Political Will, Social Rituals and Systems

As I read education articles, several themes recur.

  • Flexible learning time. Education should move at the student's pace not the school's. It may take some students 10 years to complete a k-12 education and others 14 years.
  • Extended instruction time. The 180 (174 in St. Vrain) day school calendar is inadequate. See National Center on Time and Learning. www.timeandlearning.org The United States is on the low end of instruction time compared to other nations.
  • Personalized instruction. Providing students with the specific learning experiences they need when they need them.

  • Emphasis on creativity as well as skills. Many, not all, jobs in the United States are going to gravitate toward design rather than production.

These are good ideas but are not necessarily easy to implement. The first hurdle is political will. For instance, there is not strong public demand – even among parents – for a longer school year. I attended one meeting in which the idea came up and parents were unenthusiastic.

Another hurdle is that to make many of these ideas work, we will have to give up or change some of our social rituals. High school graduation is analogous to a barmitzvah – an age based right of passage. It may or may not be indicative of a student's preparedness for what comes next. If we are going to implement flexible learning time this right of passage will become obsolete – or at least different than it is now.

I believe age based rights of passage play an important role in society and a person's life. But is high school graduation as we know it now important to retain? As Nel Nodding wrote in "Schooling for Democracy" (Phi Delta Kappan, Sept 2008), "There is nothing sacred about the custome of finishing high school in exactly four years."

Which leads to another hurdle – our education systems and policies. Take school funding for instance. School funding is still tied largely to head counts in specific schools for a specific amount of time. How would funding work if some students attend school for 210 days a year and others 190? How would it work if some students spent 14 years in "k-12" and others spent ten?

There are many other examples of hurdles to clear that have little to do with schools themselves. Education operates within the context of society. And, in many cases, society has not caught up with what we're learning about best education practices.

So, the question I would pose to us all, (rather than how do schools need to change, which is important and much discussed), how do we need to change to so that students and schools may succeed?

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2 Responses to “Political Will, Social Rituals and Systems”

  1. Brad Jolly Says:

    John, I think you have hit the nail, but with a glancing blow.
    We do need to change, but as long as schools lie to parents and students by passing even students who are far behind, and by promulgating the idea that excellence is a matter of simply throwing more money at a broken system, then those who are in the greatest need of change will not see the need for change.

  2. Brad Jolly Says:

    John, your comment about “[p]roviding students with the specific learning experiences they need when they need them” is an important insight. When I was a kid, we had this sort of thing with the SRA reading program. It was fantastic in that some kids could blow through several years’ worth of material in a matter of a few weeks.
    I think the fact that some students could move quickly made certain people uncomfortable, so they stopped using the program.
    Too bad, because as you say, it’s exactly the kind of thing that is needed.

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