I undertook this experiment with some trepidation, but it seemed worthwhile to try to play out the independent schools skeptics' position, just to see where it might lead. I can't say that I'm sold on the idea. I still believe there are plenty of ways that St. Basalt's School and its kin can and do serve the public good.
I once again find myself wishing that our society had the courage and good sense to commit itself to looking after kids' personal growth in our schools as thoroughly as we seem determined to look after their ability to take standardized tests.
As the son of a tiny town I like to think we can learn from small rural schools just as we learn from big urban and suburban ones. I know that these schools are already places of pride--just watch Hoosiers if you need a reminder--and we should not forget that our most rural areas (think: Alaska) produced the techniques of "distance learning" on which today's online and blended teaching and learning cultures are being built.
Behaviorism is in our rear-view mirror, and now Constructivism is riding shotgun. But the road ahead appears to be Connectivist. What we are seeing nowadays is the confluence of all these trends and the great, onrushing stream of technology, which is really only the great onrushing stream of connected living, connected thinking, and connected learning.
As an educator, a parent, and a human being, I'm sickened by the ways in which children around the world are made pawns in political and cultural battles. But when I go through the exercise of trying to "globalize" my own perspective, I see plenty of things at home to inspire tears and anger.
It was hard to look at all those sweaty kids with candy-smeared cheeks at the Fourth of July parade and not think about what the planet's going to be like when they're grown up. Maybe such little faces are turning out to be a real incentive for those who are already grown up to do a little less arguing and a little more compromising, less accusing and more empathizing, less retrenching and more really strategic thinking.
I've lived through, and paid in memories for, what happens when corporate mindsets takes over an enterprise--Scouting and the camp movement, in my case--whose mission and goals are about children's learning and well-being, when business-bedazzled "reformers" perform their special, misguided magic.
Design thinking, collaboration, problem-solving, and creativity can all be taught and take place in contexts that keep the door open between the schoolhouse, the home, and the natural world. Today's good ideas are just as applicable to learning in a world defined by the natural environment as they are to learning that happens indoors or online. We have only to turn our serious and concerted attention to the question of "nature-deficit disorder," and we could make easy strides toward erasing it.
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.
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.