Prediction and Control VS Creative Human Development
Two mighty forces shape the debate raging around school reform, a social, economic and political issue every much as challenging as healthcare reform. What follows is some of the best thinking on this issue from two respected colleagues. Read both. You won't be disapointed.


Obama's School Choice
Shouldn't the education that Malia and Sasha receive be available to all?

By David Marshak

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wants to intensify the industrial, modernist character of American public schools. He wants a longer school day, a longer school week, and a longer school year. He wants national subject standards, which will inevitably lead to one national test. And he wants to institute merit pay, which is a euphemism for paying teachers to produce higher test scores. And this sort of merit pay, combined with national academic standards and one national test, will inevitably result in even more public schools becoming test-prep factories. Thus, more and more of the same.

Every one of these putative remedies grows from a belief that intensification of the command-and-control, modernist, factory model of production is what schools need to improve their performance. Arne Duncan seems to have no understanding that the most effective organizations in our society, both for-profit corporations and nonprofits, have evolved beyond command-and-control cultures.

The author and business professor Peter M. Senge describes these new entities as "learning organizations," which are built on the foundation of systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, shared vision, and team learning. Senge explains why Duncan's desire to intensify the factory model of schooling is destined for failure. "Today's problems come from yesterday's ‘solutions,' " he says.

Factory-model schools, though always flawed by racism and classism, worked reasonably well when America was primarily an industrial society. But given our evolution into a more postindustrial culture, the industrial elements of schooling—mass production, rigid time and curricular structures, simplistic age-grading, and depersonalization and alienation—have become the problem, not the solution.

A postindustrial society requires postindustrial, post-modern schools. We could find a good example of this kind of education by following President Barack Obama's two daughters to school one morning. Since their move to Washington, Malia and Sasha Obama have attended the Sidwell Friends School. It is both private and expensive, but these are not its essential characteristics.

Sidwell Friends is more profoundly defined both by the values that it rejects—and by those that it embodies. Sidwell rejects the modernist, industrial paradigm of schooling that makes school like an assembly line engaged in mass production, that claims all children should learn the same stuff at the same time. It also rejects the modernist claim that children's individuality and inner knowing are irrelevant to education.

Sidwell embraces a post-modernist paradigm of schooling defined by the following elements:

• Sidwell is a prekindergarten through 12th grade school, with 1,097 students. This is about 84 children in each grade, a small enough number so that no child is lost in the crowd. If Sidwell had a free-standing high school, it would have all of 336 students.

• Sidwell offers "a rich and rigorous interdisciplinary curriculum designed to stimulate creative inquiry, intellectual achievement, and independent thinking in a world increasingly without borders." It does not limit its curriculum to the antiquated 19th-century subjects, as does every set of state curriculum standards—or the new national standards that Arne Duncan is pitching.

• Sidwell encourages its students "to give expression to their artistic abilities." It does not cut the arts out of the curriculum to focus only on math and reading, as so many schools have done in our testing-obsessed era, but understands that the arts need to be an integral element in every child's education.

• Sidwell Friends School is a community that values "the power of individual and collective reflection." It values not only knowledge that is outside the child or teenager, but also what children and adolescents know within themselves. Sidwell encourages reflection and inner knowing, neither of which are acknowledged in any state's academic standards.

• Sidwell promotes "an understanding of how diversity enriches us," recruits a diverse student body (39 percent of its students are persons of color), and offers a global and multicultural curriculum.

• In its curriculum and communal life, Sidwell emphasizes "stewardship of the natural world" and engages its students both in learning the science of ecology and in developing the ethics that are at the core of the concept of stewardship: that every individual has a personal responsibility for ecological health and sustainability.

• Sidwell also promotes service, and its curriculum and communal life engage its students in understanding "why service to others enhances life."

• Sidwell explicitly acknowledges multiple forms of accessing knowledge and truth: "through scientific investigation, through creative expression, through conversation, … through service within the school community and beyond." All state standards are far more simple-minded.

• Sidwell recognizes that schooling is about both individual learning and learning how to work together well with others. "Work on individual skills and knowledge is balanced with group learning, in which each person's unique insights contribute to a collective understanding."

• Sidwell is a school that focuses on personalization of learning and on educating the whole person.

"Above all," its literature declares, "we seek to be a school that nurtures a genuine love of learning and teaches students ‘to let their lives speak.' " Sidwell's central ambition is "to recognize and nurture each person's unique gifts."

Yes, Sidwell Friends is an expensive private school; the tuition is about $29,000 a year. And it has one teacher on staff for every seven students—plus small classes and expensive facilities.

But Sidwell's commitment to implementing a post-modern paradigm of schooling based on the personalization of learning, a global and multicultural curriculum, an emphasis on ecology and environmental stewardship, service to others, multiple forms of knowledge, and personal responsibility and excellence has little to do with money. It's driven primarily by the value of educating the whole person, and any school in America could enact a program founded on that same value.

If Barack and Michelle Obama have abandoned industrial-paradigm, modernist schooling and have chosen to send Malia and Sasha to a post-modern school focused on the personalization of learning in the context of a caring, responsible school community, isn't it time for every family in the nation to have the same opportunity?

And if President Obama sends his own kids to such a school, why are he and Arne Duncan advocating policies that would intensify the most defective features of industrial schooling, rather than trying to transform schools to make them more like Sidwell Friends?

David Marshak is a lecturer in the Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies and the Woodring College of Education at Western Washington University, in Bellingham, Wash., and is a professor emeritus at Seattle University. Education Week Published Online: August 3, 2009

Educating for Individuality

Lynn Stoddard

What will happen if our schools give up trying to standardize students, but instead, decide to help students develop their unique sets of talents, gifts, interests and abilities? Why not have high standards for nurturing positive human individuality?

What will happen if we do it?

Some of the following things are already happening in a few private schools like the one the Obama girls attend, but should be available for all of America's children:

Teaching is restored as an honored and highly sought profession. Student and teacher drop-outs decrease. School will be interesting, challenging and exciting again. Parents will become meaningfully involved as partners to help children develop as individuals. Crime rates will decrease. Self-chosen, home study will replace teacher-assigned home work. Individual achievement and knowledge will soar as students investigate their own interests and develop their own talents. Cooperation and collaboration replaces most competition. Portfolios and presentations will replace all but teacher and student-made assessments. Hands-on investigations replace busywork sheets. Teachers will nurture curiosity, creativity and problem-solving. Students will fall in love with reading and increase in their zest for truth and knowledge.

A huge mistake is about to be made under the banner, "National Standards." The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) are unveiling a plan to develop common English-language Arts and Mathematics standards across the nation. They call it the "Common Core State Standards Initiative."

The plan is for subject matter specialists to decide what all students should know and be able to do at each grade level. It is a call to develop student uniformity at a higher level. Achievement tests will be administered to track and compare progress across the states. Standards for uniformity? Is this an oxymoron?

Is it possible to have high standards for doing the wrong things? It makes sense for factories that produce products to have standards for uniformity, but what about schools? Should they be operated like factories, with quality controls (achievement tests) to make sure each "product" is the same?

Why do so many people believe it is the main business of schools to develop human uniformity? The current push for uniformity shows that large numbers of people have developed a false belief about what education is for. They are exhibiting what George Odiorne calls, "the activity trap."

In 1974 he said, "Most people get caught in the (curriculum) trap. They get so enmeshed in (curriculum) they lose sight of why they are doing it and the (curriculum) becomes a false goal, and end in itself."

This may be the reason our society holds uniform student achievement in curriculum as the main goal and purpose of schooling. Evidence for this is the courses students are required to take (such as algebra) for graduation from high school. Achievement in curriculum is what policymakers try to assess. By so doing it dictates to teachers, with false goals, the methods they use. Standardized tests force teachers to ignore the vast differences in students and try to make them all alike in the knowledge and skills that are assessed.

Victor Weisskopf said "People cannot learn by having information pressed into their brains. Knowledge has to be sucked into the brain, not pushed in."

If "national standards for student uniformity" get installed in schools across the nation, it will force teachers to press information into the brains of students as fast as possible. They will not be able to wait for the "urge to know" to develop in each child. They will "teach" the prescribed curriculum in a direct manner and accept the illusion that significant learning has occurred. In reality the knowledge will only be shallow and temporary as it has always been in a standardized, test-based school system.

Now you have a choice. Do nothing and get national standards for student uniformity imposed on your schools. OR ….. Write or call newspapers, legislators, the president, school board members, neighbors, teachers, your governor and others to help stop national standards for uniformity from becoming a reality. Ask them to start a movement toward educating for student individuality. If we develop high standards that nurture human diversity, standards that nurture and address our talents and our infinite variety, we will dignify not only our children and our profession but indeed, all of us.

Lynn Stoddard is a founding member of the Educating for Human Greatness Alliance.
He lives in Farmington, Utah and can be reached at
Lynn Stoddard, 793 S. 200 E., Farmington, UT 84025 (801) 451-2554