Education - Moving Forward
“We can, whenever and wherever we choose, successfully teach all children whose schooling is of interest to us. We already know more than we need to do that. Whether or not we do it must finally depend on how we feel about the fact that we haven’t so far”
(Ron Edmonds, 1979)
Ron Edmonds, the leader of the Effective Schools Movement succinctly summarizes many of the problems of education today. The first part of the quote can be used to introduce one of the most imperative questions that can asked with regards to education - what do we want from education? Edmunds claims that we can successfully teach all children. However, before we can do that, it is important to decide what we want from education.
The Effective Schools Movement was started in the early eighties to re-form education and it aimed to bring students to, “…a standard of achievement that permitted them to succeed at the next grade level” and it was somewhat successful in achieving this aim, “These schools continue to reach and teach students so that they achieve and are well-prepared for the curriculum taught at the next grade level”. However, what it did was make students fit well into the pre-existing system of education. The focus was on making the students better prepared to make progress and move up the ladder in school. Although this was worthy goal, it presupposed that the problem lay not in how the system of education as a whole, but how well students were able to function within it. We must question: is that the change we want to see? Do we just want to make the school function well but remain, for the most part, just as it is?
A step in the right direction and towards the answer is provided by the emerging field of educational neuroscience. In the article The Future of Educational Neuroscience Fischer et al (2010) claim that we should improve the system of education by using research on teaching and learning to improve educational practice. The idea is to integrate the teachers and students into the process by integrating their feedback into the research process. This, along with a foundation grounded on neural, genetic, cognitive and emotional components of learning, would then help to adopt the best strategies to fix the problems of the current education system. By this, we move closer to answering the question of what change we want to see. Not only do we want the education system to function well, we want to test whether or not the system is a good one to begin with. Research would help discover important things like what teaching strategies work well, how do students learn, etc .
To do this, though, it is imperative that research is conducted in the natural environment. To understand the biological basis for learning is important to know how this works in schools and then to use this information in the most effective way and that, in turn will make education more effective. Research schools, like teaching hospitals, Fischer et al believe will help change the culture of schools and improve their delivery of education. Neuroeducators would have the expertise required to transfer learning from neuroscience to actual educational practice. The assumptions made by current educational system on how learning and development occurs can be challenged and tested. This will help discover how and when to teach what .
Michele Cole writes in The Educational Researcher, “…for the last half-century we have seen a growing demand to ‘re-form’ the schools. The basic structure of formal schooling, however, has remained strikingly impervious to such efforts. The vast majority of schools to be found in all countries at the present time bear a striking resemblance to the schools of antiquity” . This is the precursor to the answer we want. The change we want to see goes far beyond helping students succeed in the next level of education as suggested by Edmonds and even beyond educational neuroscience’s aim to use research, feedback and neuroscience to figure out the best learning and teaching strategies.
We now know what we want education to do. What we want is a complete change in the agenda of education. We need to move past and beyond the old, standard means of education which Cole refers to as the “assembly line model” . He recommends, instead, “…an attempt to refashion education in a fundamental way, so that it becomes a coherent effort to initiate students into a knowledge-creating culture. Accordingly, it involves students’ not only developing knowledge-building competencies but also coming to see themselves and their work as part of the civilization wide effort to advance knowledge frontiers (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2006)” .
We want that each student should be able to respond creatively and adaptively to their environment. We want the four-walls of the classroom to break down so the students can observe what is around them and use that to create new things and actively participate in advancing knowledge. The world has changed and education needs to change too.
Having identified what we want from education and what changes we want to see, what remains to be seen is how these changes are to be brought about. This brings us to the second problem identified by Edmond’s quote that says we know more than be need to do that. There are a plethora of methods that are all extensively discussed in education classes. For example, power learning versus didactic styles of teaching. Both seem to have their disadvantages and advantages, but what they have in common is that neither one is “the” teaching style to adopt. The same goes for story-telling, it can be very useful as it emotionally involves students and catches their interest, but there always the possibility that some students just won’t find storytelling or hearing stories as the best way to learn. This too, then, does not provide a solution to the problem of education. The same goes for creativity. Of course it would enhance learning for some students but would make learning more of a burden for some others. Even competition or its incorporation into the education system does not solve the problem. Another frequent conclusion in class that there is no perfect teacher. So the problem is that there is no magic teacher and there is no magic solution.
This ties in to the third problem that can be drawn from Edmond’s quote that suggests that we can successfully teach all children. Fischer et al (2010) also talks about how one of the aims of schools is to educate everyone, but every student learns differently . Having identified that there is no one, best way of teaching students given the diversity of the students, the question that remains is what should be done. The answer to this question is surprisingly simple: we don’t need one answer at all. Diversity should be seen not as a problem, but as an asset. Students should be encouraged to find out what way of learning they’re most comfortable with and happy doing, instead of setting a pattern and a way they should learn. Moreover, they should be urged to be different, because in reality, they are.
The first minute of this video clip sums up all of our questions (the rest does not apply to our agenda).
Alternative education already puts some of our conclusion into practical application. The Waldorf schools, for example, “For the Waldorf student, music, dance, and theater, writing, literature, legends and myths are not simply subjects to be read about, ingested and tested. They are experienced. Through these experiences, Waldorf students cultivate a lifelong love of learning as well as the intellectual, emotional, physical and spiritual capacities to be individuals certain of their paths and to be of service to the world” . However, this form of education is not accessible to everyone. Moreover, alternative ways of learning and teaching do not usually extend to high school and are completely absent at the college level. Regardless, this still proves that the cycle of change has begun and there is hope, after all.
 History of the Effective Schools Movement
 Fischer, K. W., Goswami, U. & Geake, J. (2010) The Future of Educational Neuroscience. Mind, Brain and Education. Volume 4, Issue 2, pages 68-80
 Cole, M. (2010) What’s Culture Got to Do With It? Educational Research as a Necessarily Interdisciplinary Enterprise. Educational Researcher, Vol. 39, No. 6, pp. 461–470
 Why Waldorf Works