The harder people try to change public education, the more it stays the same. Since 1983, five U.S. presidents have each sponsored a major reform effort through the U.S. Department of Education. The result? Student learning remains essentially the same as it was before. There are only two things that have changed: 1) The number of charter and home schools has increased; and, 2) Student and teacher drop-out rates have increased significantly.
One reason five major reform efforts did not make a positive difference in student learning is because those in charge of schools, the Congress, governors, legislators, and school board members, are completely satisfied with the present system. Those who run our schools are the ones who got A's and B's in the conventional system. My son-in-law, with two college degrees, said, "It worked for me!" None of the above see any reason to change schooling because "it worked for them."
Howard Gardner of Harvard maintains that our system favors those who are high in mathematical and linguistic intelligences and shuns those who are high in six or seven other intelligences. One of my neighbors, a 13-year-old Navajo Indian girl, cries almost every night over her homework. Patricia is gifted in art, but most of the other subjects are a mystery to her. Another neighbor girl, 15-year-old Susan, loves to sing and dance, but she struggles to learn geometry and algebra, math skills that research shows only 10 percent of adults will ever use. In our schools there are students who are "gifted" in mathematics, but low in art and human relations. Others are high in creativity, but struggle in reading. Still others can fix anything that is broken, but fail in traditional school subjects. Most teachers learn that it is not only impossible to make students alike in knowledge and skills but very harmful, oft times inducing dropouts, when they to try to do it.
Can our nation afford a school system that caters only to the five or ten percent of students who are high in mathematics or linguistic intelligences?
The biggest barrier to authentic reform is the mind-set of those who are in control. I remember when President Bush and then President Clinton each called governors and top business executives together in major "summits" to reform public education. Teachers were not invited. They did not understand that human beings cannot be standardized any more than they can be mass-produced.
What can we do to broaden the perspective of those who control conventional education? We can show them a framework for redesigning the system to meet the needs of all students:
"Educating for Human Greatness" is a reform plan that aims to help ALL students excel, including the 80 percent or more who don't get A's or B's in conventional education. It was developed by a group of researchers, educators and parents over the last six years to address the shortcomings of government "reforms." Those who are engaged in EfHG have found that "Every Child Can Excel," if we change the main purpose of schooling.
The main purpose of "Educating for Human Greatness" is to help each student develop a purpose for existing, and use one's unique talents, gifts, abilities, knowledge and creativity to be a contributor to society. This purpose is activated as teachers unite with parents and students to help each other grow as individuals in seven major dimensions/powers of greatness: Identity, Inquiry, Interaction, Initiative, Imagination, Intuition and Integrity.
Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of EfHG is the way subject matter content is used. Instead of having reading, writing and arithmetic as main goals, they are taught as tools of inquiry and interaction. This plan uses hundreds of content topics as "tools" to help students grow in the seven dimensions/powers of human greatness.
The first priority, Identity, helps students discover who they are - as important people with unique talents and gifts. In contrast to conventional education that values student sameness, Educating for Human Greatness values and nurtures positive human diversity. (PHD) This plan calls for a reduction in teacher-directed learning and an increase in student-initiated learning that uses teachers as resources -- as "guides on the side."
EfHG shows great promise to: reduce the dropout rate, enhance student learning and involve parents as partners. In schools that are using this framework, it has been found that "Every Child Can Excel." They love school because they are given many opportunities to show their unique talents and gifts. Most students become avid reader/learners. In addition, students develop the belief that their lives have great worth. They feel empowered to change the world.
Stoddard, a retired educator, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He lives in Farmington.