How often do we think about why we actually go to school? Do we attend to improve our math, reading, writing, and analytical skills? Do we attend to help us learn to socialize? Do we attend to help us get into college? Do we attend to learn to become good citizens? Is anyone really sure why we attend school?
After pondering this for a few weeks, I thought it may make sense to think about why I sent my own kids to school. I wanted them to learn more, to be more skilled readers, writers, calculators and to learn more about the world around them. I also wanted them to become independent and get into a “good” college so they could get a “good” job and become “good”, contributing citizens.
I also discussed this with fellow administrator, Cutler Principal, Jennifer Clifford. She gave me her perspective:
As a parent of school-age children and an educator for over twenty years, imagine my surprise when I realized that most of my own children’s learning is happening outside of school. After all, isn’t learning the reason why we are in schools? Why I have spent over two decades working in public schools?
My oldest loved kindergarten for the first three months. He delighted in learning correct letter formation (and was delighted that I knew the Fundations sequence…the only perk he’s realized so far from having a parent as a principal). But by the middle of the year? He still loved his teachers and friends, but was disinterested in school. He was given appropriate work, but he was bored. And bored five year olds don’t sit and comply quietly. They are challenging. For everyone. But his personal challenge? To stay interested in his daily hours of traditional schoolwork.
As I drove to work one day fretting over his lack of interest in school–he’s my kid, shouldn’t I make sure he (of all people) loves school? I started thinking that maybe I didn’t learn much at school and maybe he wasn’t going to either. I grew up nextdoor to my grandmother, a second grade teacher, who made sure we all knew the basics. I devoured books outside of school in subjects that interested me. I completed my schoolwork quietly and endured group projects, but looking back, I’m not sure how much I actually learned in those years beyond how to “do school”. This realization as a parent and as a career educator made me stop in my tracks. Why do I sent my children to school if it’s not where they are learning? What have I been doing for the last twenty years?! These questions led me to explore the concepts of learning vs. schooling and to work, study, and think with the Modern Learners Community in starting in the summer of 2018.
In the Educational Leadership article, What kind of citizens do we need?, Joel Westheimer opens with the following:
“Democracies make special demands on their citizens. Schools must prepare young people to meet those demands.“
Do schools actually prepare students to meet the demands of (assuming US) democracy? Do our parents send their kids to school with that in mind? I’m not so sure. In my 28 years in education, I don’t ever remember a conversation specifically related to helping our students to meet the demands of democracy.
The HWRSD’s Mission is “to educate our children to become young adults who are of good character and demonstrate mastery of the knowledge and skills needed to be successful members of our global economy and engaged citizens of the 21st Century.” We have also developed a set of districtwide transfer goals that help to inform our work:
- Demonstrate Character – Build positive personal relationships and make responsible choices that are physically, socially, emotionally, and intellectually sound.
- Exhibit Resilience – Persevere in facing the challenges and taking the risks integral to owning one’s learning process.
- Communicate and Collaborate – Utilize effective and varied methods of communication and collaboration for different purposes and audiences.
- Problem Solve and Think Critically – Demonstrate critical and creative thinking in order to make informed decisions, draw conclusions, and solve problems.
- Lead Locally and Globally – Consider and evaluate multiple historical and cultural perspectives to lead empathetically, respectfully, and responsibly in the local and global community.
Are these the reasons our parents send their children to our school? Are there other motives that we may not fully understand? Jenn Clifford writes, “For me, the purpose of school is to prepare my children for their future. Not specifically for work, but for whatever lies ahead for them. I agree with Ted Dintersmith, author of What School Could be when he says that “School should be about finding out what you’re good at—preparing for lives of purpose, lives of contribution.”
In a recent Forbes article, Tom Vander Ark writes about Four Emerging Trends in Learning. In the first trend, contribution, he highlights a noticeable move away from standardized testing to the idea that “education that is driven by a sense of purpose” and further states,”making the world a better place is catching on.” We are beginning to see an increasing number of schools that are moving towards a more student-centered, project-based learning environment with the goal to solve real-world problems. Will this be the newest role of school?
The role of school is really a moving target; it truly depends on the individual perspective, the school, and more realistically, socioeconomics. Ask a high school senior at Hamilton-Wenham and they are likely to say that school should prepare them for college. While this may be the prevailing thought of most of our students, it may not be the perspective of students in other schools around the country. Generally, I believe, the prevailing thought would be preparation for future.
Businessman and author Peter Senge believes, “The purpose of education is for me to become me in the context of the society in which I live, so I can truly contribute to my society.” Thomas Jefferson is known for his thoughts on education and one of his more famous quotes is “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”
So what is the role of school in 2020 and beyond? I believe experience in school should prepare students to engage their futures by offering a broad range of skills that can be transferred to real-world problem solving and life development. These skills are developed from the earliest ages in a continuous growth cycle that allows for a balance of foundational skills, projects, personal investigation, inquiry, writing, calculating, communicating in various ways while integrating technology as needed. Schools must help students to develop the skills to adaptably learn and re-learn so that they can continue to manage their lives in a world that moves at an ever increasing pace. School should also include opportunities for students to develop passions by enabling opportunities for them to experiment, take healthy risks and experience failure in a supportive environment so they can learn to understand themselves, their beliefs and to meet the expectations of a global economy.
I’m curious, what is your idea of the role of school? Chime in here.