My Vision for a Transformed Education | IDEA

My Vision for a Transformed Education

Posted by Kristan Morrison on Nov 22, 2010 - 09:57 AM

Sometimes the universe really comes together, doesn't it? I had been planning on writing my blog entry today, but wasn't sure what to write on. Then just yesterday, I got a notice about the National Day of Blogging for Real Education Reform and the question of "how should our country transform education to engage all learners?" This totally connected to a topic I have been discussing with my graduate foundations of education class. In this class, we have been reading a book by noted educational researcher Gene V. Glass entitled Fertilizers, Pills, and Magnetic Strips. In this book, Glass argues that the academic crisis we are supposedly experiencing in education is a manufactured one (see also Berliner and Biddle's The Manufactured Crisis) and that the solutions being offered and implemented are actually causing more problems. Specifically, "reforms" such as NCLB/Race to the Top, vouchers, charter schools, open enrollment, tuition tax credits and the like are causing re-intensified social class and race-based segregation in schools, a more narrow curricular focus, too much emphasis on product rather than process, cheating scandals, misuse of public fund for private gains, and so on. Glass' argument puts off many of my students who find him to be too hyper-critical of all these reforms. They ask, "What do Glass and others like him ultimately want?" and "At least someone is coming up with ideas like vouchers, NCLB, etc. Isn't trying out reforms like these at least a step in the right direction?"

My response, echoing Glass', is to pose another series of questions back at them, "Why [these] proposals [for reform] and not others? Who is proposing this reform? Who wins and who loses (money, prestige, status, freedom) if we go down this path?" (p. 146). I also add we have ample evidence of what changes are needed in education to help children learn and retain information and skills better - changes that are, in many ways, "no-brainers" in terms of understanding how they will lead to more engaged (and thus more "successful") learners. I then ask, why don't we implement these reforms? And why do we define a crisis in education as just being about how few pieces of information kids can spit out on a test and how we fare in international comparisons? I share that, in my opinion, it is the lack of engagement in learning, the apathy and the boredom for the life of the world and the mind that is the true crisis in education - but we have solutions for this crisis already! We just need to put them in place!

Below is my vision for transformed education. My students argue that all this is just so much pie-in-the-sky thinking, but I say that where there is a will, there's a way. Great accomplishments have been achieved in our society once we all gain a vision of what to go after - so why can't this apply to a transformed education as well?

There are research-proven ways to engage learners and thus lead to a more joyful and productive education. These include:

Increasing the adult/student ratio. Have smaller class sizes; have more aides, parents, and community members interacting with kids both inside school walls and in the community at large.

Having more hands on, real-life learning experiences available that actually accomplish somethings (e.g. solve community problems) and relate to kids' lived experiences. This includes field trips as well as questioning whether kids need to be in classrooms for 7+ hours a day. Why not more internships and involvement with community needs at younger ages?

Giving kids more autonomy. How will we ever help create curious, independent, life-long learners if kids are always being told what to do and how and when to do it?

Empowering teachers and other educational professionals to make decisions (curricular, governance, etc.). Why is it that those furthest from children (in terms of daily interaction) typically hold the most decision-making power in our educational system and those closest to the children typically hold the least?

Fixing social policies. We need to pass laws and policies that mitigate the worst effects of a highly unequal society. We need to provide services to those with the most needs - health care, meals, adult education services, parenting classes, etc. Helping families be safer, more secure, and better educated will help their children be more ready to actively engage in their education.

Attending to the whole child. Let's stop thinking that education is just about academics. Shouldn't we also be working to help kids be healthy eaters and exercisers, to be caring and compassionate citizens who know how to work with others to accomplish a goal, to be self-aware and equipped with skills that encourage emotional well-being, and to be creative and appreciative of the arts and literature?

All of these things CAN BE accomplished (and more!) and are being implemented in bits and pieces in various schools around the country. What we need is sustained focus and support (financial, ideological, etc.) for carrying out all these reforms that WE ALREADY KNOW work!!! ENOUGH with reforms that only help some kids and actually hurt others, and reforms that have us doing more of the same old, same old. Let's really think big and remake our education into something that truly is transformed!

**Dear readers, I feel like I am forgetting some other research-proven ways to heighten learner engagement. What can you add to my vision?

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