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Families & the Community Opinion

Getting Our Schools Focused On The Right Things

By Patrick Larkin — April 21, 2016 2 min read
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Nick Donohue, the President and CEO of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, was a speaker at a recent education conference that I attended. His summation of the state of educational discord in our country was right on point. He mentioned a few of the mantras of those who want to overhaul our public schools. “We need to fix our broken schools” and “we need to go back to the basics” were two of the common chants that Donohue referenced. The problem with these proclamations, as Donohue acknowledged, is that while they are great at grabbing attention, they offer little substance in the area of solutions.

Even worse is the fact that these lines of thinking are usually followed by the vilification of one of following groups:


  • Educators - Let’s face it, if we just had better educators then everything would be different. I mean, just look at the test scores.
  • Parents - If we had more competent parents then these kids would be better prepared to learn. They just don’t care about their child’s education enough.
  • Students - Gosh, if these kids just took school more seriously. They aren’t as conscientious about school as students were in prior decades.

Anyway, you get the picture. Donohue continued with an important point regardinng the relationship between the teacher, the student, and the parent. He called this “the iron triad.” I could not agree more in regards to the importance of these connectons. In fact, as I think about the public discourse surrounding education mentioned above, it seems that a key aspect of this movement is to break apart the iron triad to which Donohue referred.

As Donohue encouraged the educators in the room to make sure that their schools and communities are moving beyond the empty rhetoric that is fueled by blaming and bashing key stakeholders, he recommended a reframing of the issues with forward-thinking questions (i.e. What if we started by asking the adults in a school community to discuss something that was a significant learning in their lives? How can we offer our students more personalized, relevant, and contextualized experiences? How can we provide more agency for the learner?).

The whole conversation immediately brought me back to a recent post I read from Will Richardson titled We’re Trying To Do “The Wrong Thing Right” in Schools. The excerpt below is filled with forward-thinking questions that need to be answered.

Doing the right thing in schools starts with one fairly straightforward question: What do you believe about how kids learn most powerfully and deeply in their lives? Once you've answered that as an individual and as a school community, the question that follows is does your practice in classrooms with kids honor those beliefs? In other words, if you believe that kids learn best when they have authentic reasons for learning, when their work lives in the world in some real way, when they are pursuing answers to questions that they themselves find interesting, when they're not constrained by a schedule or a curriculum, when they are having fun, and when they can learn with other students and teachers, then are you giving priority to those conditions in the classroom?"

I am fairly certain that if this happened that there would be a quick realization that the path we are on is not one that is in the best interest of our kids.

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