In the spirit of the New Year, here is my list of wishes for children and schools across Maine.
Let’s equalize the playing field. It is not morally right that inequity in access to the arts, advanced courses, languages, and quality facilities characterizes schools in our state. The privileged graduate with the background a broad education gives them to pursue professional dreams while the less fortunate finish school unprepared for either competition or advanced learning. This is clearly no way to run a democracy, yet we persist in looking away from the uncomfortable truth that we sustain a morally bereft education system.
Let’s make sure school is a place all ages of students love to be. Children need to fall in love with getting an education right from the beginning and keep that love as they navigate the dangerous middle school years. These are the years when many essentially close the door on school, and we see them head off in the direction of drugs, petty crime, promiscuous sexual relations, and alcohol. Needless to say, the result is incredibly expensive for taxpayers and devastating for individuals. We need to be sure school is so engaging teenagers want to participate fully in them.
Let’s make thinking seriously about what should be going on in schools the priority for educators rather than bureaucrats. We need to push aside the numerous mandates and directives received from outside school walls and create school environments where educators themselves focus first and foremost on continually questioning, analyzing, and reflecting on their practice and creating what works best for students. At present most educators spend their time trying to keep up with the heavy daily requirements of their job, with practically no time spent on thinking at a deep level about either their students or their curriculum. Administrators should see the creation of thought-based school cultures as their most essential contribution to student achievement. We should tell our administrators this is what we want from them.
Let’s take all of our students seriously, not just those destined for academia. School is not just a prepping ground for the small percentage of the population that is passionate about purely academic pursuits. School is for everyone, and we as a society need the contributions of everyone. We should invest equally in all kinds of students and be sure everyone receives what is needed for the full flowering of their particular gifts. High school administrators and teachers need to shift their thinking away from the hierarchy they are accustomed to promoting where bookish scholars occupy the top rung, those who prefer active learning are at the bottom, and everyone else is forgotten somewhere in between. Instead, the playing field should be regarded as level, with all kinds of intelligences at play, and with each student receiving careful nurturance and guidance.
Some will say my list is utopian, but high-performing countries around the world have established systems that share this list of priorities. Our state is smaller than education systems that have succeeded elsewhere. At the beginning of this new era of a return to state control of education systems, the time is right to focus on the priorities that will lead to the best student outcomes.