LIVING FOR CHANGE
Another Education is Happening
Michigan Citizen, March 13-19, 2011
The mainstream media has created the myth that community people are waiting for Superman, the White House or state-appointed Emergency Financial Managers like Robert Bobb to resolve the escalating crises in our schools.
The truth is that concerned parents and citizens, especially in de-industrialized cities like Detroit, Milwaukee and Philadelphia, are beginning to create alternatives to these failing schools.
Out of love for our children and concern for the neighborhoods where we live, these parents and educators recognize that our schools will remain pipelines to prison and our neighborhood will continue to decline until and unless school children from K-12 are naturally and normally involved in and learning from community-building activities.
As I wrote years ago in the column entitled “Livelier, Safer Neighborhoods Almost Overnight” (October 24, 1999).
“Just imagine how safe and lively our streets would be if, as a natural and normal part of the curriculum from K-12, school children were taking responsibility for maintaining neighborhood streets, planting community gardens, recycling waste, rehabbing houses, creating healthier school lunches, visiting and doing errands for the elderly, organizing neighborhood festivals, painting public murals. The possibilities are endless.
“This is the fastest way to motivate all our children to learn and at the same time turn our communities, almost overnight, into lively neighborhoods where crime is going down because hope is going up. It is something needed not only by children in cities like Detroit but in the Littletons and Jonesboros of our country. By giving children a better reason to study than just to get a job or to advance their individual fortunes, by giving them a sense of themselves as useful citizens, we will get their cognitive juices flowing. Learning will come from practice which has always been the best way to learn.”
This paradigm shift in our concept of education did not start with me. It was advocated years ago by John Dewey (1859-1952), this country’s most important social philosopher whose critique of our educational system was widely known and discussed prior to World War 2.
The U.S. educational system, Dewey explained, is too topdown and undemocratic. It disempowers children because it stifles their natural tendencies to explore, manipulate tools, and to construct and create.
In 1933, when I was in my teens and Dewey in his 70s , his article “Dewey Outlines Utopian Schools” appeared in the New York Times.
The teaching-learning environments that would bring greatest growth, Dewey projected, are places where children and adults can grow together, where the schools are not separate from the community, where the very idea of purposes or objectives is not in the vocabulary, where instructional method is not necessary because learning is natural and needs to be nurtured rather than restricted, and where standardization and the surveillance of testing are anathema.
By contrast, the contemporary (then and now) form of education is a sorting mechanism with standards, goals, tests, and sordid comparisons. It is rooted in an attitude of acquisitiveness or the capitalist ethos and ends up separating the school and schoolchildren from the community.
Dewey said he learned the remedy for this mis-educational state of affairs from the Utopians: “They said that the great educational liberation came about when the concept of external attainments was thrown away and when they started to find out what each individual person had in him from the beginning.”
That is how loving and democratic parents and communities raise their children, and that is why we have a lot to learn from the homeschooling and community-based movements, as we struggle to transform our schools into places where children learn and grow into the active citizens that our country and the world urgently need in the 21st century.
Join the “Another Education Is Happening” discussion. Thursday, March 24, 6:30 pm.
Boggs Center, 3061 Field St. Detroit.