Wednesday, June 03, 2015

"Stretching people's minds is part of educating, but always in terms of a democratic goal. That means you have to trust people's ability to develop their capacity for working collectively to solve their own problems." - Myles Horton

The above quote, for me, isn't just about students (although, trusting students and ultimately working toward their agency is a major theme for me).

It's also about trusting parents and educators.

I'm always intrigued by groups that meet and work together to discuss a particularly important educational or social issue. They have multiple meetings, discuss in depth the nuances of the topic at hand, work to quantify their ultimate combined thinking, and then produce a report.

In most cases, I imagine, the process of those discussions is very illuminating and engaging.

But instead of helping others to experience the same thinking process, to engage, to debate, and to work on understanding important issues, this group then often expects others to accept the report findings and to just implement the recommendations. It may be good advice as the recommendations may be valuable, but this belief that others should just implement reflects a shallow understanding of how people think and work.

In some interesting ways, this standard operating procedure we have (at least in education) of select committee work and then expecting implementation exhibits a profound lack of trust. When we don't trust others, when we don't trust ourselves to be able to explain something, or when we don't trust a process, we use the shortcut of expecting (sometimes demanding) compliance.

Let me propose that the true value of most group meetings is not in the final report, but in the process... and that the ultimate goal should really be to help others to go through the same process themselves. Students, parents, teachers, administrators--we are all living, breathing, thinking, feeling human beings who need to be involved in the decisions in our lives. Democratic processes for local decision-making are at the heart of institutions, organizations, and societies that regenerate their core values with each generation.

The temptation to want to manage people to the conclusions we've already arrived at is not trusting the democratic process. If we actually believe that the conclusions we have come to from a series of conversations about an important topic are real and authentic and accurate, then those will be the conclusions others will come to given the same chance for dialog; if they are not, then we need to be prepared to revisit our thinking or to engage further.

A well-known education consultant, in working with school districts on change initiatives, told me that when the whole community would come together to talk about what they wanted for their children and their education, people always came to very similar conclusions.

Trusting and helping others, rather than telling them what to do, are signs of mature thinking.

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