Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Stand Up - Speak Out - Make A Difference

Stand Up - Speak Out - Make A Difference: My Philosophy Of Education

I never intended to become a teacher, in fact it was the last thing I wanted to do. I worked my way through college by working as a paraprofessional. Many of the teachers I worked with encourage me to get my teaching credential but I always blanched at the idea although I never told any of them why. I didn't like what I saw going on in classrooms by what I thought were dedicated but naive teachers. The teachers I worked with came from middle class backgrounds and I didn't think they were aware of all the institutional racism, classism, and other "isms" within the school system. Their thinking was based on the deficit model, some kids inherited a dumb gene - that didn't sit well with the liberals so they came up with another explanation -  accumulated environment deficit. Some students didn't fail because they inherited the dumb gene they were dumb because of the lack of intellectual stimulation during early formative years. That became the basis for Head Start and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Still others blame an anti-intellectual culture.

Virtually no one was taking about why minority children and children from lower social economic classes were in the special programs and  how that was the connection to systemic "isms" prevalent in all aspects of the school system.  No one was saying maybe some students were failing because of the learning environment was insufficiently encouraging. These are three features of a learning environment that could lead to a differential academic performance:
Competence - Encouraging students to believe they could successfully master the school work.
Belonging - Students welcomed into the classroom and made to feel each had a an important part to play.
Usefulness -Students find immediate use to what they have learned, or visualize many ways in which what they have learned has utility.

Real life is about work and a career, it is about making serious, sensible, decisions in personal life, and sometimes life and death decisions in one's political life. Real life is music, social relationships, knowing a wide variety of people from a wide variety of cultures and life-styles, and real life is about making intelligent decisions about how to save the earth!

Education should be directed toward learning how to make intelligent decisions in the most basic arenas of our lives - war, economics, governance, race, ethnicity and gender, and ecology. Corporate education (No Child Left Behind Act) does not want anyone to make intelligent decisions in these matters. Only a democratic education that probes and searches collectively for solutions to overcome war, violence, discrimination, poverty, and ecologic destruction can begin to move use to real and positive change.

A democracy puts control of all aspects of society in the hands of and informed electorate. It requires that a serious effort be made for all eligible to vote are equally informed and equaled empowered. Some say that's impossible! But that brings us back to education.

A democratic education accomplishes two things. Students learn about democracy by experiencing it in classrooms. And they learn how to be responsible citizens by practicing citizenship.

Democratic education engages students in thoughtful conversations, has them: conduct meaningful research, discover rather than being told and utilize rather than store learning. Such an education has students work cooperatively in projects designed to produce some form of community development - a public good. Such an education encourages every student to become an independent thinker while at the same time helps the student understand that change in  a democratic society requires collective action. Democratic education has its goal not only a rich understanding of complicated multifaceted rapidly changing world that the students live in, but also, the intellectual wherewithal to be effective agents of change.

As anyone who has spent time in classrooms knows the single most important agent of education is the teacher. If ever a truly positive educational reform is to be achieved, it will occur when responsibility is located in the classroom teacher. That is where education takes place. And there is where true reform begins. Creative teachers learn to work within the system while they work to reform it. I support public education because the diversity of ideas that comes from people with different backgrounds and experiences which is what is needed to solve problems, what will we accomplish if we think alike?  Ben Frankin as a great example, he didn't invent or create ideas in isolation, his genius is documented through  his correspondence with people from a wide range of backgrounds. Frankin bounced ideas off others. If you read Darwin's biographical history you will find that he had been thinking about the theory of evolution for a long time but was unable to fully articulate it. Good democratic schools demand that we acknowledge every one's inalienable capacity to be an inventor, dreamer,and theorist - to count in the larger scheme of things. I truly believe that the foundation for a democratic education should be at the local level where all concerned, teachers, students, parents, and community members participate in defining the criteria for what's worth knowing. I will write about how teachers can work within the system while they are striving to reform it. Teachers can use the standards creatively. They don't have to follow a prescribe curriculum. It is also my hope that reader's will join me by participating in exchanges about how to reform education.

If teaching is be effective it has to be guided by a  vision. Some aspects of the vision are simple, instilling a love of learning. Other aspects which I will discuss in detail in future blogs include:
*An environment that enables all to grow to their fullest potential.
*A legitimate authority - consent of the governed.
*Inclusion - all equally protected and empowered.
*Equal access and capacity to use knowledge on which important decisions are based.
*Development of the skills necessary to participate in collective decision making.
*The inalienable rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.
Any serious discussion of the democracy brings in all of the above. I look forward to exchanging ideas with others interested in education.

 If public schooling is to be rescued from the clutches of an un American global capitalism, the alternative must be clear and precise. Such an education must be desirable and feasible by the majority of the public. And by desirable meaning that students must want to be a part of it. It must be strong enough to withstand the naysayers who serve no other purpose than to dumb down what passes for debate and there by undermines democratic institutions. There is no agreement on democratic education but I suggest you read the works by Deborah Meier, and other educational reformers.

Democracy embraces diverse opinions engaging in meaningful interactions in a effort to arrive at a negotiated consensus. If is not possible, and it rarely is, the the contending parties gain the benefit of mutual understanding. For a deliberative democracy to work the must be: diversity of opinion, a place for deliberation, and sufficient time for ideas to be worked out. There must be some negotiated rules/standards - a willingness to listen, disagreeing without being disagreeable. Also the development of understanding that differences are not settled by a preponderances of opinions, or who can argue the loudest, but by logic and evidence, i.e. The Habits Of The Mind. For a deliberative democracy to work the electorate has to know how to deliberate. And that is  precisely what a democratic education makes possible and what corporate education by its insistence on monopolizing time for test taking vigorously opposes. Their agenda is no secret - the dumbing down of citizens, lack of opportunity to learn and participate in the political process, all means to control the population
However, there is hope. Thousands of teachers have democratic classrooms and are challenging the status quo.

My teaching model was based on democratic education/classroom and the theory of integrated thematic instruction, which embraces Howard Gardener's theory of multiple intelligences, and teaching to different modalities. The theme I choose and all curriculum units where designed around was: Stand Up - Speak Out- Make A Difference. Stand Up - for what you believe in, Speak Out - what you feel is wrong, or what you know to be right, Make A Difference - in your classroom, school, community, the environment, your life, and the life's of others. Be agents of social change and build a better world!

Follow my blog and learn how I created a democratic classroom. Students always asked - what about next year when I don't have a teacher like you? How do they empower themselves with the tools and the lessons they learned?  I will write about my on-going struggles with being an advocate for children and for democratic education reform. And let's discuss the qualities of the signal most important agent of eduction, the teacher. Also learn about how to use popular young adult and children's literature as a tool to analyze the world, create a vision for a better world and act upon that vision. All change is political and our children's ideas are powerful!

One summer I took an introductory course to education taught by Dr. Art Pearl he inspired me to become a teacher and taught me how teachers dedicated to democratic education could transform classrooms and empower students. I did that for 30 years. He changed the course of my life. And  most of all, I want to thank all my students, I learned so much from them!

Happy Reading - Until next time:)

No comments:

Post a Comment