regime of increasing top-down enforced control, where it is "do what I tell you to do or you will fail", that represents a kind of caring yes, but not a full honoring of these young human beings as unique individuals who have to chart their own course.

      IMO we still don't have the relationship between adult stewardship of youth quite right.  We as a society are still transitioning from a world where everyone has a "boss" to a world with no "bosses".  Managing kids IMO is the last vestige of that old order where they need to be "bossed" to develop, rather than engaging them more in the context of a circle of equals, which is the prevailing paradigm in how adults deal with each other in our society.

      We may just have to disagree on this one... but I appreciate your thoughtful comments.

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles

      by leftyparent on Sun Jan 29, 2012 at 09:56:47 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  way too west coast for me (0+ / 0-)

        sounds like some of the babble coming out of those meditation seminars so popular out there.  Sorry, children are not equals in knowledge nor emotions and need leadership and guidance.  But still, I do not understand where you get that schools tell students do it this way or fail?  There might be places like that, we know bad schools exist, but this is not the approach guided by the new emphasis on making sure each child has an opportunity to achieve to their best.  Peace.

        •  I physically (& I guess metaphorically live)... (0+ / 0-)

          on the west coast... grin  I understand that most adults are not where I'm at (yet?) regarding the rules of engagement between adults and youth.  Given that, I would be interested in your thoughts on my pieces on "Adultism"...

          Peace as well... and be well... thanks for your comments... I love this sort of discussion!

          Cooper Zale Los Angeles

          by leftyparent on Sun Jan 29, 2012 at 02:04:24 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

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