But the great opportunity, perhaps even the great imperative, for independent schools over the next five years will be to establish ourselves as a legitimate and positive voice in the national and indeed global conversation on education. Although many far-sighted and even courageous individual schools and school leaders have sought engagement with the larger, primarily public school community, as a body we have taken only baby steps.
June 2013 Archives
In years past board members were said to be chosen for their ability to contribute one of the "Three W's: wisdom, work, or wealth." This probably remains true. Good experience and judgment will always be critical to the operation of a school, there is work aplenty for boards and board members, and the capacity to bolster the school's coffers against hard times is ever a good thing.
A great educational system in a great society values school as a place where hopes and dreams are strengthened and refined and where children acquire the knowledge, skills, and habits of mind to achieve them. It values teachers as key actors in making this happen.
Simply put, as a society we're not going to inspire vast numbers of our top college students to enter the field of teaching until we've figured out a way to make teaching as attractive as financial services or high tech.
But then, I live my life among school people--teachers, kids, parents--and I have to be attuned to their needs and dreams. Strange or lurid stories about schools have their contexts, whether we know them or not, and as outsiders our assumptions affect only ourselves unless we forget that they are only half-informed assumptions and bruit them about as expert analysis and fact.
Any independent schools unlikely to survive beyond our era will be likely to have failed in moving beyond the most conventional thinking about who they are and what they do.
My Twitter feed is already rolling like Usain Bolt's treadmill, for example, with ecstatic tweets emanating from epals in Memphis at the Martin Institute's first Transformative Learning Conference.
All the silliness I observe in kids, the behaviors that sometimes require intervention and occasionally generate my inner disapproval, is just part of their growing up, their time to make mistakes both excellent and idiotic, their time to try out new personas and new perspectives.
As business gurus' ideas seeped into academic thinking, it became clear that what was needed was not long-range planning but rather strategic planning. The shift was decidedly toward action based on intention and principle--toward the development of strategies that could help schools achieve specific goals that were congruent with their expressed missions and aspirations.
Most kids, in a tight job market and with families living close to the bone, will have to make up their own summer programs. If "looking good to colleges" is a concern, then kids can really look good to colleges by following their intellectual curiosity or empathetic passion somewhere.
Most independent schools have figured out that what they actually offer matters more than who they are; images of smiling lads in neckties and cheery girls with field hockey sticks aren't quite enough to solidify a brand any more. This means that the motivations that Finn doesn't see are in fact significant drivers, with momentum rising.
Right now we have thousands of teachers thinking out loud for a wide-open audience every day. Personal blogs, multi-author blogs, microblogs, online publications, conferences and webinars tweeted and live-blogged, and even Twitter chats have turned Teacherworld, for those inclined to put themselves out there, into a vast buzzing hive of perspectives shared in the moment.