Our task this week at the Co-op, is to provide a counter-narrative in education reform. Mine offering is that our current education system is a failure in numerous ways, perhaps most importantly a failure because of its values. We know better than ever the detriments of war, the degradation of our planet, and the plight of millions of people, yet school’s values in the United States, continues to be: think about yourself (if you think at all), success depends on other people losing, and unending material progress. Furthermore, why is the majority of schools not engaged in dealing with the most pressing issues of today, but rather are teaching to tests? Wait, wait, you say, that’s not true, we teach character at our schools. Why then are competitive sports exalted? Why does the valedictorian system still exist (grades at all for that matter)? Why are schools made of concrete blocks, use obnoxious amounts of fluorescent lights, and worship the smart board?
I know I am painting a black and white picture, when in reality there are many shades of gray and color, but the very foundation of our modern education system to process students to conform to our larger cultural values which are perhaps best captured by the words of Martin Luther King Jr.:
“I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin…we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”
From this call more than 40 years ago, I put forth a revolution of values where the focus is on the unified field of relationships that comprises life, understanding that freedom or material progress gained by the exploitation of another (be it minerals, trees, or people) is not freedom or progress at all. I put forth a revolution of values where the focus is on the development of character such that sanity is commonplace, where work is valued by its authentic contributions to the greater good, not abstractions such as money.
I look to the Earth Charter, a document crafted by a global network of people deeply concerned for the current conditions of life on this planet and creating better ones tomorrow. It was developed over the course of 5 years, 1995-2000, and represents our clearest call towards the creation of a sane human society, supported by the principles of the Charter: Respect and Care for the Community of Life; Ecological Integrity; Social and Economic justice; Democracy, Non-violence, and Peace.
Supporting the charter is Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic, which also greatly informs my perspective: “a thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty, of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”
Built upon this foundation, my graduate studies in education at Goddard College, and my deeply meaningful conversations here with Co-op members, I propose an Earth Charter Learning Alliance (working title). A school by definition of “a group of people, particularly writers, artists, or philosophers, sharing the same or similar ideas, methods, or style” is a community in practice of living out the aims of the Earth Charter. By its very nature it is involved in problem-based learning, utilizes place-based learning and the philosophy of the Third Teacher. As a matter of fact, actualizes Nel Noddings work to cultivate character through the act of caring relationships, and wields the critical pedagogy of Freire. Students develop eco-literacy as a matter of fact., based on the nature of the work the community is engaged in. Moreover, learning is student-directed and mentored, and technology is appropriately used to access information and personal learning networks.
Here is my very rough sketch-up of such a school in a more nuts and bolts manner:
Earth Charter Learning Alliance
Every graduate will have the competency to positively contribute to the world in ways aligning with the Earth Charter. Because of the demanding creativity that such work necessitates, it can be assured that graduates will have developed high levels of proficiency in skills needed in today’s workplace and to meet tomorrow’s problems: critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration across networks and leading by influence, agility and adaptability, initiative and entrepreneurism, effective oral and written communication skills, accessing and analyzing information, curiosity and imagination. All of these skills are built upon the values of needed to actualize the Earth Charter, respect, compassion, responsibility, caring and profound thoughtfulness. This is guaranteed without the use of standardized tests or grades. It will be accomplished by a synergy of intrinsic motivation to learn and do good, passion, and timely feedback from Personal Learning Networks (PLN’s) including peers, mentors, and advisors.
Emergent curriculum: students are involved seamlessly in the larger learning community consisting of those traditionally labeled as teachers and also people actively engaged in re-envisioning human culture in alignment with The Earth Charter. These may be farmers, entrepreneurs, scientists, doctors, lawyers, dancers, film-makers, bakers, musicians…The defining quality of community members is demonstrated sanity through:
1. Emotional sensitivity and intellectual curiosity oriented to expansive love, compassion, respect, and responsibility, in contrast to disharmonious tendencies to neglect, apathy, and disavowal of personal responsibility for collective well-being.
2. Conceptual focus on cyclic powers in human development, exhibited in habits, customs, and traditions concerning the presence or absence of effective self-reflection, self-examination, research, inquiry, dialogue, etc.
The community is the child’s PLN by default. The child will work with a “teacher” of her or her parent’s choosing as a primary advisor/mentor. Mentoring will focus on social/emotional development as well as cognitive development. The Universe Story, the scientific telling of the cosmogenesis will be utilized to give perspective to where humanity comes from in the greater cosmological context and where we might be headed.
In early and middle childhood, students are actively engaged in any facets of the community they wish, from agriculture to technology. What is happening becomes the context of relevant learning. And everything that is happening is in support of community health-individual, group, and ecological. “Classes” are not defined by subject area, but rituals of spending time together do exist, primarily to share experiences and engage in inquiry and dialogue with one another. Habits of reading and writing are part of spending time together. As the community is embedded in being caring, sustainable, just, and peaceful, routines and practices regularly reflect this and are continually refined. Foreign language learning occurs through immersion. Foreign languages are used during problem and project based learning, such that they are a natural part of the learning experience. Structures TBD.
Learning in adolescence is greatly informed by the work of Monika Hardy (@monk51295):
In early adolescence, students bolster their ability to find information, interpret it, and communicate effectively. Once this is demonstrated to be proficient (through a capstone project?) students move into the next stage of learning, termed “quasi-college” by Monika.
Continuing in early adolescence and into late adolescence, students continue exploring areas of interest. Following Howard Thurman’s creed: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Again, all learning is underlined with the understanding that we are working to create a sustainable, just, and peaceful world, and so all information is compared against these criteria. Students develop PLN’s per passion including expert individual mentors, utilizing local and global resources. Students continue to engage in learning framed by the Earth Charter and are graduated after the completion of a major work, developed in collaboration with PLN, mentor, and teacher/advisor. Major work will integrate student’s passion with work in one or more of the principles of the Earth Charter.
Beyond graduation students are well-poised to continue their work of passion, exploring who they are in the greater context of the cosmos, contributing positively in authentic ways to the larger community, and be of the ilk David Orr describes:
“The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as our culture has defined it.”
I seek the co-op’s help in strengthening the vision through critical, friendly feedback and questions. Thank you.