Education: Let’s get the question right

What if our approach to educating children and adolescents is all wrong? I mean, way out of the ballpark wrong.

That’s a rhetorical question.

Because of course we’re doing it all wrong. But we’ve been doing it all wrong for so long we no longer even have a sense of the right questions to ask.

Everywhere the discussion  about education revolves around two things: getting students to behave, and improving acheivement, mostly as defined by test scores.

I was recently in a workshop sponsored by a local nonprofit, where the discussion was along these lines. The facilitator gave an hour+ presentation on the theme of developing a shared vision for our community. The example he continually used was how to get more 4 years old ready for kindergarten. His model community had made tremendous and impressive strides toward this end. I think many people in the room were quite impressed.

But I found his presentation unsettling. I kept thinking, what exactly are we getting the kids ready for? To me, it seems like we’re preparing them for immersion in an essentially industrial process that derails their inner curriculum–the natural rhythms unique to each child that guide their emotional, social, and spiritual development.  We’re preparing them to perform. To achieve. To succeed… but to succeed in this toxic culture, and at tremendous cost to all that is soulful.

The question was wrong. Instead of “how do we prepare children for kindergarten,” I think a much better question would be “how do we revision our kindergartens so they are prepared for our children?” And since our schools are fundamentally about the people who interact as a community within them, perhaps the question is better framed, “How do we prepare ourselves to be members of a community that is truly ready to affirm the liveliness and kindergarteness and complexity of these children?”

A much better question, and one that might lead to a whole different way of thinking about education.

And perhaps a different way of assessing success that untethers us from the tyranny of test scores and No Child Left Behind.  There is a video series on YouTube (the first installment linked below) titled “Children Full of Life.” Imagine that! Children full of life, joy, sorrow, engaged, looking forward to school, loving and loved by their teachers. Imagine a teacher who helps the students understand that in his classroom, the most important thing is to be happy; and that of the lessons they will learn, the most important is…how to be happy. Imagine a teacher who assesses his success by…how happy the students are. And imagine a community that supports this approach, and also state and federal policies that do.

Ah, but the people will object: what about learning? As if learning happiness is not enough. OK, let’s suppose that it’s not. But consider this: when are students most likely to be engaged, enthusiastic, attentive, curious, inquiring? When they are happy, or when they are oppressed, bored, and bullied?

You do the math. I think the answer will be obvious.

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