Let’s think about the challenge of reinventing education as if we were creating the system from scratch. To begin with we want to remember that the possibilities are as great as our imagination and that the only limits to our imaginations are those that we, ourselves, create.
Let us also remember that there are neither perfect systems nor perfect solutions, and there is no perfect time. If we wait around for the perfect idea, time, and place we will wait forever. The best time to act is almost always now. A good system will not be able to anticipate every single exception to the rule but it will accommodate both the unexpected and the peculiar.
We must understand that an effective system must be viewed as an integral whole. It is not a hodgepodge of ad hoc pieces thrown together rather it is a coordinated system in which each component is interdependent and often symbiotic. Each component has its job to do, a job on which each of the other components depend. For such a system to work effectively it must always be in a state of relative equilibrium. Anytime we make even subtle changes to individual components we must recognize that those changes will reverberate across the entire surface, placing the entire system in a disequilibrium. As a result, all changes must be made within the context of the whole.
Systems in a state of unresolved disequilibrium quickly become dysfunctional and our current systems of public education and the educational process that works within the system are prime examples of this phenomenon.
We want our system of public education to be as closely aligned to reality as possible. That means that it addresses the real challenges facing us in the world but it also means that it is based upon the reality with respect to the way children grow, learn, and develop. All systems must be focused on the customer. In the case of a system as complex as education, the customer is not only our students but it is also the community that will someday depend upon those students. As such, we must acknowledge that we have a responsibility to both our students and to the community as a whole.
What do we want from our educational system and process?
- We want the intimate participation of parents as partners, working and supporting the work that classroom teachers and students do, together;
- We want every child to be on a unique academic path, tailored to their unique abilities and requirements;
- We every child to have a special relationship with their teacher(s) like many of us remember when we think back to our favorite teacher(s).
- We want every child to learn that success is a process that can be mastered by anyone and a process that they will carry with them throughout the balance of their lives;
- We want every child to feel like a winner and we want them to experience the joy of celebratory victory because we know that winning is contagious and something of which human beings can never have enough;
- We want every child to learn as much as they are able as quickly as they can, independent of their classmates. Never do we want a child to feel the pressure of having to keep up with classmates nor do we want them to be asked to wait for a classmate to catch up with them;
- We want every child to learn that mistakes are opportunities, not failures, and we want them to know how to optimize the benefits of the mistakes they make;
- We want children to experience neither failure, which we define as giving up before knowledge is acquired or a skill mastered, nor do we want them to experience humiliation, which we define as asking a child to perform with inadequate preparation;
- We want to focus on accomplishment which we will define as demonstrable subject mastery;
- We believe children thrive on positive attention and will do almost anything to get it and that it is only when they think themselves unable to get positive attention that they settle for the negative attention, which is better than no attention at all;
- We want learning to be fun, an adventure of exploration;
- We want children to learn how to respond to adversity in a positive way;
- We want a child to develop a strong self-esteem which comes from, among other things, having a level of control over the outcomes in one’s life that only a quality education can provide.
We must create a system that is engineered to support our classroom teachers and other professional educators as they strive to achieve these objectives. The components of any such system are the people who work within the system, either individually or collectively. The roles of each individual must be clearly defined in terms of the purpose for which they exist to serve and how what they do contributes to the whole. No one in effective organizations or systems works independent of the whole.
In our next post we will take a look at the key players who must work together, as a unified team, to transform public education in America. They are parents, our teachers, teachers’ unions and associations, our school corporations, all levels of government, and our communities. The commitment of each of these players is essential and must be solicited as aggressively as necessary. No one can be permitted to be exempt.