A reform plan that restores teaching as a respected profession

Sep 27 2010 - 9:53am

Most Americans, including many teachers, have the conventional mind-set about what education is for -- what public education is supposed to do. Students are supposed to achieve in reading, writing, mathematics and several other disciplines as outlined by ancient scholars hundreds of years ago.

Teachers are required to teach this common "core curriculum" and help students grow in it. Standardized achievement testing is used to find out if we are accomplishing this purpose. There is little talk about what this purpose is supposed to do except "prepare students for jobs of the! 21st century." What does this mean? Does anyone know what jobs will be available in the future?

The conventional mind-set focuses on what ancient scholars decided students need to learn, the knowledge and skills they lack. Teachers are expected to help children overcome their deficits in knowledge and skills. We thus have! remedial reading, remedial math and remedial writing to make sure students can do what they are expected to do for! high school graduation! and to enter college.

Students often learn to hate these skills, and school also, when they are taken from their regular classrooms to spend extra time in remediation classes. They feel labeled as "failures" and their "deficits" become a burden too hard to endure, so many of these "deficient" people drop out and often become burdens to society.! (7,000 U.S. drop outs per day.) What is it about our system of public education that fails to meet the needs of so many students?

The deficit-reduction model of education has been with us for a long time -- so long that most people think it is the only way to educate. But a more positive orientation may soon replace the deficit-reduction model. This fresh approach focuses on identifying and building on student assets -- finding out what students already know and can do and enlarging upon them. Students don't enter school with empty heads. They come with much knowledge and many skills already developed. We now know that we do not have to lose any students. We have discovered that when we focus on assets, students don't feel like failures. They stay in school.

One asset-building model, called "Educating for Human Greatness, focuses on helping students grow in seven dimensions or powers. These are Identity, Interaction, Inquiry, Initiative, Imagination, Intuition and Integrity. (See efhg.org) The first dimension, Identity, is the top priority of EfHG. Students learn that it is not only OK to be different -- and to have different assets than anyone else -- but it is totally acceptable, even wonderful! And here's the exciting part -- when teachers and parents unite to help students grow in greatness (the things they are good at) they learn basic skills and knowledge better and deeper. Not all the same, but we found that every child can excel in something! Each child has a unique set of assets to develop and use to contribute to society. The main purpose of the asset-development model is to help students develop their strengths, their knowledge, talents and gifts, and use them to be contributors, not burdens, to society. Is this not a better purpose for public education than standardized achievement in an obsolete curriculum? Students will be ready for whatever jobs the future has to offer because they will invent them!

Here are implications and consequences of the asset-building model:! 

* 1. In middle and high school a sufficient variety of classes should be offered so the many different assets of children have an opportunity to develop. This will help insure that no class shall contain students who don't want to be there.

* 2. All classes, even the arts, should be inquiry/project-based to invite rigor and intense engagement from each student.! Instead of compartmentalized study, students bring what they have learned in a variety of disciplines to bear on a problem.

* 3.! Discipline problems and dropout figures shrivel.

* 4. For graduation a student must show how s/he has developed in the 7 dimensions of human greatness and how s/he will use each one to contribute to society.! 

* 5.! Public school! teaching will be restored as an honored and respected profession. High quality teachers will be attracted and poor ones weeded out.

* 6. Possibly the most important and gratifying consequence of the developing assets model is that it encourages a rebirth of genuine enthusiasm for learning in teachers, students and parents alike.

Why is our system of education failing to meet the needs of so many students? It has been stuck on a low plateau for a long time with many people trying to improve the deficit-reduction system. Educating for Human Greatness, with an emphasis on developing individual assets, offers the first chance in decades to leap to a higher level. We call on parents and teachers everywhere to tell policymakers to stop pressuring teachers to standardize students and start nurturing individual student assets.

Lynn Stoddard is a retired educator and founder of the Educating for Human Greatness Alliance. He lives in Farmington.

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