Consider these thoughts in finding better ways.
1. Experiences that lead to learning (for better or worse) occur every hour of the day and night, at the breakfast table, on the way to school, during boring or relevant classes, during lunch in the cafeteria, in after school activities including competitive sports, during the evening and throughout the night, day after day and year after year.
2. Learning occurs as a result of direct experiences and contrived experiences as well as through communications on Facebook, Twitter, on the internet, on the TV screen, at the bar, in our dreams etc. Opportunities for learning have no bounds; learning is not confined to 180 days from eight to three. Learning occurs continuously throughout our lives. Learning occurs during 365 days, 24 hours each day, it knows no summer vacation. Why then are we confining educational experiences only to the hours and days of school attendance, and measuring the recall of that which has been assumed to have been taught in isolated instructional units?
3. Formal schooling for those who have found relevancy in its offerings has been combined with positive rewards from within the larger community. These rewards motivate a portion of the population to pursue and master their chosen field. For many, those who have found little relevancy in their schooling, this negative experience is combined with resultant negative rewards. This shapes much of the troublesome conduct in our society.
4. Our schools today and in the recent past are only one source of experience and with limited scope, engaged in ways that are often irrelevant to the lives of many or most of its students. The existing school system in spite of its problems is unfortunately revered out of ignorance about sustainable alternatives.
5. One of the major problems is the fact that both the professional educational community and citizens at large have no validated and shared conceptual framework for education that provides a foundation for defining what is or is not effective education, or for that matter, what learning is or how it occurs. As a result, efforts to reform the system are either piecemeal and narrowly focused, resulting in tampering around the edges through isolated efforts made in the search for better solutions or they are widespread changes that are based on invalid assumptions such as seen in the "common core curriculum."
6. Learning is measured by standardized tests that are narrowly conceived as compared with the range of experiences all individuals have encountered in life. That is not all. Most of these tests for childhood clients ignore individual developmental differences. Those developmental differences are based in biological patterns of growth and elaboration. No amount of coercion will enable persons of earlier developmental capabilities to suddenly perform above their level of biological maturity.
Tests are used not to diagnose possible leaning problems or developmental differences, but to profile the students as failures, underachievers, average or exceptional; they rank the school in regard to its test results, and harass teachers in an effort to demand conformity with questionable procedures and structured content.
7. The authoritarian school system, with a top-heavy organization, shapes the mindset of its attendees and its staffs; it teaches that democracy and cooperative decision making are only words to be pronounced, not procedures to be engaged.
8. The Constructive Assessment, Recordkeeping and Evaluation System has been field tested in teacher education and adapted for use in specific courses of study and in the elementary and secondary schools. The CARES model is designed to replace in large part the current standardized testing mentality. CARES tracks personal experiences and what each person has made of those experiences engaged throughout a lifetime. It is built around systems concepts with open ended evaluation criteria that are process and content oriented. It places the formal school system in its rightful position, that of one source among many, one that taps only a limited portion of the world’s offerings.
9. School facilities in the future should serve as a place to seek shelter, meet with others and learn how to learn. From this setting, learners armed with an accumulative, computer-based record keeping system will be able to explore and utilize the world as a laboratory. Staff will be required to guide/facilitate personal and collective inquiries into an exciting universe of objects, processes and events, including its historical evolution. Utilizing the methods and materials of the academic disciplines will ensure legitimate pursuit of meaning and the effective acquisition and expression of those meanings in ways consistent with the nature of the individual and his or her biologically based developmental, maturational sequence.
10. A record keeping system that meets the requirements of “The Constructive Assessment, Recordkeeping and Evaluation System” can free all learners to use their personal lives as a primary focus of their education, making contacts and connections with the widest possible range of resources now readily available through the miracles of communications technology. Assessment and evaluation can and will be individualized and constructive, while requiring rigorous accountability through the application of clearly defined evaluative criteria drawn from a supportive and validated knowledge base. Learning wherever and whenever it occurs must become synonymous with education, far beyond what a limited formal school system alone, can or will provide.
Dimensions in the evolution of a design for systemic change in our schools
As I worked for fifty years with pre-service and in-service teachers, supervising student teachers, watching closely how the schools are run, observing the roles and responsibilities of personnel, studying the way the curriculum is structured and delivered, and most importantly, how all of this was affecting each student, I envisioned ways to improve the school with a view to bring all the variables into alignment in an effective system. The variables discussed below have been woven into a design to bring about needed changes in our schools in this 21st century. I have discussed at length the dimensions of this design in a published volume: Remaking our Schools for the Twenty-First Century – A Blueprint for Change/Improvement in our Educational Systems, available through amazon.com and at email@example.com
The following provides a glimpse into my thinking that developed throughout a lifetime career as a professional educator/reformer.
Teacher personality characteristics: I recognized the differences that exist in teachers’ personal orientations that shape the programs engaged in the several thousand classrooms I visited throughout my career. I found consistently, 90% of personal orientations among teachers and administrators were based on closed, highly categorized and rigidly maintained points of view. Routines considered safe and repetitive dominated the classrooms where the characteristics of those who were within the 90% group were found. The other ten percent were found to have more open-ended orientations where creative exploration was pursued and maintained, where ambiguity was expected and plans to pursue meaningful activity were made cooperatively.
I found ways to bring about more open-ended orientations with most of the 90% group with whom I worked, by engaging them in a penetrating self-examination that led to reconstructing those personal orientations that were getting in the way of productive and constructive lives. Once these individuals found a set of assumptions and beliefs that were supported in their personal experience and those of others, especially having support from those who were considered scholars in such matters, they gradually changed not only their teaching/learning styles but their entire lives to accept a more productive, open ended and satisfying orientation.
Knowledge base of human development and behavior: I observed that in spite of courses offered in the programs of teacher education, there was a predominate position taken about human development and behavior that was based on generalities, most of which were passed down from past generations of educators and seldom examined for their validity. Those with more rigid orientations were most often guilty of this position.
I concluded that what these teachers and administrators had been introduced to in their course work at college was not learned, that is, not internally accepted as beliefs and assumptions that would guide their behavior as educators. I set about arranging hands-on activities that revealed the characteristics of individual development and behavior that could be validated in their own experiences, gradually peeling-away the response patterns that were stereotypical and out of sync with reality. Once the old generalities were replaced by developed insight, connections were made between these insights and classroom activities. Changes then began to emerge.
Group support and open communication: Although all levels of education are organized into variously sized groups of students, I discovered through an intensive study of the theory of group dynamics, especially group development, in most classrooms what was happening was functionality at the lowest level of group process, the level of dependency.
I found the maintenance of dependency required disciplinary tactics aimed to control and these tactics were time consuming and unproductive. The more rigid educators believed that turning over decision making to students, however limited, was considered a lack of leadership and a breakdown in the necessary order in the school.
Small groups that are highly productive and individually satisfying are exhibiting what is called, consensual validation. (Bennis) This level of functioning provides the necessary support for the pursuit of individual interests and an acceptance of the need to engage the priorities of others including those advocated by institutional authorities. I found that achievement of the level of consensual validation requires passing through the difficult stage of independence characterized by assertion of individual points of view. Since these points of view are often conflicted, it is necessary that teachers/group leaders have the skills to manage this difficult stage of development. Knowing little about the developmental sequence of groups, most of those with the more rigid orientations condemn this openness as inappropriate and potentially destructive. What was not understood is the fact that assertions of independence is a necessary stage in the sequence that begins with dependency, moves to assertions of individuality and develops into interdependency and consensual validation.
The fact that most groups at all levels of education are operating at the level of dependency, unable to grow to a more mature state, there is a stagnation found in the classrooms that contributes immeasurably to the lack of individual productivity and the acceptance and practice of anti-social behavior.
Pursuit of meaning using disciplinary models: I found the reliance on textbooks or textbook substitutes was dominating in classrooms conducted by the more rigid educators. Those not having much confidence in self-insight, found to be prevalent among the teachers and students in rigid classrooms, established the roles of teachers as the conveyors of isolated bits of information and students as consumers of that information. This orientation to teaching and so called learning is at the heart of many of the problems relating to lack of achievement among many students at all levels of instruction. When viewing what the sequence in development of learning is that culminates in problem solving abilities, I found that sustained learning is far more than the recall of information which is measured by many tests in utilization today. Learning is a cumulative process of creatively transforming personal experiences into patterns of meaning, leading to problem solving abilities.
I began teaching the content of each subject of the curriculum in the same style I had observed in others; the teacher was the conveyor of information, supported by textbooks and instructional media, in groups where students were dependent on the teacher and where the student was supposed to dutifully assimilate isolated bits of information or suffer the consequences. This was happening in nearly all classrooms I visited, even those conducted by educators with more flexible, open-ended personal orientations. Members of this group were reluctantly enduring this procedure in order to keep their jobs.
By sheer luck, outside of preparation courses for teachers, I was introduced to the disciplines of history and geography as ways of creating knowledge. I discovered when using these creative processes it produced insights among the students that I had never witnessed before, far superior to anything that I had experienced as a student or as a teacher. This initiated an intense inquiry into the nature of all the disciplines as they were organized by Philip Phenix, into six realms of meaning. This organization of what were formerly independent subjects to be consumed by the students became interdependent creative processes for engagement of reality that produces the skills and insights necessary for continued lifelong learning and effective communication.
Dimensions of Support: No individual teacher or administrator can effectively manage the complex dimensions of becoming educated in this or any other day and age. As others have said, “It takes a whole community to raise a child.” There are human and material resources within every community that must become integrated into the planning and functioning of an effective system for educating all its citizens. A community center that engages all members of the community and draws in resources from other communities will profit from the varying points of view and the sharing of proven skills and procedures. A center that engages special skills, both professional and self-developed, for responding to the needs of all learners, will inspire and promote the development of the unique capabilities of everyone involved.
Assessment and evaluation: I witnessed the nature and uses of assessment and evaluation procedures in every school I visited. Clearly, the assessment devices, especially standardized tests, were instrumental in shaping the classroom procedures and the content conveyed to the students. Few other forces in the conventional school have such influence in directing the nature and outcomes of the school experience. Standardized tests are designed not to aid students in determining their problems in learning but rather to segregate students into categories based on the test scores and the schools on the basis of comparative success. The misuse of these tests has indeterminable negative consequences. Although individual achievement in developing the skills and insights necessary to live effectively and participate intelligently in a democratic society are legitimate goals, the achievement of those goals has been seriously hindered by the widespread uses of standardized tests that lump the test takers together as if they are all the same.
I have dedicated a large portion of my investigations into systems of education with a focus on developing a more effective and developmentally/experientially-compatible approach to the assessment and evaluation of learning outcomes. Initiated with pre-service teacher education students, the “Constructive, Assessment, Recordkeeping and Evaluation System (CARES)” was developed. It has been thoroughly field-tested in college classrooms and adopted for use in classrooms at all levels of schooling. The products of learning, documented through the use of this system, have been nothing less than extraordinary.
Although much information is introduced within the classrooms of our schools, very little is actually learned. The evidences produced by surveys of adults have found an appalling lack of retention of what was undoubtedly taught at perhaps several points along the sequence of grade level distinctions. This lack of recall is largely attributable to the need to cover subject matter and a lack of records of experiences that would reveal what was actually accomplished with those experiences throughout the years. Over time, personally developed records can be constructed and re-constructed by each learner and the development of patterns will emerge that greatly enhances the ability to reconstruct memories.
Personal diaries for some have always served well the ability to recall significant events, but in a limited form. The CARES model expands the individually developed common diary to include a detailed records of personally important information that can be accessed and reconstructed with the click of a mouse when the need arrives. Computer technologies give the storage and accessing of personal learning records a commonly accepted advantage over anything used in the past to record the progress of learners. As experience tells us, grades in the registrar’s office tell little of the nature of learning or the actual degrees and dimensions of success.
Records kept with the application of the CARES model are evaluated and reported using stringent criteria selected from the field of systems analysis.
Technology: The advances in communication technologies have been exponential. Yet, the uses of this technology have been limited mostly to searches by dependent learners for the generalities of so called experts, or the exchanges of trivia among the broader populations. The potential for this technology has stirred a revolutionary movement in other parts of the world where the population has faced exploitive treatments by despotic leaders. Unfortunately, educators apparently do not feel a similar need to eliminate the long term, life-altering practices of authoritarian leadership in our schools and among our high level decision makers.
Frustrated by these communication inventions, educators are seemingly unable to create a system that will harness their vast potentialities for enhancing learning and the development of competence.
Devices are available to almost every student in our society that can capture images of everything encountered in the search for personal meaning; recording those meanings in a complete record can be maintained, massaged periodically and shared by others. What a shame this potential is viewed to interfere with the conduct of instruction.
Administrative organization and decision making procedures: Probably the most controversial suggestion from my experience that I might make about systemic changes needed in education, would change the administrative organization. Our society has increasingly become dependent upon the decisions of persons granted authority by our legal and political systems. So much so that it is felt that without a “strong” leader we cannot maintain an orderly society.
Facing this same problem in 1776, our forefathers set out to declare independence and argued out a design for decision making that involves three departments of governance, the judicial, the legislative and the administrative/executive. These departments were expected to function with a balance of power under the direction of a written constitution and bill of rights. This organization was designed to function even in the face of conflicting points of view, requiring of course an educated public and an educated leadership. (Given the conduct of our current governing officials one cannot help but wonder what kind of an education these people received) Given the habit of living in an overly dependent society, and a serious problem with lack of competency among a large proportion of our citizenry, the greatest danger to our democratic organization is now a reality.
Recognizing that schools are organized primarily under an authoritarian structure with hierarchical decision making, I set out to define an alternative that is compatible with the other propositions in education I had refined over the years. Since our form of governance has served us well for the past many years, I designed a written constitution and bylaws that can be installed in our schools featuring an instructional branch, an administrative branch and a quality assurance branch. This constitutionally-based organization is supported by a statement of beliefs and assumptions about human learning and development and institutional organizations that enhance the growth of maturity, validated in our experiences and supported by scholars who have studied these matters in-depth. This system would modify, if not eliminate, the makeshift, piecemeal attempts to reform and improve education in this country.
Without this change, we are left with having to live with the various styles of leadership that may be entirely despotic, benevolent or participative. (Likert) In a truly democratically run school, the levels of participation by all stakeholders would necessarily be increased and the processes of intelligent decision making enhanced, provided all participants are familiar with and committed to the underlying assumptions and beliefs that maintain stability in the system.
Teacher Education: I spent over fifty years in teacher education as a professional educator. Little did I realize at the time of my attendance in a teacher education program, just how inadequate that was in preparing me for the complexities of teaching. I struggled to maintain my commitment to learning, as I had lived it from the days I spent working on our family’s nearly self-sufficient farm, throughout my education to the post graduate experiences of the university. I witnessed fellow students cramming for tests, memorizing nearly useless generalizations and moving from class to class almost never referring to the bearing of one set of ideas on another (Whitehead). My experience in self-reliance did not serve me well in classes where an overly dependent relationship with teachers was expected.
I set about designing a teacher education program that incorporated all the findings I have mentioned above and more. This model for teacher education has relevance at all levels of instruction since the principles of development and learning know no artificial boundaries designated separately for children, young adults and adults.
The model for teacher education takes into account the deficiencies that manifest themselves in the capabilities of today’s young people. It recognizes the need to establish a foundational knowledge base that cannot be just covered in the curriculum but must be mastered in the processes of becoming a competent teacher and citizen. This knowledge base must lay the groundwork for sustained and consistent implementations once these persons are working with learners in the transactional processes of helping them come to know and appreciate the wonders of this universe.
The model I designed for effective teacher education has eight levels of engagement beginning with the establishment of foundational concepts and ending with advanced study. What follows will help conceptualize the basic ingredients of this system.
The first year would be devoted to an in-depth experience in the creation of knowledge in the geography and history of a familiar place, along with a study of cultural anthropology. An objective of these creative experiences would be to assist students in learning how to learn about the realities that surround them. These three areas were identified as having a synoptic role in the organization of knowledge that will have the effect of maintaining “an eye for the whole chessboard, for the bearing of one set of ideas on another.” (Whitehead) Having this orientation, learners will be ever cognizant of the relationships between variables of the universe while they choose and pursue a specialty in one area.
In addition to these in-depth studies in selected academic disciplines, each teacher education candidate will engage in frequent visits to schools to become familiar with the existing approaches to learning in these areas of inquiry. All candidates will be introduced to the assessment, record keeping and evaluation system to be used throughout their careers.
They will be introduced to systems concepts particularly as applied to the systemic model of teacher education that becomes an ever present goal to be used for guidance throughout their studies. In-depth studies will be made of learners at varying levels of development, (including self-analysis) and the nature of learning, along with the nature of communication and group processes, the nature of knowledge and how we come to know, and the nature of the school as it now exists. These foundational concepts will be continuously refined throughout all levels of study in becoming a competent educator.
The second year of studies for teacher education candidates will involve in-depth engagement in the disciplines of the other five realms of meaning beyond synoptics as defined by Phenix, namely, symbolics which encompass all languages including mathematics, aesthetics encompassing the arts, empirics which include all sciences including social sciences, ethics which include the moral sphere, and self-knowledge. Each of these remaining five realms contains approaches to learning and sharing of meanings that are treated with equal importance. Again, frequent visitations to classrooms will encourage familiarity with the existing treatment of these disciplines in elementary and secondary schools.
The third year will be devoted to the translation of the creative processes of disciplines adapted to uses in a developmentally sensitive curriculum based on validated assumptions and beliefs about how humans learn and develop. Throughout this process there will be a refinement of understanding of the nature and roles of the disciplines in all six realms of meaning.
The fourth year is devoted to a supervised internship that focuses on the translation of creative processes in the classrooms, consistent with the foundations concepts of human development and behavior, the structural nature of disciplines and the development of effective learning groups that behave at a mature level of functioning. At the end of successful completion of this year, a bachelor’s degree is granted. Competency will be determined through an analysis of the complete record of experiences along with the completion of an inventory that reveals what each candidate knows and is capable of doing.
The fifth year would be devoted to validation studies that extend and refine the concepts of the foundations knowledge base and the translations of those assumptions into effective transactional-strategies with learners. A master’s degree is granted upon completion of this year of study and practice.
The sixth year focuses on job refinements under the guidance of mentors who have been schooled in the systemic dimensions of the program.
The seventh year will be devoted to continued study with emphasis on renewal of requirements for licensing.
The eighth year focuses on research leading to advanced degrees from institutions of higher learning.
This plan does not require significant changes in the organization of the colleges of education; it requires a change in personal orientations among instructors and the curriculum and an acceptance of the implications of those changes in re-structuring the program for teachers.
This plan is guided by systems theory and its components have support from numerous scholars. Its future depends upon initiation of the dialogue required to establish a pilot that will demonstrate its value and its difficulties. The levels of research required would assure that the system is fully functional and then through comparative studies demonstrate its projected superiority over the existing approaches to teacher education. Most importantly, it must show the significant changes this program will bring about in the conventional schools.