When I wrote my book, Learning Unleashed: Re-imagining and Re-purposing Our Schools, I knew that readers would fall into several camps. There would be those who enthusiastically agreed with the proposals that I presented, those who could wrap their heads around one or two ideas, and those who vehemently disagreed with the entire premise and intent of the book. I am totally okay with that. It mirrors the diversity of thought that fuels our collective engines, hopefully to produce better results for all of our school-aged children.
As I wrote in the preface of my book, “My desire is that everyone who reads this book will find a reawakening of passion, a morsel of hope, a willingness to think out of the box when it comes to the world of formal schooling.” That is still my hope.
In various capacities, over thirty years, I have participated, observed, and led others in the quest for an excellent education on behalf of thousands of young people in our schools. I care deeply about learning and find that most teachers do as well. I will continue to reiterate that teachers have one of the most difficult and rewarding jobs in our country.
I can hear the naysayers. For their benefit, I do not assume that other jobs are not challenging, demanding or difficult. They are as well. However, from my vantage point, teaching requires a level of consciousness that rivals a surgeon during an operation. It takes critical decision making, expertise and incredible skill to assess and respond in a way that increases the likelihood that the patient will survive. Great teachers do this everyday.
I know and have observed great teaching and learning in public schools, charter schools, private schools, religious-affiliated schools, and home schools. Great teachers are everywhere! In each instance, I noticed that choices were made by parents and students based on what they needed most. This makes sense to me because I am a mother and grandmother. I would not accept or tolerate inferior schooling for my children or grandchildren. Would you?
Why is it then that critics of school choice seem to know better than the parents and students who want to make these choices? Are these parents not capable of deciding which school choices are better than others? Do they need to be shouted down, harassed and intimidated as anti-public schools because they may choose a different course for their child? Where is the civil rights outcry when the right to choose something as basic as an education is vilified and demonized?
My book does not bash teachers, principals, or superintendents and school boards. It is not anti-public schools or pro-religious or charter schools. It does not espouse the best route for schooling at the exclusion of others. I would not claim to know what is the best schooling choice for every child in this country. I would defer to a child’s parents on this determination. Apparently, there are many voices, (mostly teacher unions and those who support them) claiming to know what kind of school is best.
Unfortunately, as a nation we are not on common ground when it comes to the purpose of schooling. Some believe that it exists to promote and further our democracy. Others hold fast to the notion that it prepares students for college, careers and life in general. There are some who believe that it exists for the benefit of the social order as seen here below.
Until there is common ground and consensus on why we have schools to begin with and what purpose they serve, we will surely encounter division and discord. Do we consider schooling a moral obligation, a right, a necessary requirement? Do we believe that the federal government is the sole directional compass, mandating body that ensures educational equity? If so, does equity include ALL kinds of schools or just the ones deemed appropriate or acceptable and who makes that determination? Do we believe that how one decides to become educated is a basic human right and should be unaffiliated with any governmental agency?
Given that there is vast disagreement on the “why” of schooling, we would do well to honor and accept these differences and stop trying to promote one over the other. If we are a country of diversity in thought, ideology, culture, religion, politics, etc., should we not embrace diversity in schooling rather than control the options and narrow the choices?
Maria Montessori espoused a wonderful philosophy of learning; “Follow the child.” She became keenly aware that “children absorb knowledge from their surroundings, have an endless interest in manipulating materials, and given the right tools, they can teach themselves more than anyone realized.” 1
Considering that every child learns differently, at different times, and through different approaches, maybe we should frame our educational policies, funding, and support to FOLLOW THE CHILD!
Alas, perhaps it’s not really about the child at all. Perhaps its more about control, intimidation, or narrow-minded allegiance to an old school paradigm. The same thought that brought us to the one size fits all model of learning, will lead us to the same destination – mass production schooling where casualties are inevitable.