I hope we don’t return to “normal.” The trappings of what we call “normal” in our current world are part of the causes of the anxiety and lack of trust in our government. Let’s rejuvenate the American dream in Asheville by taking positive action. We can start by supporting the values of educating children. I predict that in 50 years or so, educators and the public will see today’s approach to schooling as a relic of the past — perhaps as we view a Model T Ford of 1908.
The Aug. 25 Mountain Xpress article, “Changing Classrooms: Buncombe County Schools Enrollment Drops as Nontraditional Options Grow” signals an ongoing trend for meaningful change. Andrea Olson is commendable and hits upon an important aspect of learning in this description in the article: “All look more like play than class.” Early childhood education offers a better model of learning that honors and develops the whole human, but in later grades, schooling is equipped for an industrial world that no longer exists.
Children are forced into a curriculum that has not fulfilled the American dream for many — preparing children for the workplace and conformity. It is enforced schooling, homework and grading that undermine the intrinsic motivation to learn. Standardized testing fosters shame, cynicism and cheating on many levels, and can develop excessive pride for those who feel superior.
There are alternative programs: home schooling, Montessori, charter schools, among others attempting to meet our children’s needs. But even these schools in a way are hampered by the conventional American way of life that is presently coming apart at the seams. I don’t need to point to the specifics of political or ideological polarization. Most of us feel it in one form or another regardless of political or ideological beliefs. In any society, complaining and finding fault aren’t enough. Democracy demands us to participate. Our education and political institutions will not transform without we the people changing ourselves.
The purpose of education is the development of personal responsibility and self-direction necessary for the freedom needed for a democracy to function. We must expand the good in the American experience in order to eliminate the bad. Democracy is an expression of “freedom” and demands upfront honesty: the freedom of self-determination, self-criticism, pluralism and equality. We must recognize the gifts of freedom that expresses the “power with,” not dominating “power over” that has invaded our country like a cancer.
Check out these challenging ideas on education, not only for educators, parents and home-schoolers, but for all of us in the democratic spirit of uniting people-power:
• Developmental psychologist Peter Gray’s book Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make our Children Happier, More-Self Reliant, and Better Students for Life. He draws on evidence from anthropology, psychology and history that includes the importance of a truly democratic nation.
• Also Google “Sudbury Valley school,” which stresses time and space for children to play and explore, free age-mixing among children and adults, and the immersion in democratic ideals of the free exchange of ideas.
• And Compassionate Conversations: How to Speak & Listen From the Heart by Gabriel Wilson and Kimberly Loh — a helpful book encouraging us to dialogue with others who have different opinions — not to debate, but to respect and understand each other. They point out that each of us has limited partial truths that always can be expanded to embrace the big story of what it is to be human.
• Also The Tao of Democracy, by Tom Atlee is helpful. Democracy only works if we the people use it.
— Ed Sacco