Whole Child Symposium

What Do You Think We Need from Education?

As we continue our discussions on "Choosing Your Tomorrow Today" and "The Future of Schooling" as part of ASCD's Whole Child Symposium, let's add another question to ponder: What do you think we need from education?

In the United States, historically, the purpose of education has evolved according to the needs of society. Education's primary purpose has ranged from instructing youth in religious doctrine, to preparing them to live in a democracy, to assimilating immigrants into mainstream society, to preparing workers for the industrialized 20th century workplace.

And now, as educators prepare young people for their futures in a world that is rapidly changing, what is the goal? To create adults who can compete in a global economy? To create lifelong learners? To create emotionally healthy adults who can engage in meaningful relationships?

There are calls for systemic change:

"The key to personalizing education is to invest properly in the professional development of educators. As Bill Gates argues, teachers need mentors too. Supporting educators to become the best they can be is one of the surest routes to improving the nation's schools. In my view, we should then give them the creative freedom to innovate and do their jobs within a proper framework of public accountability.

There are those who say that we can't afford to personalize education to every student. The fact is that we can't afford not to."

—Sir Ken Robinson in "Why We Need to Reform Education Now," Huffington Post, May 2013


"The public educational trend is sliding towards irrelevance, and below average is the new norm. Thanks to teachers' unions and educational bureaucracy most public school students have less time with teachers, less amenities and less genius than ever before. The system is below average and is producing below average students.

When an educational system is continuously improving—planning, taking action, measuring, adjusting&mdassh;that system can evolve and become better over time. We don't have this system; we have a politicized system more interested in the politics than its success."

—Raynforest, Inc., CEO Mark Fidelman in "We Need to Hack Public Education," Forbes, September 2013

To the standards debate:

"Perhaps most damaging to our international scores and economic competitiveness has been our reluctance to follow the example of nearly every other successful modern country and establish rigorous national standards for our schools and students. States, districts, schools and individuals would, of course, be free to surpass those expectations—but not to fall below them.

We need rigorous national standards because we live in a mobile society where a fourth-grader in Portland, Maine, may find herself in fifth grade in Portland, Ore., just as a high-school senior in Springfield, Ill., may enter college in Springfield, Mass. We need them because our employers increasingly span the entire country—and globe—and require a workforce that is both skilled and portable. This is no longer a country where children born in Cincinnati should expect to spend their entire lives there. They need to be ready for jobs in Nashville and San Diego, if not Singapore and São Paulo."

—Thomas B. Fordham Institute President Chester E. Finn, Jr., in "Should All U.S. Students Meet a Single Set of National Proficiency Standards?," Wall Street Journal, June 2012


"Countries with national standards generally don't have higher achievement. Canada and Australia are large, diverse countries like the U.S., with significantly stronger student performance as measured on international tests. Yet neither has national standards, tests or curricula. It is true that some high-achieving countries do have national standards—examples include Singapore and Finland—but these countries contain small homogeneous populations that might be more comparable to one of our states or large districts than to the U.S. as a whole. And many lower-achieving countries, such as Greece and Thailand, have national standards and curricula.

The way to improve our students' performance is to reinvigorate choice and competition, not stifle it. We should be as wary of central planning for our education system as we would for our economy."

—Head of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas Jay P. Greene, PhD, in "Should All U.S. Students Meet a Single Set of National Proficiency Standards?," Wall Street Journal, June 2012

And the end-goal of preparing students to be college, career, and citizenship ready:

"We're operating on a 200-year-old paradigm in a world that needs an entirely different skill set. When we talk to business owners, we hear this large and increasing drumbeat that the jobs are there, but kids applying for jobs don't have the kinds of skills they need."

—Educator and author Madeline Levine, quoted by Tina Barseghian in "Why Kids Need Schools to Change," MindShift, September 2012


"A paradox of American higher education is this: The expectations of leading universities do much to define what secondary schools teach, and much to establish a template for what it means to be an educated man or woman. College campuses are seen as the source for the newest thinking and for the generation of new ideas, as society's cutting edge.

And the world is changing very rapidly. Think social networking, gay marriage, stem cells or the rise of China. Most companies look nothing like they did 50 years ago. Think General Motors, AT&T or Goldman Sachs. ... Suppose the educational system is drastically altered to reflect the structure of society and what we now understand about how people learn. How will what universities teach be different?"

—Former president of Harvard University and former Secretary of the U.S. Treasury Lawrence H. Summers in "What You (Really) Need to Know," New York Times, January 2012

There are many examples of what people think we need from education or how it should be reformed. Is it, as Wendy Kopp in "Do American Schools Need to Change? Depends What You Compare Them To" (The Atlantic, October 2013) suggests, that "[T]here's no question that our school system must improve, and quickly. But today's debate has become a distraction that keeps us paralyzed in old divisions and false debates, rather than uniting against common problems." In the article, she breaks down recent publications by Diane Ravitch and Amanda Ripley and their internal (U.S.) and external (global) perspectives on education and comes to the conclusion that what we need from education is based on what is considered important—a benchmark that varies widely depending on the participants of the debate.

So, what do you think? What do you think we need from education? What do you think is important?

At ASCD, we know what is important:

"We know that there is one education reform movement that works, and unsurprisingly, it's the same formula that has worked since we had those old textbooks, chalkboards, and red apples in the classroom. Research, policy, practice, and common sense confirm that a whole child approach to education will develop and prepare students for the challenges and opportunities of today and tomorrow."

—ASCD CEO and Executive Director Gene R. Carter in "What's the Purpose of School in the 21st Century?," GOOD, March 2012

Follow the conversation here on the blog, share your thoughts in the comments and by e-mail, and pose your questions on Twitter using the hashtag #WCSymposium2014.

Whole Child Symposium Town Hall

Learn more at www.ascd.org/wcsymposium.

Comments (1)

Pamela Long

April 8, 2014

Indeed, it is difficult to qualitatively disagree with your perspective that a “whole child approach” is what is necessary to educate children.  Which begs the question:  How do we get there?  To get there I believe we need a critical analysis of the effects of education (or lack thereof) and a critical analysis of the effects of current educational policies, practices, priorities, and pedagogy.  When we reconcile the analysis, without bias, we will begin to approach real solutions to educating the whole child without limiting regard to sociocultural factors.

Pamela Long, Director
Youthcentrix.org

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