If you were given the power to design a new system of education, where would you start? What would you consider? How would you go about implementing it? You would probably begin by coming up with a purpose.
In 1934, John Dewey said that “…the purpose of education was to give the young the things they needed in order to develop in an orderly, sequential way into members of society.” But he also said that it would depend which society that was. The aboriginals in the Australian bush or the youth in The Golden Ages of Athens would probably be educated differently. My thought on this was, what if the society is not meeting the needs of the citizens? What if the citizens are not productive? What if they do not feel a sense of purpose? Shouldn’t we change the educational process?
In 1957, the ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) Committee said that “the main purpose of American Schools is to provide for the fullest possible development of each learner for living morally, creatively, and productively in a democratic society.” Moral education was the prime concern when the first common schools were founded in the New World. We do not necessarily need to choose a religion to know that values such as respect, peace, and honesty are essential, and yet, this is not always seen in our society. How could a lawyer or a doctor only think of himself, step over others lying or stealing if they went through our education system that promoted truth and honesty? Was it really promoted? Creativity has also been obscured by the need to produce individuals that think the same and solve problems in the way that is expected. Somewhere along the way, our priorities changed. Are we serving our purpose?
Arthur W. Foshay, Director of the Bureau of Educational Research at Ohio State University, in his paper, The Curriculum Matrix: Transcendence in Mathematics (1991), reminds us that “the purpose of education since ancient times, has been to bring people to as full realization as possible of what it is to be a human being.” That encompasses so much. It can not possibly be done without knowing what each child brings to the table. The first thing in people’s minds would be the academics. How much math? What is the reading level? What did the child learn in science last year? But what good is all that, if the child does not know how to apply this knowledge, how to use it at the right moment, or if to use it at all? That is called wisdom, and it is part of the human being, so are the individual’s moral values, the ability to concentrate, the ability to process emotions, the ability to keep himself or herself healthy, the ability to relate to self and to others, and so much more. This brings me to my definition of It Takes a Village, because the whole community needs to be involved so that all children in our society grow up to be healthy, fulfilled, cooperative adults. As educators, it is our responsibility to support the whole child. (That makes me wonder, how many children should we be responsible for?) If we as educators are not walking towards meeting the needs of the whole child, then, we should make changes.
According to a leader in yoga philosophy, Swami Guru Devanand Saraswati Ji Maharaj, in his book Nacimos Para Triunfar, 2009 (Born to Win), “learning is measured by the positive changes that the training produces in the personality. Intellectual concepts that cannot be used, and that do not produce positive results in the person, the family, and the society, have not really been learned, they have only been stored in the intellect and have no value.”
“If we have learned anything good … obligatorily … that knowledge should make us better people.” SGDSJM
The present system requires that we load our students’ minds with facts and concepts, many of those which are forgotten after the test or never used. Wouldn’t you say that is a waste of time? Why not use the subjects: Reading, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, Physical Education, Art, and Music as the vehicles to more purposeful goals, not as the goals themselves?
In my journey as an educator (and as a student of life), I have come to realize that I do have the power to reach a child and her family in ways that matter. In my view, school should be more experiential than intellectual. When individuals apply knowledge, it is more likely that they will keep it. It is also more likely that they make mistakes or have questions during the application. What better time to learn than during practice? (I do not mean practicing 15 math problems. I mean actually solving problems in real life. That is more meaningful.) I do stop my lessons for a puppy that passed away, a question of how a windmill works, a little white lie, a question about how fast a cheetah runs, the first snowfall out the window, a story about his friend that got sick, and a lack of attention due to excitement or tiredness. All those are great lessons and may become projects. I do lessons on self-discipline, positive thinking, compassion, honesty, healthy habits, and more. I assign projects that build family bonds, that help the child see things from another point of view or help her develop skills that she will use often. I use the subjects to meet essential goals that help the individual live a fuller richer life. It is not a perfect system because it is not a system even though I use curricula as a resource. A system is for mass production and machines. I educate children.
When the time comes that I feel our society promotes unity, harmony, honesty, inner wisdom, health, and love, that day, I will say that the education we are giving our children is working. I will probably see adults fulfilled, doing what makes them happy, and helping others do the same. They will love to learn new things, and they will do them well. And so, I will say, let us continue using the guidelines as stated because they enhance people’s lives and give them a sense of individual and group purpose. When the time comes…and it will when we all revisit our purpose for being in this society and in this world.
Ana M. Robledo
Special Education Therapist and Coach