Fixing Public Education
What does “Ideal” mean?
The ideal school in FIXING PUBLIC EDUCATION is titled the “January Education Model” symbolizing new beginnings. Is it possible to have an enlightened means of educating children in public schools? Are we just too accustomed to thinking that public school is about “cramming ‘essential knowledge’ into kids in K-12 grades”? Are we hooked on the 13 year model of forcing pre-determined curriculum into kids to ‘bring them all to the same level playing field of life’?
For some reason, despite decades of KNOWING that education as currently constructed is NOT leveling the playing field at all, we have stuck to the same ‘philosophy’ based on the notion that there is ‘essential knowledge’ (now also called 21st Century Tools & Skills) that kids MUST internalize if they are to have a chance at being successful. Simple plan. Way too simple. First of all the most basic premise is wrong. I will get to that in a minute. The second premise that is also wrong is that there is one best way to get kids to learn these essential things: Break it down into tiny pieces and feed it to kids one at a time…and one day: BOOM!
This premise is also wrong. Handing dissociated pieces of knowledge to anyone is the least effective way of getting the whole picture. Research shows us time and again that if a learning module starts with the Whole and encourages kids to see how those little pieces fit into it when the child is ready learning occurs much more effectively. It adds M&Ms to the formula: Motivation with Meaning. Driver education is an elective. It has a waiting list. Why? Kids see themselves driving around in a car, able to impress their friends, or pick up a girlfriend, to join that class of kids in the ‘car fraternity/sorority, and to stretch out the boundaries of what it means to be an adult, i.e. Freedom. Because they see the big picture they are willing to learn about safety, car parts, highway laws, and go through tedious student driving – Why? Because they clearly see the reason for it. It is a means to an end they understand and desire. They are motivated because they see the meaning.
Go back into the classroom. We mainly force the memorization of pieces of some distant whole called ‘a successful life’ way down the pike. To keep it going children are convinced that higher grades are good, or we they get a reward for learning these uninteresting pieces. When that does not work we threaten kids and, now, their teachers, principals and schools to make cramming a better science. Those good at making cramming effective get to keep their jobs. Some schools are spending six weeks cramming for state tests now.
This is a sad way to view education. It is an even sadder way to DO education.
Now we begin to see what FIXING PUBLIC EDUCATION is about. It espouses a new way – the January Model of Educational Excellence – that illustrates how we can change this around in a win-win situation for everyone. Think on this: Having a ‘Race to the Top’ cannot work without creating losers as well as winners, right? If the prize at the end of the race is worth having, most of the participants MUST be losers. Is it realistic to think that all runners will cross the finish line together, evenly breaking the tape as one?
What if Secretary of Education Arne Duncan had laid out the actual truth in his Race to the Top strategy in 2008? The truth would sound like this: “We have a LOT of money we are going to give to the winners of this Race to the Top (no longer called No Child Left Behind). Most schools and their children will automatically be losers, of course. Odds are your child will be in a loser category…but think of it this way. He or she is part of the Race to the Top! Isn’t that exciting? Alright everyone: On your mark…get set…” Well, I doubt even his basketball buddy, the President, could have kept Mr. Duncan in office the first year as the hue and outcry would be deafening. “That is a stupid, stupid thing to do!” we would have screamed. “You are going to paint a majority of kids as losers so some can be winners? And we already know who those winners are…the rich parents’ kids and their beautiful schools in the suburbs! We want something that every child can win…no matter who they are.”
The authors of FIXING PUBLIC EDUCATION noticed that many of the problems plaguing schools – funding, reform, discipline, dropouts, achievement gaps, a general lack of enthusiasm for learning, and disengaged students and faculty, as well as the “accountability issues” we are trying to pressurize, standardize, and test our way out of – CAN be reduced, if not permanently eradicated, by adopting what we call the January Education Model of Excellence. It can begin now…each teacher could implement small pieces. A school or school system or state could implement the January Education Model close to a 100% if they would but open their eyes to some of these things.
The January Education Model
LEARNER-CENTERED: The January Education Model (JEM from now on) states that it is honestly “learner-centered” and is not in the business of spoon-feeding kids soon to be forgotten material that is supposedly “good for society” or “best for the USA to compete with other countries” or “essential knowledge our forefathers determined was best to learn” under the guise that is “good for the child.”
JEM states that the (real) winning school begins with the child as the core of his or her learning and develops the curriculum around each child. Call it “curriculum wrapping” if you will. Before the first school day every year each child is assessed on their existing condition, e.g., what does each learner already know, and what strengths (talents, skills, aptitudes), interests and needs are already possessed? THEN, and only then do we talk curriculum: A unique curriculum for every child is constructed on those findings WITH the child. It will take skillful, professional, flexible and concerned educators who can address and adapt curriculum to these ends, of course. But it can be done. It has been done.
What should “school” then be? We know it is just human nature to keep what we have until there is a clear picture of what we could have. FIXING PUBLIC EDUCATION explains why the public school system is in deep trouble, and shows that there is every reason to be optimistic because a new paradigm is in town: The January Education Model, or JEM.
Today’s school systems are fear-based, stressful, negative, and pressurized. What is the good reason for this? Is this what our children and their teachers need? Some claim the stress is necessary. It is not, it is destructive. Stress encourages a workaround strategy. How can I get out from under this stress??? is the only goal. There is a much better way that we CAN work towards now and begin to see the excitement grow and the stress recede.
If pressurizers did agree, how would a school appear, one that could help children learn?
FIXING PUBLIC EDUCATION ~ The Editor and one of the Authors