Trapped in Mediocrity

[Bilde:100619_142329_0.png]On my travels and interviews over the last six months, I have found that the one thing we all share is the willingness to make changes. It has been fortuitous for me to have met so many people who are so interested in doing the right thing for students who will spend their lives in the 21st century. I often see professionals who have made great commitments to make substantive changes in the way that children are educated. These changes reflect growing social trends in America and the state. These social and educative trends reflect the need for education to be a completely modern endeavor. The fundamental basis of what it means to "know" has changed, so should the basis of what it means to be educated. And yet, it seems that education or much of education still remains mired in the swamp of the late 50s and early 60s. The notion that schools turn out young adults who are fully prepared to take on life's work as if they were widgets in the factory remains a consistent and common notion, though it is often unexpressed in direct ways, and sometimes not really expressed at all. The school as factory is an assumption that is hard to dispel. Rather this notion of school as factory seems to be a predominantly unexpressed assumption in the minds of adults who may have graduated from such systems. We look at graduation as a crowning achievement, and yet what we call a graduation we also call commencement - as it is really a new beginning. Yet how many people - how many adults and how many parents - treat commencement as the beginning of a new responsibility regarding lifelong learning? Perahps rather than say "Congratulations on a job well done." we should consider saying, "Congratulations on your progress so far and what will you learn next?" If we begin to see the end point - graduation, as a beginning commencement then we might see that everything we do in schools is progress toward only one single goal, that of preparing young people to become lifelong learners in a world of rapid change. Peter Vaill coined the phrase "permanent white water" in his book "Learning As a Way of Being: Strategies for Survival in a World of Permanent White Water." The concept of "permanent white water" sums up the challenging reality of life in the 21'st century where change is constant and learning a continuum. This idea of graduation as an end rather than the signaling of a beginning indicates to me that we are still under the assumption that we can cram students minds full of ideas and facts and theories. Yet we also know that they face real challenges when trying to put this learning into practical use because they have not been given sufficient opportunities to do so during school. In some ways schools are mired in mediocrity because schools cannot bridge the divide between learning in the classroom and learning in the community. And by the word community I mean not just a community that surrounds the school geographically but indeed the community of scholars and thinkers and planners and creators that's around the school in its largest sense. In some ways the school may have become more like the ivory tower, distant and separate from the world. And so, I wonder what would happen if some of the disciplines we study in school were integrated into social action which put students into the community to test that theory and to test the learning of the classroom? Many schools have requirements for community service. On the other hand these requirements often stated merely in terms of hours to fulfill in a kind of bucket. The link from community service to classroom learning is seldom articulated. And all too often community service takes on all the aspects of yet another thing to do rather than putting classroom learning to work. Perhaps it is time to break the bonds of that which has trapped us into habitual mediocrity. This will not be easy work, it will take the cooperation and collaboration of teachers, parents, community leaders, and students themselves. Yet this integration of learning into the fabric of the community can make learning more real, more relevant. Such an endeavor might begin to answer the question not as to why we go to school but why we learn. It might also begin to answer the question about what is the nature of meaningful learning. We want graduates who understand and appreciate meaningful learning and we want schools who can make that learning meaningful for each student.
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