an expanded and updated version of an article that first appeared in
Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice
The Good News has 3 inseparable messages:
1) The universal accessibility of
the personal and persistent unrestrained love and unconditional grace of God; and
2) The feeding quenching clothing healing visiting welcoming compassion and
the reparative rehabilitating restorative justice of the Community; and
3) The inclusive hospitality and joyous generosity and healthy service of the Individual.
RECLAIMING CHURCH – REDUX
The Good News is about being the Kingdom of God here and now. The Good News does not oppose the Empire. The Good News is constantly engaged in non-violently replacing the Empire with the Kingdom of God. To that end, having only a well-defined theology of love, grace, compassion, justice, hospitality, generosity, and service is not enough. The true measure is how that theology is lived and shared and how it imbues and informs the life of the disciple. The Good News is not about yearning for or being promised a future and distant post-mortal eternal reward as payment for a temporary existence marked by guilt-ridden culturally-acceptable behavior and tightly-held xenophobic beliefs. The Good News is about being and proclaiming and provoking the Kingdom of God here and now in all aspects of our lives. One such aspect is education, especially public K-12 education.
THE PURPOSE OF EDUCATION
What Is Not Education?
Education is not for the betterment of the local economy, the gross national product, or the global society. Education is not about transforming, unifying, or homogenizing society. Education is not a solution for the problems of society – neither problems that are persistent and universal nor problems that are uniquely contemporary. Education is not about providing competent trained workers for future employment. Education does not transform students into either an intellectual natural resource or a pool of human capital – these concepts have no basis or existence in reality. Education is not the means by which we can gain a national economic competitive edge over other nations. Education is not about preparing students for college. It is not an event in some imaginary ongoing international academic competition. Acquiring an education from a public school system is not an act of consumerism (Bracey 2008) because public education is not a product, not a business, not a manufacturing process, and not an industry. Neither competence in passing a specific test nor receiving narrowly focused training qualifies as an education (Houston 2007).
Such purposes and goals are wrong. Such purposes and goals cause a destructive mutation of the education process. Such purposes and goals subject children to treatment that must be labeled and rejected for what it is – criminally coercive and abusive.
The Six Purposes and Obligations of Education
First, the most important obligation of any education system is to recognize that each child is a unique individual – there is no such thing as a standard child (Rakow 2008). Any system that has any other primary obligation is neither about nor providing education. The uniqueness of each child requires unique accommodations. Instead of forcing a child into a predetermined or standardized schedule and set of expectations, we have an obligation to adapt to each child’s unique set of capabilities, boundaries, and rate of development. To do otherwise is counter-productive, if not harmful. Children are who they uniquely are. Children are not who we want them to be or who we think they are. Children are not indistinguishable widgets on an education assembly line (Johnson 2006).
The quality of an industrial product can be measured. An industrial process begins with specified and consistent raw materials that meet the requirements of the process. Then, in accordance with a pre-designed detailed plan, the raw materials are incrementally transformed into a finished product. At each step of the transformation process, there are standards that must be met for the process to continue and, eventually, successfully produce the expected final product. The continuous process is constantly producing identical finished products. Each finished product, within very tight tolerances, must meet specifications or be rejected. A specific quantifiable result is expected and each finished product must meet all predetermined expectations with a high degree of measurable precision. The metrics and processes used in industry and business to measure and achieve and control quality cannot and must not be applied to education. Students are not a raw material. There are no rejects. There cannot be a pre-specified final product. Education is not an industrial process.
A successful education can not be measured collectively. It can be measured only individually and only independent of the results and achievements of others. The education process is not a series of assembly-line increments occurring at fixed intervals at controllable rates with repeated predictable results. Education does not yield a predetermined finished product. The success of an education is not measured by how well it matches blueprint specifications. The success of an education is not measured by how well an individual can recall and repeat what has been learned. The success of an education is measured by how well an individual extends and expands and enriches what has been learned and uses what has been learned to solve problems and create solutions, to create new knowledge and new art. The end result of education cannot be designed or mapped. Education cannot use an unchanging collective blueprint expecting to manufacture identical results. Indeed, the end results of education must not be identical or even uniform. The end result of education is controlled by the unique internal, changing and maturing qualities of the individual student and not by any external expectations, designs, or controls. Education is a process of assisting individual intellectual growth, the discovery of personal strengths and talents, and the maturation of the person as an individual and a social being – a process that does not end with graduation from high school or college. Education has no end result – there is no final product, there is no finished inventory.
Education is only a part of an ongoing life-long process. Training and regimentation and indoctrination are used to make people more nearly identical in some skill or behavior or response or thought. Education is about enriching the natural uniqueness of each person (Houston 2007). Education increases diversity, differentiation, and variability among individuals and decreases uniformity and conformity (Eisner 2001). The sole focus of an education system is the individual child – not parents, not colleges, not corporations, not government, not society, not the economy, and not the future of any other single or group entity. The future is always and inescapably unpredictable, indiscernible, and unknowable – the future does not yet exist. It is irresponsibly presumptuous for any adult to choose a future for a child or to preemptively limit the future of a child. The whole spectrum of future possibilities of each child belongs only and entirely to that child.
Second, an education system has an obligation to discover the talents and strengths of each child, then nurture each child’s confidence in and mastery of those talents and strengths, and provide the opportunities and resources necessary for each child to concentrate and focus on their talents and strengths, explore them in-depth (Eisner 2001) and nurture them to their fullest potential – as chosen and desired by the child.
Third, an education system has an obligation to allow, encourage, and protect generous amounts of unstructured time for a child to engage in child-initiated child-organized freely-chosen play, to explore, and to be creative in serious thought and fanciful imagination – both in solitude and in cooperation with other children. (Bergen & Frombert 2009) (Chmelynski 2006) (Elkind 2001 p. xvii) (Ginsburg 2007) (Jacobson 2008) (Satcher 2005) “Play is essential to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth.” “Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development.” “Play is integral to the academic environment. It ensures that the school setting attends to the social and emotional development of children as well as their cognitive development.” (Ginsburg 2007 p. 183)
Fourth, an education system has an obligation to promote within each child a constant self-awareness and self-knowledge and an independent personality, intellect, voice, and initiative. Education encourages a questioning spirit and stifles blind acceptance. The goal of education is to facilitate the acquisition by each child the capability for logical reasoning and evaluation, and the skills for: locating and gathering information, problem-solving, making plans and setting priorities, cooperating with a group without being subservient to the group, sharing knowledge and skills, and being able to earn respect in other cultures while being respectful toward those other cultures (Berliner & Biddle 1995 p. 301).
Fifth, the purpose of an education is to provide each child with the widest exposure to the best of human knowledge in all disciplines; and the widest variety of the best artistic descriptions and expressions of humanity and the human experience; and to provide ample opportunity to experience, understand, and appreciate the natural environment and learn good stewardship of natural resources.
Sixth, a successful education assists each child in acquiring the intellectual and social tools to traverse the world, retaining at least a cautious, if not enthusiastic, curiosity and become a person who is open to, and even desires, continuous life-long learning. Education enables learning. At its best, education inspires a joy for learning (Rakow 2008). Education does not subvert learning to a test score, a hurdle, an obstacle to be conquered, or just another difficult life passage that just has to be endured (Eisner 2001).
What is an Educator?
There is no such thing as “teaching” or a “teacher.” There is no way any “teacher” can force knowledge into the mind of a student who is not present, willing, and engaged. There is no research that demonstrates a humane teaching method that is so universally efficient, effective, and largely and continuously successful that the teacher using the method can be held accountable for the results regardless of the participation and attitude of the student (Ediger 2007). In the way the word is commonly used, there is no such thing as “teaching.” There is only learning – a life-long, complex and multi-dimensional, internal individual process unique to each person (Crain 2008)(Driscoll 2005 p. 2)(Johnson 2006). No matter the education or years of experience, the hours of lesson preparation, the quality and intensity and creativity of the lesson presentation – nothing is learned until the student “gets it” (Driscoll 2005 p. 22) – a task and process over which the educator has no control and for which no educator and no school can be held accountable. There is no such thing as teaching that forcibly, controllably, and measurably inserts knowledge or skills into a student. There is only learning.
Well documented are the many ways in which children, starting at birth or earlier, learn on their own (Crain 2005, pp. 143-145) – for example: object permanence (even though mother is out of sight, mother still exists) (Crain 2005 pp. 120-121, 310-312), eye-hand coordination, vocabulary and grammar (Crain 2005 pp. 69-70, 349-359), walking – to name a few. There is no evidence that this internal ability to learn solitarily is ever replaced or largely supplanted by an external process. A normal healthy person never releases or loses the ability to learn. Learning is solely a capability and responsibility of the individual student. Learning is only in the internal cognitive domain of the individual student. It is the student who has to acquire, retain, and integrate new knowledge. It is the student who either assimilates the new knowledge within his or her existing knowledge set or it is the student who must accommodate the new knowledge by redefining or reorganizing his or her existing knowledge set (Crain 2005 p. 115)(Berliner & Biddle 1995 p. 303). Regardless of how the new knowledge is integrated, all of it happens only within the mind of the student – and only if the student is capable – and only if the student makes it happen.
Educators who are well-qualified, caring, and dedicated are critically important and absolutely necessary to the fulfillment of the purposes and obligations of education. Educators are knowledge experts and instructional presenters and trainers and facilitators and guides and mentors and motivators (Bartholomew 2007). An educator is the catalyst that makes learning easier (Merkle 2008) and “more intense and lasting” (Smyth 2005). The traditional concept that an educator can – somehow or in any way – shove knowledge into the mind of a student is false and invalid to the point of being knee-slapping gut-busting laughing-out-loud ludicrous. The true role of the educator is to be an astute observer of each student’s level of mastery, make note of what specific difficulties a student had in obtaining that level of mastery, assess the student’s preparedness and receptiveness for new knowledge, and choose the appropriate methodology for either reenforcement of knowledge currently being learned or progressing to learning new knowledge (Crain 2005 pp. 239-240)(Ediger 2007). A good educator is: a responsive coach, an enthusiastic cheerleader for student efforts and achievements, a servant-leader (Greenleaf 2008), an efficient and effective manager and provider of classroom assets, subject-knowledgeable, available, accessible, affirming, supportive, a gentle guide for the first learning step and for each transition to the next level of learning (Crain 2005 pp. 239-240), manages an age-appropriate richly-stimulating learning environment, and provides an atmosphere of joy (McReynolds 2008). It is not about teaching, it is about reaching.
Educators cannot be held accountable for what students learn. Educators can be held accountable for their professional behavior and use of best practices – just like any other licensed professional. Education is not a technical trade. As a profession, education is built upon personal expertise in concepts and rules and expertise in observing and analyzing how those concepts and rules can best be applied to each student. As a profession, education cannot be constrained to predefined sequences and timelines or inescapably bound by externally chosen tasks. As a professional, an educator must have the liberty to take advantage of new tools, new methods, spontaneous opportunities for object lessons or meaningful tangents, or to initiate a new activity – even on the spur of the moment. Professional accountability sets high standards for personal conduct and for the quality of the service delivered. As long as those standards are met, it is the personal expertise of the individual professional that determines which methods are to be used to fulfill their professional obligations. Implicit within professional accountability is trust and freedom, not blame and control. “While you can beat people into submission, you can’t beat them into greatness” (Houston, 2007, p. 747).
Education has an obligation to recognize at all times the unique state of developmental readiness of each individual child, the universal necessity for play, and to protect and enable the right of each child to have a life and future of their own choosing that aligns with their unique strengths, talents, and interests. The purpose of education is to enable the widest and most diverse possibilities for the future of each child. It is only the unique strengths, talents, and interests of the individual child that should limit possibilities or choose a specific path.
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