In the course of producing this issue, we at IN CONTEXT were often prompted to reflect on our own educations. In my case, the memories are mixed. I attended a pleasant, church-run elementary school through the sixth grade, with small classes and retirement-age teachers who seemed to enjoy teaching a great deal.
But in seventh grade I moved to the public school system. In my memory, Stonewall Jackson Junior High School in Orlando, FL, seems more like a jail than a school. From the outside, it looked menacing – metal shutters on all the windows, lots of chain-link fence, an atmosphere of foreboding. Like most of my friends, I tried to avoid getting beaten up, or singled out as "different," while the administrators tried to pretend that puberty wasn’t happening all around them on a massive scale. How many of us remember our adolescence as a time of bewildering imprisonment?
High school and the first years of college were, in the reductionism of hindsight, not much more than a series of hoops to jump. It wasn’t until late in my university career, when I started volunteering at a runaway shelter in New Orleans’ French Quarter, that I really began to feel educated in the root sense of the term ("educare" means "to bring forth" in Latin). The young people I was supposed to be helping – and my colleagues on the staff – taught me a great deal. I owe a part of my soul to those people, with their tremendous courage and suffering and defiant humor.
But while the overall tone of my memories of school is less than positive (ironically, "school" comes from the Greek word for "leisure"), my feelings for particular teachers amount to nothing less than immense gratitude. The best of them were deeply caring, committed people who exercised imagination and morality, often against overwhelming institutional odds. I can link many of my best choices in life to their positive influence – in the form of an informal conversation, an innovative classroom exercise, or a tersely-worded challenge on an exam paper – guiding me and showing me how to "bring forth" my self.
Isn’t that what what we want for ourselves, and for our children – that bringing forth? Isn’t that what our planet needs now, more than ever?
It goes without saying that the crisis in our schools reflects a broader social crisis, and that the vast majority of teachers and administrators – in child as well as adult education – want only the best for the students in their care. It’s imperative that they be empowered to do their work better than it has ever been done before. We are in a time when the destructive power of our ignorance is casting cold shadows across our knowledge – and the integrity of many species, cultures, and natural systems is being eclipsed in the process.
But a total eclipse is far from inevitable. This issue of IN CONTEXT is filled with tools and insights to help speed a revolution in learning – and a faster evolution for the human race. Multiple intelligence theory, accelerated learning, multicultural education, "Earthwise" curricula – these are elements of an entirely new paradigm in education. If applied universally, the technologies of learning in this issue could transform the schools of the world in short order.
Most of the innovations described here are social and cultural, not electronic. They don’t require fancy machines or large amounts of money to implement. With a little effort, practically anyone can understand them. The principal requirements are an open mind, a desire to help oneself and others excel, and a willingness to experiment. The great human thirst to learn does the rest.
We at IN CONTEXT hope you are inspired by these examples of educational success and clear thinking. We also strongly encourage you to share this information with teachers, school officials, university education departments, business educators, and learners of all ages. Learning is not just about schools; it’s about individual and cultural development. Everyone is a learner, and advances in learning must concern all of us – for by the spread of such new and powerful knowledge, cultures can be transformed.
Alan AtKisson is the son of two teachers and the executive editor of IN CONTEXT.