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Best Possible Selves 27

Monday, April 17, 2017

If we stand back from the rhetoric associated with educational reform, what do most parents really want for their children?

Based on my many years of experience and observation, I believe that there is nearly universal agreement among parents that children benefit neither from lack of flexibility nor from lack of structure, neither from too much testing nor from too little. Some schools take the approach that the best way to educate children is through the careful development of skills, and many fine programs have been developed across many different parts of the curriculum. The caution here is that few of us would claim that skill development alone can prepare children for a fulfilling life. In recent years a popular alternative is for schools to focus on the attainment of standards. This approach has gained great momentum in some sectors of society, but most experienced educators hold a healthy skepticism about the tradeoff between rote memorization and genuine understanding.

Given the challenges of educating children in the 21st century, what are the ways in which elementary educators may help children to become their best possible selves?

Thanks to transformative technologies and ever-shifting cultural norms, the mechanics of 21st century learning are indeed different from more traditional models. That said, I believe that the goals of education today are no different from in years past. Most parents recognize that schools need to be about more than training, and few educators would argue that accelerated curriculum is itself a solution. My hope is for young people to acquire knowledge in traditional subjects, to develop academic and non-academic skills, to become self-aware and self-regulated, and to emerge from childhood with wisdom and good judgment. As Lao Tzu and others have suggested, the path to enlightenment lies both in knowledge of self and in knowledge of others. To me, this is the part of teaching that is most special and most worthwhile.