Take Back our Schools. Hmmm. What Would that Look Like?

It would look like all who would call themselves educators taking the Socratic Oath.

Adults who care about children need to give to the system what is the system’s and to the child what is the child’s. School systems are bound by their systemness. Devotion to standards, measurable outcomes, public accountability and so on are necessary cornerstones of a public system committed to serving all the people. Arguments about the shape of those cornerstones are distractions from conversations by parents and teachers in the business of taking back schools to serve the needs of each individual child.

In my Children’s Bill of Rights children have a right to be treated as if they are already—by age 5—experienced authors, storytellers, researchers, problem-solvers, inventors, scientists, artists, athletes, friends and collaborators. This is what it means to respect their humanity.

Education is creating the conditions that will bring out, develop, discipline, and focus these natural tendencies to learn, so that young people will be equipped to engage in the never-ending job of making something of themselves in the world. The essence of the Socratic Oath of an educator, therefore, is to notice the genius in each child and to lead it out to confront ever-increasing complexity creatively and gracefully.

A child has a right to have one or more adults take this oath. If more than one adult, then they absolutely must work together.

Adults who love children know this, and are naturally inclined to be educators. However, in America today many are caught up in an archaic educational system (public private parochial), which is still serving a pyramid model of society that is no longer functional in the emerging world culture. Under these conditions most of the current conversation among adults is pretty distracting.

For instance, here’s an obsolete question that is still alive: teaching academics vs creativity? Which side are you on?

What a silly dichotomy. Both are important and the best way to teach academics Is to do it in such a way that the creativity of the human organism is engaged. Academic disciplines are built-in necessities—not only for the school system, but also for leading a productive life. However, they must be taught in the context of a community of learners with the core assumption that we are all engaged in naturally meaningful and joyful activity.

Here’s another: For or against standardized tests? Standardized tests seem to be a systemic necessity, but this reality need not destroy education. Education can still go on. Research shows that students who have an educator for a teacher perform better on standardized tests than those who are stuck with a mere pedant, or worse a teacher who teaches to the test, or worst one who just goes through the motions. What is malpractice, is mistaking the test for education. There is nothing whatsoever educational about a standardized test. A test score is just a marker and not a very good one.

We actually know all this and have for along time. The fear of falling behind in the race to the top is keeping us from being educators for our children.

Adults, unite. Stop talking about the needs of the system, and empower parents and teachers to do what their integrity requires: doing whatever it takes to bring out the best in each individual child. Make sure that the humans working with individual children are working for them, and not following some systemic mandate. Our Socratic oath requires it.


9 thoughts on “Take Back our Schools. Hmmm. What Would that Look Like?

  1. Wonderful post, Rick. As the founder/director of a school (Puget Sound Community School in Seattle – http://www.pscs.org) based on the concepts you share here, it’s a fresh breeze reading messages like yours. In appreciation for all you do, including the inspiration. –Andy Smallman

  2. Right before I read this post, I sent Rick an email vote in the caption contest and mentioned that my 18-year old, Ackerly-educated, almost NYU freshman daughter had looked at the picture and suggested the caption: “I assume that you realize that being an authority figure does not give you the right to disrespect me.” Kids have no trouble with authority. They have trouble with disrespect masquerading as authority.

  3. Thank you, Andy and Tracy.
    I love: ” Kids have no trouble with authority. They have trouble with disrespect masquerading as authority.”
    That’s a really good one.

    I assume you realize that being an authority figure doesn’t give you the right to disrespect me. Wow. Just cause they are young doesn’t mean they don’t have a brain.

  4. Well written blog. I always found children would surprise you when you don’t stand in their way but stand with them. There are some great developing minds out there if not hindered by the needs of a system.

    In Tracy’s comment, her 18 year old’s, “I assume that you realize that being an authority figure does not give you the right to disrespect me.” should be part of teacher training to remind us children also have minds and thoughts of their own.

  5. Thank you, Ross. I agree. Isn’t it amazing how far behind the kids we are, and how clueless we are about how much they already have absorbed about the world. Tracy’s daughter was in preschool when she said that.

  6. My local and global educational program ( http://www.binikou.org) aims to be exactly what you describe! It’s currently just in it’s infancy, but with the generosity of a couple of grants, we’re growing slowly, and aim to be global as soon as possible, for the benefit of all Earthlings, especially the young humans of that are our future…

  7. I am thoroughly enjoying your blogs and website. Thank you so much for putting things in clear perspective. I am a mother of 3 and former educator. I recently had what I thought was a better opportunity for my children in a K-8 charter school so I moved them into this new school. While it has only been 3 weeks, my 3rd graders teacher is a yeller. She yells at them and the kids are afraid to raise their hands. Being a teacher myself I know that this is not acceptable. Some people tell me get over it, parents yell at their kids too. Some say move him, go to principal etc. I am torn. As an adult we have avenues we can turn down when feeling mistreated, but as a child they are taught to respect authority. I love the saying about disrespect masquerading as authority. At advice?

  8. Cathy, yes. Yelling at kids is actually abuse–abuse of authority and power. it is bullying, and must be unacceptable. I have advice: two pronged advice: 1) talk to the teacher and (depending on the quality of that conversation) go talk to the principal. Keep at it. 2) assuming it will continue for a while keep in touch with your 3rd grader. Listen to what she says about it, see if you can dope out how it is effecting her and look for ways of strengthening her. Bad stuff doesn’t kill kids; if we play our cards right, it can strengthen them.
    That would be my advice for starters.

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