As I was rummaging through some old files, I came across a couple of papers I wrote for a graduate course, Curriculum Development, that was part of my masters in educational leadership degree program. In addition to feeling a bit smug and proud of the professor’s feedback comments, it was a curious feeling to re-read something that I had authored in 1992. As I perused those brittle pages, I was expecting to be amused by some sophomoric assumptions. Oddly, I was not. To my surprise, I discovered that much of what I expressed 28 years ago was remarkably current.
Here are the opening and closing paragraphs of one of these papers. It is titled “What it is to be Human, to Know and to Teach.” Here goes:
“In presenting my assumptions of what it is to be human, to know and to teach, I will largely weave my notions into a unified fabric that tends to blend the three topics into one - “to be,” as it applies to education. To address these topics in a purely separated fashion would present a fragmented picture at best. The desire to know is a basic human endeavor. The imparting of knowledge through some method of teaching is a long standing component of most organized human societies. To attempt the discovery of our true humanity is at the heart of self actualization through social and educational pursuits.
I will be working from foundations for many of these assumptions through the disciplines of psychology, philosophy and anthropology. Other beliefs stated will find their foundation in my personal experiences and observations as I continue the process of being both learner and teacher, and strive to understand more fully my own humanness.
To teach is to take very seriously the needs of students and to provide a learning environment and educational experiences that will meet those needs. To teach is to endorse that we are guides, not guards; learning is a journey, not a destination; questioning the answers, rather than answering the questions, leads to discovery; the process is discovering ideas, not covering the content; the goal is opened minds, not closed issues; the test is being and becoming, not remembering and reviewing.
To be human is to seek truth. To know is to question conventions. To teach is, at the least, the most profound and significant of all professions.”
That first paper created a philosophical backdrop for the second in my historical discovery. It’s titled “Middle Level Curriculum Reform” and gets to the heart of what is, and is not, working for kids in American classrooms. While it focuses on middle level curriculum, it could be easily applied to any level of public education. Again, I cite a tiny piece.
“ ‘Let us say it straight-away: far too often, middle level curriculum is boring. Despite all of the good things that are happening in the way of teams, advisories, intra-murals, flexible schedules, and over-all climate in the middle level schools, little improvement has occurred in basic curriculum. Too often students sit in desks bleary-eyed, cranking out worksheets or listening to teachers drone on (and on) about topics that have little significance to anyone, much less young adolescents. It is ironic that in all the rhetoric about reform in education, virtually nothing is said about the lack of substance and meaning in curriculum. Yet ask virtually any dropout or disenchanted student what is wrong with education, and these factors will be at the top of the list.’ (John Arnold, “Towards a Middle Level Curriculum Rich in Meaning,” Middle School Journal, November 1991)
Arnold’s accusation is one that must be taken seriously by those of us actively engaged in middle level education. Evidence of the truth contained in this complaint can be found in an unfortunate majority of schools whose purpose is to serve the educational needs of young adolescents. While I am very willing to believe that the intentions of these institutions, and the professionals working within their walls, are well meaning, I must conclude from my own experience and research that, in spite of our intentions, we are not adequately serving the needs of these students, educationally or otherwise, in our current curriculum and delivery methods.
I believe that our curriculum and delivery methods must be based on the following principles:
1. Learning can best take place when the student is actively involved in his or her own learning process.
2. Learning can best take place in an environment of trust when/where self- esteem is nurtured.
3. Learning can best take place when the student and teacher become partners, with shared power and influence, in the educational process.
4. Learning can best take place when the student can find personal relevance during instructional activities and in the subject matter.
Only in integrating the educational experiences of the child with his or her life experiences, can the student discover relevancy, true meaning and a joyful purpose in learning.”
I invite any curious historians to download the full contents of these musings. Simply visit my website, www.theeducationkidsdeserve.com Then click the “FREE Download” buttons at the bottom of the home page. Happy reading!
Now either I am some kind of clairvoyant with the remarkable ability to peer accurately nearly three decades into the future, or something is dreadfully wrong. Sadly, it is that something is dreadfully wrong. What I was reflecting on back in 1992 were the challenges and issues educators were facing at the time. And, here we are, 28 years later, still admiring the same challenges and still caught in a quagmire of inaction. It’s like the profession has been in hibernation all this time; suddenly waking up to realize that ignoring the problems before us, or simply kicking the can down the road, have not been satisfying responses.
Here’s the real issue. It matters little whether I was correct in my 1992 observations. It also doesn’t matter whether these same 2020 concerns enjoy popular support within the profession. What does matter is the evidence, or the lack of it, that American educators have taken the appropriate and affirmative steps to assure that all kids receive a relevant education. Sure, there’s been some forward movement. But, these achievements are found in pockets. While educators working in these pockets of excellence deserve accolades for their efforts, a pocket approach (promising practices sprinkled here and there) is not a model of equity in education. The needs of children demand that progress be brought to scale, that regardless of their postal zip code, kids and families can expect that the very best instructional practices will be present for them. So, here’s the hard truth. We haven’t done it. Consequently, kids don’t receive what they need. That’s what really matters here. Kids are not recipients of the education they deserve.
Again, you’re invited to download the full documents I wrote way back then. Please do, and then tell me what you think. Am I missing something? Or, is there work to be done? (There are convenient links on my website that will get your thoughts to me.)
We can do better. The Education Kids Deserve. www.theeducationkidsdeserve.com