“One finger cannot lift a pebble.” ~ Hopi Saying
In reading a blog posting by a former colleague Gino Bondi, the Principal of John Oliver Secondary School in Vancouver I was reminded that our initiatives in implementing a framework around “Personalized Learning” has, in his words “less to do with the product of 21st Century learning and more to do with the process of leading people judiciously through difficult change.” Gino, thanks for the reminder. In many ways our knowledge and competence in leading change will mean the difference between a transformed system which meets the needs of all learners and another experiment in systemic change that is not appropriately or correctly implemented. We can ill afford a derailment of our “Dream” or its possible outcomes for learners in our care. One of the central questions we will have to keep in mind as we develop “Learning Without Boundaries” is; “What is the purpose of education?” What are the compelling reasons for change at this time?
Important as the academic offerings and the extra-curricular activities are, the ethos of the school lies at the centre of school life. The ethos is not a matter of the mission statement, but of the shared understandings among the entire school community of the values and purposes of their institution. What may seem like fairly trivial and “administrative” decisions about the life of the school do contribute to the ethos of the school which, in turn, affects its ability to live up to its values and fulfill its purposes. But what exactly is a school or a district’s purpose or purposes?
Many have offered their orientation as to the purpose of education. Common purpose has been described as a cohesive organizer for a school community, as a call to unite the community behind a specific direction such as general knowledge sharing, preparation for the world of work and job preparation, to the development of skills and orientations to support social and community development. The definitions have seen us as politicians, social activists, apostles, and community advocates. Others have seen us as simply being to promote the long-term prospects for the flourishing of the learners in our care.
In my most recent blog I did not properly reference and provide an acknowledgement of the work of Diane Ravitch who discusses the issues of education in her writings. She believes schools “should teach youngsters about our history, our civic institutions, and our legislation. They must give students the intellectual tools to comprehend science, mathematics, language, the arts, literature, and history. Democratic habits and values must be taught and communicated through the daily life of our society. The best protection for a democratic society remains well-educated citizens.”
Others have articulated different versions of the purposes of education. George Lucas, movie maker, suggests there are three things students should learn and schools should be organized around these learnings. He says we want students to know how to find information, how to assess the quality of information, and how to creatively and effectively use information to accomplish a goal. He also suggests that in today’s world, it is not enough to know how to use information well. Students also have to learn how to cooperate, to lead, and to work well with different types of people. These skills are keys to being successful in a career and to having a civilized society.
The recent Educan conference which is both a conversation and a conference clearly articulated their guiding principles which support purpose. They are:
1. Our schools must be inquiry-driven, thoughtful and empowering for all members
2. Our schools must be about co-creating – together with our students – the 21st Century Citizen
3. Technology must serve pedagogy, not the other way around
4. Technology must enable students to research, create, communicate and collaborate
5. Learning can – and must – be networked
I thank Nancy Bennett, Principal of Montgomery Middle School for forwarding Dennis Littky and Samantha Grabell’s description of their “Real Goals of Education”. These include wanting learners to
• Be lifelong learners
• Be passionate
• Be ready to take risks
• Be able to problem-solve and think critically
• Be able to look at things differently
• Be able to work independently and with others
• Be creative
• Care and want to give back to their community
• Have integrity and self-respect
• Have moral courage
• Be able to use the world around them well
• Speak well, write well, read well, and work well with numbers
• Truly enjoy their life and their work
It will be interesting to discover or rediscover our collectively articulated Coquitlam purpose of education as we develop our “Dream”.
“Trust yourself when men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too.” ~ Rudgard Kipling
“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” ~ John Dewey