Saturday, January 27, 2018

learning local...

If you lived for long in a small town in America you will have observed a steady brain drain as those who are recognized as best and brightest in academic pursuits are lured away from the strategically imposed boredom of small town life. Standardized testing provides the model. The ideal widely adopted is to educate to "national standards," with curricula established outside the local community and often irrelevant to to the lives of its children, and we are left to wonder why things are not working for us as we hoped.

Is what we want from education the urbanization of the American mindset and the loss of the uniqueness of character that life in small towns can provide? Instead of national standards in what students are required to know, perhaps national standards in how we get along with and work with each other would be more useful to our nation.

I am not claiming that all things are perfect in small town life. There are many things that less provincial attitudes would fix.

The structure of American education places school board members subject to the control of the state. They can hire and fire the superintendent, but can do little more.

What if school boards were given a new responsibility, that of making their schools reflect the unique character of their communities? A couple things might happen. Members of the community would be drawn in as useful to the educational process. Then instead of assuming that success can only be measured by leaving home and proving oneself in an urban environment, the small town student might be drawn into small town life. Small towns need bankers, electricians, doctors, nurses, teachers, plumbers, dentists, business men and women, counselors, administrators of various kinds, entrepreneurs, and every kind of profession required in larger cities. The Learning through Internship model demonstrated by the Met Schools and Big Picture Company (google these, please) would assist in removing the walls established between education and community.

I will use my own small town of Eureka Springs as an example. We are a city of the arts. We have more artists than we have folks in all other professions combined. Even some of our professional staff are part-time artists as well, and the arts are writ large in all places but in public school, where they might be most useful, which remains mired in the thought that penultimate student success is the product of escaping community and going away to college.

The secret to counter this and return education to a meaningful endeavor is to make it relevant by asking the students to do real things, thus granting them the opportunity of participating in real life. Real schooling must not wait until graduation, but can be launched now, this instant. Who needs standardized testing to prove what students have learned when they are doing real things of service to themselves, their families and communities. The thing, then about doing real things in benefit to family, and community, is that it allows students to find their value measured directly in present circumstances, allowing them to find the satisfaction they naturally crave without leaving home to find it.

Next week, I go with our ESSA director to visit the North Arkansas Community College with the hopes of establishing a relationship through which young people can get a degree in the arts through ESSA and without leaving home to do it.

So what can we do with those provincial attitudes? Every member of a school board in the state, every administrator, every student, and every teacher must learn to uphold the constitution of the United States, and to respect every individual student and his or her learning needs. If they can earn trust by doing that, respecting the needs and character of each individual child, they can be trusted also to take greater local control over education. Charter schools? Who needs them if schools are allowed to respond to the needs of each and every child without regard to race, religion, gender, country of national origin, or sexual orientation.

Does this formula only fit small town education? No, it fits neighborhoods as well. Through empowering young people to care for community (and each other) we will empower democracy and the economy at the same time.

Yesterday at ESSA, my students worked on installing quarter knees and sanding boats. The Bevins Skiffs are nearly ready for paint.

Make, fix, create, and encourage others to learn likewise.

1 comment:

  1. Ah Doug, there you go talking common sense again. People with any sense at all would understand that their children are individuals, and that they learn in a way that might not fit the mold. But people who become members of school boards might be the kind of people who see that as a step toward higher office rather than as a way to do right by school kids. My sons are now into their middle thirties and still talk to me, so maybe I did something right by teaching them about tools and showing them that there are interesting people all over this country. As long as parents are willing to be involved in the education of their kids there is hope.