Monday, December 9, 2013

Education Should Be A Blessing

A few months ago in Parade Magazine (and in other similar publications), there was a series of articles about what is wrong with education. I read through the various elements , ranging from misappropriation of funds to ineffective leaders to being more and more out of touch with how our many different students learn and so on. Further, in our technology age, the very face of education must look so different to keep up with the vicissitudes in our daily worldly lives. Sadly, as an institution, we are failing in way too many instances. So to respond to these many ailments that are plaguing our attempts to prepare our children for the future that awaits them, on Sunday August 10, 2013, seven ideas were presented in this series of articles: 1. We need to make sure that our students are fed and are nutritionally strong. 2. LEARNING should be emphasized, not testing. 3. We must teach 21st century skills. 4. We should FLIP the classroom by having students listen to the “lectures” on their technology and use classroom time for meaningful interaction and cooperative efforts. 5. We must say YES to recess! 6. We should all get creative! 7. We should focus on the process of education!

Here is a program for going into our next chapter of collective progress. This all makes so much sense to me. In my work with bringing Best Educational Practices to Jewish Education through the consulting work of BeYachad, which I founded and have directed for more than two decades, I have always worked on what we call “Thinking Outside of the Box” both for myself as an educator and for those with whom I have been privileged to work.

So why is it that at this point in time, when technology is at the “ready and able” to allow us to focus more on our students and the process of their educational growth and with so much psychological sophistication, are more and more people dissatisfied with what is happening in educational venues. About 15 years ago I was quoted in a national magazine as being opposed to Home Schooling due to the socialization aspect of education, the opportunity to learn with and from others, the change to negotiate and collaborate and so much else. Now, unfortunately, I am not so sure.

For one thing, too many superb and amazing educators are not in positions they should be while those that are looking at the “business” of education are in positions of power and decision making instead of having creative and innovative soulful educators in these positions. To be sure this is not the case everywhere, but the point cannot be ignored that it is the situation in too many institutions.

Last year, I took an hiatus from Jewish Education and participated in an experiment, the creation of a ROTATING BLENDED CYBER CHARTER SCHOOL (which I had worked for the previous two years to bring into being). These schools are brand new and only exist in a few places in this country, combining the best of face to face education with the advance and resources of cyber learning. This is definitely a matter of thinking OUTSIDE OF THE BOX and when we began this experiment, I immediately “got it.” I looked at the faces of our students, who were strictly an urban population. They DID NOT LOOK at all like the pretty faces from the pretty homes of well fed and well clothed children who were well tended by Mom and Dad, one of whom would have lunch on the kitchen island in the many well done commercials for cyber schools in Pennsylvania, the state in which we live.

Our students were from the populations generally not able to avail themselves of the opportunity of cyber learning and as for a quiet pretty place to learn at home, for many of them, you can forget that option as well. We worked hard, this amazing faculty and I, and actually achieved in some cases miraculous results, ranging from students who entered a good seven to eight years below grade level and were able to progress as much as THREE entire grade levels in three months, students who just learned to write with us, oppositional students who became so cooperative and developed warm relationships with wonderful caring faculty and so much else.

Yet, we were plagued by the State’s lack of understanding of what we were doing and eventually it was clear that ROTATING BLENDED CYBER EDUCATION was way too far ahead on the learning curve for this state. What was preferred were the business managers of education. How sad! We were feeding students with food (since some of them came from homes where this was limited) and knowledge, being creative, being available virtually 24/7, using and teaching skills of technology, using interdisciplinary learning, flipping classrooms, created a values based and intentionally diverse learning environment of respect and so much else -- in the end, none of this mattered to the powers-that-be.

I was taught by my parents and have always felt that Education should be a blessing. Unfortunately too many have lost this notion and schools are being pulled by the agenda of whoever runs them, often NOT informed by the students and families who need the Blessing of Education. What do we do about this? I know there are beacons of light out there, but until this becomes the norm and not the exception or not enough of the norm, we have our work cut out for us.

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