The Ideal Of Education Is Not Mediocre

Corinna Lindenberg Issue: Section:

a message from the melting pot of learning

It’s hard to imagine a society that will ever agree upon the values and goals of the education of our children. Clearly, it is a complex subject. We were all brought up and educated in different ways, and those experiences only complicate the matter. A casual playground visit can become an ordeal when values clash even within one family. The devil is in the detail.

Schools exist to educate our offspring in the necessary abstract tools of communication: letters and numbers, reading and writing, math and science, etc. Something else is taught in the classroom as well. Look closely and you’ll notice social values are being modeled (or not) and hierarchy or pecking orders are being transported into the minds of our little ones, consciously or unconsciously. The method of education, it seems, is almost more important than the content of the lessons being taught.

The ideal method, from my personal experience, is a Diverse Learning Community. This method starts with a mixed age group of students, where two grades share the same classroom and teacher. Here, a child who is looking at a pretty picture of some apples, imagining their taste and wondering whether a little brother at home might be eating one, is as supported in his/her thinking as the child who counts the red fruit in the picture and already knows how to subtract one in case the mackintosh is tasty. What is important here is that the children themselves don’t consider which student needs a deeper challenge and who needs more nurturing. The classroom is built on community -- help for all minds, with no barometer for one who is supposedly “gifted” or one who is “challenged.” Our children deserve to be met at whatever points their intellects and maturity levels exist. This intersection cannot be reached by separating them into different classrooms based on ability, or even placing them in separate schools. Some parents like separation of different learners as long as their children are in the “best” school with the “best” peers (considering they all have “the golden child” as I call it). The Diverse Learning Community thinks quite differently, and needs both “gifted” and “challenged” kids, in my view: children with or without support from home.

This diversity needs to be real and complex. To be successful, the teacher needs a lot of support to become such a trustworthy player, to know when the coach is needed (the principal with the support of resources) and when intervention could help a child with severe learning difficulties.

Parents must do their part also, since the underlying principles of diversity include the cultural heritage of the children and their family habits. Only if every child is proud of where they come from can they feel secure and find their place in the world. The wider the diversity, the more likely the children will mention their differences out of their quest for understanding. This natural disclosure brings richness to everyday learning that surely must lead to a more peaceful and respectful community beyond the educational years.

This “ideal” or more inclusive approach to education needs the supporting community around it, a community of cultural and socio-economic variety like the East Village of NYC. Diverse Learning also needs “professional” resources and financial support as much as hands-on classroom help of families and their moral embrace. This method is not a quiet place, but then, neither is the world we live in. Children find their footing as they go (often better than their parents, as far as I am concerned). The vision is in the moment (the teacher), the path is found by the leadership (the principal) and the definition of the path is articulated by community input, economics and politics.

The nature of politics seems to work against these naturally evolving strategies and methods. It’s a deeply frustrating and often intimidating political struggle because education is seen as too broad a subject, too large a system, the numbers too many. How can we help politicians understand and enable schools to operate like this?

Inclusion as an inner concept could help. The fear of bad teachers, screaming principals and punishing school rules have led to a run on private schools. Parents’ own school experiences often lead to the wish to separate “good” children from “bad” children. (Ours are the good ones, of course). This thinking has to be overcome to enable the Diverse Learning Community to thrive.

Finally, what if you were a parent who found a school with this teaching method in a richly diverse community? Well, then your child needs to “get in,” which isn’t always easy. Often, the different socio-economic classes and cultures needed for the diverse classroom may mean that some families that truly value the Diversity Learning Method might not get a spot, while a family that couldn’t care less where they end up is admitted right away.

This is why we need far more schools like these. And this is why everybody should help in the fight for more, especially the people who are already ‘in”. Sadly these people are mostly satisfied and are in no fighting mood, besides being busy NYC parents. But admission policies are THAT important. They are having a huge effect on the classroom composition and therefore the effectiveness of the method.

The full potential of this method can only be reached if we can barely see through this web of educational complexity. Let’s lose our orientation for a moment and venture into uncertainties. Because only then can the teacher not be the “know-it-all” but instead rely on the method rather than the message.

Let’s wander off the wide path of mediocre teaching goals and into the shrubs build up by our children’s minds and behavior. The only thing clear here is that we know why we want to lose sight in those shrubs, because we want our children to be able to guide us through them, and they will.

Of course it is presumptuous to speak about the Ideal of education, that debate has a long history but we as humans should be tired of talking about anything less then a real vision and possible ideal when it comes to educating new brains and hearts. And that includes not only parents as being visionaries for their children but everybody having a vision for the future of our planet EARTH.

(Written by an EarthSchool parent, theEarthSchool.org )

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