It is not likely that the structure and standards for schools will ever again become a local design. Nor should it be. The degree of interconnectivity across the country throughout the segments of economy, politics and society are too great. Technology is rendering the notion of local obsolete, except in farm products. Yet, there still remains the opportunity for local decisions and values to coexist with national standards. Schools and school districts that are pushing away from 20th century mindsets discover themselves moving into a 21st century design. They have answers from which we can all learn.
But, they still confront the mandates and policies that define minutes of instruction and require subject specific requirements. Our ongoing argument is that the 21st century graduate must be different from a 20th century one, and that requires his/her educational environment to be different. And, yes, we contend a STEM based educational design holds the potential for this shift.
Should the high schools of Baltimore have halted subject learning to bring their students together to talk about what was percolating in their minds and hearts last week? If they didn’t, what drove their decision not to? Was it a pressure to complete learning that day or the narrow view that we can separate life in school form life outside it? We need the flexibility to make decisions on what is good for students as well as honoring requirements that exist. In the schools of Beverly Hills, California, or Scarsdale, New York, where programs and corporate partnerships may be developed more easily, what sense does it make to hold Baltimore to the same structure? Could it be considered that we can focus on standards through a variety of structures? Can flexibility for creative responses find their way through the rigidity of old thinking?
Rather than calling for more accountability, higher standards, and standardized measures, we urge a halt to the blame game and a call for a plan that allows all schools to engage and prepare more students for success. Let’s open the doors to proposals for how it can happen locally. In order to do that, a plan that allows schools to take advantage of the talents their particular faculty possess, create partnerships particular to the businesses in their cities and towns or a world away, design schedules that allow for interdisciplinary learning and the planning that goes with it, while preparing students to take exams that reflect not only subject matter and thinking capacities, but also the other values that are embedded in the teaching and learning in schools.
STEM, once understood as a structural foundation and not simply four subjects, creates the path that can help schools design programs and engage students in learning. Relevancy will prepare them to live in the unknown world that awaits them. It offers ongoing, embedded opportunities for social/emotional learning, integrated experiences of applying what they learn to the real world in which they will be living as adults, and makes learning meaningful.
Today, let’s agree that our children matter to all of us, all of our children. We have an opportunity to develop schools that are engaging, rich, inviting, and attentive to each and every child, the independent and the dependent, the easy learners and the challenged, the rich and the poor, the black and the white, the male and female by changing the system in which those “othernesses” have taken root. Only after that can we attend to designing appropriate accountability measures. Instead of measuring 20th century teaching and learning in a failing structure, let us come together and talk about school design for this century. The pieces of knowledge exist in many of us. Where are those with vision and funds who will step forth and say “Let’s bring disparate voices together and build a new educational system.”
The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.