The revolution has begun. Thousands of classrooms, hundreds of schools, and many school districts – under the leadership of visionary superintendents and supportive school boards – are experiencing success. That this should be considered a revolution is a sad commentary on our times, but it is a fact that many school systems predict and produce failure. And they accept it.
The successes that are being experienced are the result of recognizing and meeting the needs of an extraordinarily diverse population of students. To meet those needs, it is essential to recognize the many different ways they have of learning and processing information. It is essential that at least part of the time they have opportunities to learn through their strengths, and that they also have opportunities to stretch into new ways of using their minds to develop the capacities for lifelong learning.
Not all teachers, however, have the training to help students from different cultural, social, and educational backgrounds – students who have different kinds of abilities and disabilities. Many universities do not yet have the kind of certification programs that provide these essential skills, and many school districts do not offer them comprehensively in their in-service programs.
Even with strong educational backgrounds, large numbers of teachers still cannot cope with the overwhelming physical, emotional, and social needs of today’s students. Many children are physically and emotionally abused, and a growing number come into the world addicted to drugs or alcohol. Without strong support from social service, health, and welfare agencies and school counselors, it is nearly impossible for many teachers to teach.
Even with those needs met, teachers must have as well the understanding and support of their colleagues, principals, central office administrators, school boards, and community members. Teachers must have the time available for collaborative planning and problem-solving, and to share ideas and lesson plans with each other. Turf wars, petty jealousy, inflexibility and unwillingness to change have no place in educational systems. Schools should be places in which successful programs and strategies can be eagerly shared, reinforced, and rewarded.
Learning for today’s world is a lifelong process. It must begin in the home with well-informed parents or care-givers. If Venezuela can use existing institutions like maternity hospitals, the media, community centers, clinics and schools to educate the entire population on ways to lay the foundations for the healthy mental, physical, and emotional development of its children, surely the United States should be able to do no less.
It is important – and essential – that agreement be facilitated among governors, legislators, teachers, superintendents, presidents of educational organizations, school board members, heads of business and community organizations, and students themselves on the basics of what students need to know in order to survive and thrive in today’s world. And could not these individuals and groups then collaborate on deciding what teachers need to know in order to help students learn? And what university education departments, teachers unions, and in-service programs need to offer teachers in order for them to master that knowledge? And what principals need to know to support their teachers? And what superintendents need to know to empower their principals? And what school boards need to know to make it possible for superintendents to be true educational leaders? And what parents and community members need to know to create a positive context in which real learning can take place?
Such a collaborative, revolutionary effort may be the only way to build real learning communities out of which will come the creators of the future. In this issue of IN CONTEXT we offer a number of ideas to fuel the revolution so that every child may have the opportunity to become an independent, cooperative, productive, creative and ultimately self-actualizing member of society.
Guest Editor Dee Dickinson is President and Founder of New Horizons for Learning (NHFL), an international network of education innovators. She co-edits the network’s newsletter, "On The Beam," and is the author or editor of several books forthcoming in 1991, including Freedom to Learn and New Horizons for Learning: Creating an Educational Network.