Thursday, May 16, 2013

My Beliefs

I produced a version the following "Core Beliefs" and "View of Change" statements for the Hack Your Education Tour I did in the fall of 2012. I think they give some context to my recent A Student Bill of Rights post, and I welcome any discussion of them.

My Core Beliefs:
  • That every child has unique inherent worth and value. Unfortunately, we tell huge numbers of children and their parents that they are "defective" or failures because they aren't succeeding based on a relatively narrow set measures used by schools. I don't believe that is the intention of most involved in the education system, but it is certainly the outcome. 
  • That learning is not an elite endeavor, is natural to being human, and takes place both inside and outside of formal educational institutions.
  • That learning and "learning how to learn" help us to lead better lives, to be better members of our communities, and to build a better world. A large part of this is by recognizing and by overcoming uninformed biases, overly-simplistic thinking, the entanglements of personal interest, and cognitive traps. 
  • That agency - the ability to choose and act for oneself - is both the bedrock principle and our highest aspiration for how we should treat others in a democratic and free society. The ultimate goal of education should therefore be to develop the ability for students to take responsibility for their own lives and become increasingly self-directed and productive, first for their own benefit and then for the benefit of society as a whole. Systems of control and forced compliance, rather than agency, are tempting shortcuts that have unfortunately become the basis of many of our prominent educational philosophies. 
  • That modeling learning, rather than compulsion, should be the primary form of learning influence.
  • That education should not be something that we allow to be owned, controlled, or mandated by any particular group, for as such it becomes a form of power and a means of enforcing compliance and removing agency from others. Education, like democracy, should be seen as a process involving the general public at all levels, and not seen as an dictated outcome. 
  • That learning is a form of personal and community power, and that there is a direct connection between independent thinking and the health of a free society. Our current expectations for conformity and compliance, not limited to the educational sphere, ignore the value of diversity and of civil dialog that are reflected in some of our most important institutions--witness the balance of powers in our government and the right to a trial by jury in our legal system.
  • That active individual participation in decisions that affect us is a right, is a fulfillment of our individual capabilities, and is a protection against unjust rule. Our narrative for governance is democratic participation, and describes a process of open and engaged decision-making at every level of society--the process of which is more important than the particular decisions that are made. Our narrative for education should be the same: that participation, self-direction, and active engagement are more important than mandated curricula, and they should be taught and nourished. This is true for students, parents, and educators alike.
My View of Change:

I've been somewhat stunned, through my interview series (, to find so many good examples of what education could be. Intriguingly, these good examples are usually operating in isolation and have little effect even on schools in relative proximity to them.

For some reason, we don't seem to have much current capacity to hold thoughtful dialog at the elite/intellectual/policy level. It's ludicrous to believe that on a topic as inherently human as education, we would actually get enough agreement at a philosophical level to move forward with only one particular set of practices--or, at a deeper level, that we would actually want that conformity of thinking. Instead we need to recognize the balance of valid approaches that comes out of thoughtful dialog.

So, after over 350 interviews, I've come to a conclusion: the message of educational change cannot center on the one particular group trying to convince another that their education ideas are the best. Even if you or I could convince policy-makers of a particular view of education, the single-solution mindset most of us have now would still leave us with a one-dimensional view of learning.

But something must clearly be done. The overwhelming education narratives on both sides of the political aisle increasingly revolve around high-stakes testing and accountability... and not around the inherent worth and value of every child, and not in the belief that the ultimate goal of education is to develop the ability for students to take responsibility for their own lives and become increasingly self-directed. The result  is deep discouragement for huge number of parents, students, and now teachers who are told that they are failures.We must find a way to give them hope that learning is not an arbitrary gift bestowed capriciously to a select few but is something anyone can own, and is infinitely better when so discovered. While I believe this disproportionately affects those in poverty, I don't think by any means that it's exclusive to any one group.

If education is not best seen as a policy decision, then I think we must re-cast it instead as a process of cultural dialog and of individual engagement, and we must each look for ways and means to hold these discussions at the most local of levels. We must stop discussing educational policy and start discussing learning in a way that recognizes the importance of individuals learning about learning for themselves, not because we tell them to. We need to make it clear that no one owns the decision-making for another individual or group, and that to accept someone else's educational policy decisions for them is an inappropriate abdication of basic human rights.

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