Is anyone in public education championing progressive reform today? Are local school boards and superintendents working to only improve Academic Performance Index scores and Adequate Yearly Progress goals at the expense of gutting classrooms from meaningful intellectual inquiry? I learned last week that there is still tremendous passion for progressive reform in Santa Clara County for our public schools. For that I am grateful and reinvigorated.
It was an honor last Wednesday to be invited to MC an event that featured a passionate advocate for progressive changes in the landscape of public education. The Center For Reaching and Teaching the Whole Child at San Jose State University was one of many sponsors of the sold-out event. Over 1,100 parents, teachers, and students packed the gymnasium at Cupertino High School to listen to a national leader in progressive reform in public education, Alfie Kohn.
Mr. Kohn is one of the leading figures in American progressive education today. He has appeared a few times on the Oprah show, has written several books and articles about progressive education and lectures throughout North America on the need to create classrooms where students are excited once again about learning. He makes an impassioned plea for learning for its intrinsic value, not grades, points or pizzas.
Kohn ranted about the urgent need for change in the way we are doing business in schools. I think he would agree with me that school accountability to the expenditure of public funds is a very good thing. Yet NCLB accountability where too many students sit passively while information is poured into the brain for their performance on a standardized test is a bad thing, ultimately for children and America. Our innovation in the 20th century was nurtured in our classrooms that valued thinking, experimentation, creative writing, problem solving, community involvement, etc.
In California and across America we are divesting in our public schools. This disinvestment is tragic for our children and America’s future. The richest country on the planet should be able to provide each and every student with a fullness of curriculum that includes the arts, world languages, music, dance and physical education in an intellectually challenging environment. Students must have many project-based learning experiences to incorporate real-life skills they are learning in English, math, science and history-social science.
The Santa Clara County Board of Education this month has approved a new Charter High School called Communitas that promises to have a rich project-based, rigorous high school curriculum. These innovative models of instruction now appear to be the sole propriety of the charter school world. Why? Where are the advocates for progressive education and learning in the traditional public school world?
Santa Clara County needs more public schools like the City and Country School of New York City, founded by a progressive educator, Caroline Pratt, in 1924. Ms. Pratt believed that the more children actively participate in their learning, the more they get out of it. The City and Country School of New York is a place that fosters the intellectual curiosity of each and every learner. Their website states: “The C&C classroom serves as an ideal place for children to explore, experiment, fail, learn and grow, both as individuals and as a group.”
Should that not be the goal of more classrooms in Silicon Valley, the home for technological innovation such as the iPad?
A huge thank you to Julie Streete, Masters in Education candidate at SJSU, who single-handedly worked for two months to bring Alfie Kohn to Silicon Valley for the second time in 2 years. She tells me she filled the Event Center at SJSU the first time he came in 2010.
The time for action is now. The citizens of this great community are ready, willing and able to lead this important effort. I will work with them to focus our energy on a reachable goal, until then I urge school boards and superintendents to explore progressive models of public education. Like Mr. Kohn, together lets lead boldly and with courage for the sake of our children.