Monday, May 12, 2014

Alternative Education - the time has come

WOW! Some very powerful ideas here:

The invasion of the educational process by economic forces is clearly evident in the standards-and-testing movement. The corporate state provides the funding for education, considering it an economic investment and expecting a good return. Young people are considered to be intellectual capital, their learning a product with a certain value to the economy. Knowledge is packaged and delivered, increasingly through textbooks and other materials produced by corporations with political connections. Students and teachers are accountable to these investors, and must demonstrate their success in mastering the authorized body of knowledge. There is little recognition of the student as a unique individual, motivated by a spiritual yearning to reach out to the world for purposeful understanding. There is little recognition of teaching as an art form, requiring a carefully honed sensitivity and thoughtful responsiveness, because teachers increasingly become technicians tending to the authorized lessons and administering the prescribed tests. In Steiner’s terms, education has been uprooted from the cultural sphere, where it belongs, and engulfed by the economic sphere, which turns it into a commodity, a soulless object to be bought and sold.

According to various cultural historians whose work has influenced my thinking, modernity essentially views society as a great machine that needs to be managed by expert technicians, a machine whose purpose is to turn natural and human "resources" into commodities and profits. Based on this view, modernity emphasizes rapid progress and growth over tradition and stability. It places a higher value on material wealth than on spiritual richness. It promotes private success over communal responsibility. And it strives for technological mastery rather than respect for the organic processes of nature.

What are some of the characteristics of this human-centered, “green” education? There are many models of alternative, progressive, democratic, and holistic schools, but they share four essential qualities:
  1. Experiential Learning. Learning is more experiential, emergent, organic, cooperative and personal than in standardized school settings. Tests, grades, ranking, honors and other trappings of competitive learning are greatly reduced or completely absent. There is more open discussion and critical questioning in the classroom. Students are more free to pursue personal interests and passions, or a creative effort is made to present an established curriculum in ways that makes it more relevant, meaningful and exciting to students. Indeed, to the extent curriculum is pre-planned, its content is less driven by what corporate leaders and politicians determine “every child needs to know” and more by educators with a philosophical commitment to well rounded personal development and their own personal and professional sensitivity to the learning rhythms of their students.
  2. Community Development. There is a genuine sense of community among students, teachers, and the parents involved in the school. People care about each other and take care of each other. There is little authority exercised solely for the sake of control or impersonal enforcement of rules, although teachers and school administrators take their responsibilities for community functioning seriously. In the terms used by feminist cultural historian Riane Eisler, a school oriented to “partnership” values would exhibit a “hierarchy of actualization” (a management structure that empowers each individual to realize one’s potentials) rather than the more traditional “hierarchy of domination.”
  3. Concern for the inner life. There is respect for students’ interior life and for ultimate questions. At the very least, a holistic learning environment offers periods of time or physical spaces of respite from the competitive materialism, constant noise, distraction, and titillation of modern civilization. Many holistic educators use various practices such as yoga, meditation, journaling, expressive arts, or simply times of quiet to help their students find calm and centering. Moreover, students are encouraged to wonder about deeper questions, about the meaning of life; their existential concerns are taken seriously. This open-ended, student-centered approach encourages a diversity of personal paths and need not involve the explicit teaching of religion or religious values.
  4. Ecological literacy. A holistic learning environment has meaningful connections to the world of nature. The principles of ecology and sustainability are implicit in the structure and content of a holistic education, if not explicitly addressed; there is a deliberate cultivation of what David Orr has called “ecological literacy.” The physical design of holistic schools and classrooms brings nature indoors, or invites students into the surrounding ecosystem. In these spaces, beauty is as important a concern as functionality. We would commonly find gardens, field trips, or other opportunities for contact with nature in the curriculum even in an urban setting.

During the past twenty-five years, education has become ever more standardized, ever more mechanical, as it serves a political and economic agenda of competition, production, and corporate profit. Young people in the present system are not perceived as growing, active human beings who seek meaningful connection to their community, society, and natural world, or to the realm of the spirit, but as units of production whose academic achievements contain primarily economic value. Today, even first graders--six year old children--are rigorously tested to ensure that they fit into the system, while those who resist mechanistic discipline are sedated with powerful drugs. In some schools in the U.S., young children no longer enjoy recess—time to play and relax during the school day—because this is perceived as unproductive and inefficient.

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