When did we lose sight of the idea that sometimes kids really are just kids, who need to learn from their mistakes in schools without being arrested? Schools are supposed to be places where kids learn, where excellent mistakes lead to Aha! moments and not to chafed wrists and rap sheets.

We're stuck then, at least for the external world, with more lore than data in determining much of anything about a single school or even about independent schools as a whole. This may change in years to come, if only because accreditors are now requiring schools to show evidence of ways in which they have used data internally to make decisions about academic programs. The challenge for schools, then, will be how to collect useful data, how to analyze it in productive ways, and how to apply it well.

As Americans we get serially excited about some other nation's education system. Think the Soviet Union post-Sputnik, then Japan, then Singapore--math!--and currently Finland. A common factor in these has generally been the high level of respect afforded to teachers in these places, a level far exceeding our own.

But I remain convinced that there is a larger role for independent schools, dimly imaginable as being something like a national laboratory program for educational experimentation and innovation, that we haven't yet fully articulated among ourselves as a body.

Schools and teachers have to approach head-on the changes that technology has brought. Haphazard or piecemeal approaches don't serve students very well, nor does pretending that it's all just a fad that will end at some point.

Like lots of educators--maybe even most educators--I'm trying to see how this all fits together, the digital and the human. I used to think it was a matter of balance, but I've come to think that it's actually an individualized three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle, with pieces to be fitted together in a certain order to achieve some desired effect.

Independent school teachers tend to exist within cultures that are highly immersive: in 21st-century independent schools it is hard for a new or newish teacher not to be constantly watched, engaged in conversations about practice and about kids, and otherwise offered a great deal of formal and informal on-the-job training from a number of experienced sources. Generally smaller classes and relatively small and intense school communities make it relatively easy for schools to monitor and offer essentially real-time feedback to early-career teachers.

"I won't threaten you, but I expect much of you." How many of our students and our teachers confidently feel that this expresses the culture of their schools? I only wish that all education, at every level, really were characterized by unanxious expectations--high expectations requiring vigorous and appropriately rigorous engagement accompanied by respect, compassion, and humanity.

As educators, we pit ourselves every day against the most savage of enemies: ignorance, anti-intellectualism, apathy, prejudice, meanness. We can no more unplug in our struggle against these foes than our forebears should have thrown away their slates and books because a few students scribbled profanities or a few authors wrote hate and lies.

When I hear the term "whole child" these days that I'm not always sure that my understanding--and I'll make a claim to including everything from kids' very individual brains and hearts and bodies to their connections with family, community, and tradition--is quite what others have in mind. I hope it is, but somehow I can't equate an emphasis merely on the detailed enumerations of standards represented by the Common Core or multiple-choice tests (and teaching geared toward them) with any reasonably whole children I know.


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