School is back soon. So what is the best result that we need for our children? Many focus on the 3 R's. Some worry about how kids will fit into the so called Knowledge Economy.
So maybe the higher question is what is the world that our kids will have to cope with? Will it be getting a job at GM on the line? Will it be trading at Goldman Sachs? Will it be being a musician with their own studio?
What really is most likely the world that will face our kids? Will it look like ours at all? What if Peak Oil hits? What if government fails us as we are seeing in states like California? What about major weather disruption such as is happening in Pakistan?
I think that what is likely to confront our kids are tough times and disruptions. I think our kids will have to cope with lots of novel circumstances.
So what then should we be thinking about in this context? What kind of society may have a chance in coping with these types of novel changes? I don’t think that this novelty demands that we all have PHD’s. I suspect that this novelty demands instead a “Pioneering Spirit”.
When many people came to the Island (PEI) for the first time 100 -200 years ago, they too were confronted by a New World. At first, all their challenges were novel. How to clear land and how to grow food? How to build a house and a barn? How to use the water for energy? How to educate their children? How to have an economy? Most on PEI came as indentured people who had little experience back in Scotland of any of these issues.
So how did they do it? How did they create a new society from scratch? I think what made them successful was the pioneering spirit.
What is it then?
• A Sense of Adventure and Hope - They wanted a better life - if not for themselves then for their kids and they took control of getting there. They knew that there was no going back home to the old world. They knew that no one could or would help from outside. They knew that they would have to do it themselves. They learned that being with others who also dared and shared made the adventure better.
• They had a sense of a future - They knew that if they cleared 2 acres this year, that they could clear another 2 the next and that by the time their kids were adult - there would be a real farm. They could see in the clearing by the water’s edge a town. They could see in the oak grove, ships. They did not dwell in the past.
• Good Coping skills - Pioneers accepted that there were challenges out there and were not put off by the first problem or failure. They became mentally tough. They could lose a crop and a child and still keep going.
• Technical Skills - They quickly developed technical skills that would help them be as self sufficient as possible. They knew how to do things that had real value to them and to their community. This then gave them a natural self confidence. Having mastered some skills, they knew that they could master others. The more real skills a person had, the greater their standing. Men and woman became famous for being capable.
• Social Skills - It was clear to all in a pioneer state that no individual could thrive on their own. Much of the work that had to be done had to involve others. So establishing and maintaining family and community were centrally important building blocks for success. Family and community were not buzz words - they were the keys to an in- dividual’s success and survival.
• Literacy - It was clear to most that the more you knew, the better off you were going to be. Literacy was paramount. At the time of the revolution in America, literacy was about 90%1. Literacy was rooted in what happened in the home.
So for me the issue of what is a good education is one of Context. What should we prepare for?
How does our current system stack up against the Pioneering Spirit - what does it instill?
• Obedience - Thought is punished - giving the "right answer" is how you get on. They have little sense of hope or adventure.
• No sense of a future - My sense is that intuitively most kids know that the system is broken and they play the game to get the credential or not - the context given to them of "Work hard at school and you will get a good job etc" they know is a lie. School as it is does not offer a way ahead but for most a way down.
• Poor Coping Skills - All real challenge is removed - there are no consequences for not doing well - so the true lesson of life - that it is hard - is never acquired. They are not resilient.
• Poor Social Skills - All social interactions are mediated by the staff and by parents - I hear that today college dorm issues are shoed by warring mums! The kids are given no social responsibility and so are socially clueless and dependent.
• Literacy - Not only are more than 60% of our grads functionally illiterate but are unable to think critically. They find it very hard to discriminate between true and false, right or wrong and a god idea and a poor one.
In reality we have a system that produces incompetence at all levels.
What should be the aim of an education system? I can't help but go back to the Greeks. It is surely to work as a community to produce good citizens.
When King Philip of Macedon hired Aristotle to tutor his son Alexander, it was not with the intent of Alexander getting into Harvard, passing some exams or getting some kind of diploma.
King Philip’s aim in educating his son was to prepare him to be a King. The purpose of an education in Greece, the most innovative society that has ever existed, was to prepare the child to be a citizen.
I fear that we have got ourselves lost today. We have lost the broader aim for education which is to create citizens who can take their full place in their polis. In practice we have set up an education system whose objective is to screen out all who cannot use abstract thought well. Rather than create citizens, we create helots - dependent manual laborers.
80% of our children leave school feeling helpless. Because they do not fit into a narrow definition of ability, they are labeled sub par.. But in reality most have many gifts. Many have great gifts. But because these gifts do not fit our narrow definition of ability, we exclude them. If we are not to waste most of our children’s potential, we will have to start instead with where their gifts are to be found.
We have to fit them and not them us.
Widening our focus does not have to be hard. Holland College has found that if some boys are given a concrete task such as learning to build something, that this will give these boys the context and the motivation to learn how to read, write and to use math.
Giving most of our children a chance demands that we acknowledge what we have been doing and vow to widen our perspective of ability and commit to supporting the growth of citizens.
Can we reform our system directly? I doubt it for the system is too entrenched. So what do we do?
Starting in small groups of families who are sure that the system if broken, build a new one in parallel use the provision for Home Schooling to create a new network that is based on the principles of helping our kids be pioneers and good citizens - people who can cope with novelty and hardship.
Maybe even negotiate with the board for one school - on PEI we have a number that are now vacant.
Co create a curriculum that shifts the emphasis from mind to experience. Reach out to the wider world for help and resources.
If you think that this is too hard - I will post later this week a series of examples of schools are are doing well at this.