To the Editor:
The reported essay, “Teachers Are Ready for Systemic Change. Are Schools?,” (Big Ideas for Transforming K-12 Education, Sept. 14, 2022) begins with the president of the North Carolina Association of Educators saying, “I hoped we would take the time during the pandemic to reimagine … how we do school for students.” I share this sentiment and challenge us not only to reimagine “how” we do school but “why.”
Students in schools today have seen a world shut down by disease. They’ve witnessed—and likely experienced—the impact of racism and inequity. They’re confronting climate change. They’re watching the war in Ukraine. And they’re internalizing our struggle as a society to overcome divisions and come together respectfully and intelligently to solve problems.
It’s no wonder students are feeling anxious and disengaged. So, what can we do? Elevate the mission of school.
I support traditional goals for education—to prepare graduates for work and citizenship— but what do we truly hope the future will be for us and our children? Do we want a world that’s just, healthy, and humane? Do we want to see conflicts resolved peacefully? To have ecosystems restored? To have systems of energy, food, health care, transportation, and production be sustainable?
If we can find common ground in such a vision, let’s redesign our educational system to provide students with the knowledge and skills to achieve it. Doing so would give agency to students anxious about the state of the world and engage them in meaningful, high-level learning. Moreover, it would lift up emotionally exhausted educators by reconnecting them with the fundamental reason they entered the profession: to work with students to make the world a better place.
Young people are the next caretakers of our planet. Let’s make it the mission of schools to give them the tools to flourish in that role.
Institute for Humane Education
A version of this article appeared in the October 12, 2022 edition of Education Week as Let’s Reimagine the Purpose of School