Why We Need NEWform not REform in the United States Educational System
"To move our school structures into more open, fluid,
and correspondingly inventive forms, we need new forms, not reform”
I have to admit that I am quite pessimistic when it comes to massive newform and not reform at the national level in the United States. I agree with Jacobs (2010) that many “reforms have merely taken an existing practice, bent it a bit, and tinkered with it, thus ending up with the same basic form (para. 2). Educational goals are, more than ever, determined by the standardized tests rather than the tests being determined by meaningful educational priorities.
Hope on the Horizon
There is hope, however, when I consider the burgeoning number of charter and private schools that are exploring different school environments, curricula, and approaches to learning. Jacobs (2010) lists four elements to “implementing dynamic curriculum and instruction” (para. 5): Schedule, Grouping Patterns of Learners, Grouping Patterns of Professionals, and Space. Alternative schools are implementing new forms in each.
Schedule: After setting goals, students at Liberty Academy learn in six week “bursts of interest-based learning” with community leaders and teachers who help students document their growth (Ark, 2019, para. 10).
Grouping Patterns of Learners: The Boston Day and Evening Academy, on the other hand, progresses students “based on demonstrated mastery rather than seat time” so that they can set their own pace (Ark, 2016, para. 2).
Grouping Patterns of Professionals: Eagle Rock is not only a private school but also houses “a professional development center for educators” to involve them in course and project design (Ark, 2019, para. 13).
Space: The Blue Schools (founded by the Blue Man Group) center on the roles “play and design” have in education and promote a non-segmented approach to learning. Each learning space is deliberately designed to allow for flexibility in the curriculum. For example, “The cafeteria is like the living room,” since “food grown in...the school’s science curricula” is used in the school meals (Edelson, 2018).
A Return to the Basics
One of the ideas that are vital to these newforms is actually a return to the idea that schools should develop their students to become “whole persons” (Noddings, 2007, p. 77). John Dewey wrote of this idea extensively, encouraging schools to help students prepare “for the future life” (Dewey, 1916) by helping them figure out what they are “fitted to do” and develop the attributes needed to survive any outer or inner challenge. Any school can be a place where students can identify “their own reasons for learning” (Noddings, 2007, p. 78) and “train” so that they can have “the full and ready use of [their] capacities” in life (Dewey, 1897).
Gaps in My Learning
When I consider my own education, I more clearly see the gaps in my learning. Ironically, besides learning how to write extensively, the key skills I need in my career have had to be learnt outside of school:
How to set a goal, break it down into achievable steps, and eventually reach it.
How to navigate finances (considering 8 in 10 Americans have debt) (Pew, 2015).
How to present an idea or argument in a way that captivates the audience.
How to communicate and connect in a new language (regardless of skill level).
How to identify and recruit quality mentors and how to mentor others.
How to communicate an idea succinctly and clearly for different types of audiences.
How to take an idea and run with it by connecting with experts in the field.
These skills were not only absent from the curricula, but some common educational objectives taught the exact opposite. (For example, we always wrote our papers for the teacher, not for different audiences such as the school board, our local political representative, a younger school class, or a nonprofit board.) The Alfred North Whitehead quote that Noddings (2007) included especially resonated with me:
There is only one subject-matter for education, and that is Life in all its manifestations. Instead of this single unity, we offer children—Algebra, from which nothing follows; Geometry, from which nothing follows; Science, from which nothing follows; History, from which nothing follows; a Couple of Languages, never mastered; and lastly, most dreary of all, Literature, represented by plays of Shakespeare, with philological notes and short analyses of plot and character to be in substance committed to memory (1967).
When considering how to make our schools more “open, fluid, and correspondingly inventive” (Jacobs, 2010), I have hope that allowing for a variety of school structures will help society out of the rut of 1890s-type educations.
Ark, T. V. (2016 October 31). Personalized Learning in Boston For Youth That Need it Most. Getting Smart. https://www.gettingsmart.com/2016/10/personalized-learning-in-boston-for-youth-that-need-it-most/
Ark, T. V. (2019 October 7). 11 Alternative Schools That Are Real Alternatives. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/tomvanderark/2019/10/07/11-alternative-schools-that-are-real-alternatives/?sh=17475601c1c1
Dewey, J. (1897). My Pedagogical Creed. The School Journal, LIV(3), 77-80. https://infed.org/mobi/john-dewey-my-pedagogical-creed/
Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and Education. Macmillan. https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Page:Democracy_and_Education.djvu/379
Edelson, Z. (2018 September 25). At Rockwell Group’s New Blue School, “the Space Is Almost the Third Teacher”. Metropolis.
Jacobs, H.H. (2010). New School Versions: Reinventing and Reuniting School Program Structures. Curriculum 21: Essential Education For A Changing World. http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/109008/chapters/New-School-Versions@-Reinventing-and-Reuniting-School-Program-Structures.aspx
Noddings, N. (2007, December). Curriculum for the 21st Century. Educational Studies in Japan: International Yearbook No.2, pp.75-81. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ842882.pdf
Pew. (2015, July). The Complex Story of American Debt. The Pew Charitable Trusts. https://www.pewtrusts.org/~/media/assets/2015/07/reach-of-debt-report_artfinal.pdf?la=en