Clarion Call in Defense of Public Education in a New Digital Social Order
“The decisions I made after that moment were not the ones she would have made. They were the choices of a changed person, a new self. You could call this selfhood many things. Transformation. Metamorphosis. Falsity. Betrayal. I call it an education” ― Tara Westover, Educated
A Clarion is a shrill, narrow-tubed trumpet formerly used in war; also, a clear and loud description.
Let me be that soldier or educator with my call out to say that public education as decreed for hundreds of years must not be ingested by the many current online strategies to displace its value. This week for the first time, I saw a TV advertisement and a Facebook page for an online Academy to enroll students from kindergarten to high school. At the same time, the American government requested to cut more than $8.5 billion from the Education Department budget and add a proposed $5 billion plan to support private schools. Realizing the power of mass media, public opinion can be willfully diverted.
A public school is an icon of the community.
As such, teaching takes an active role in social responsibility in a changing technological society to maintain values, manners and fundamental skills for survival. But when society has undergone such a radical change in such a short time, what do we know how to best educate for survival in this new social order of massive technological changes, information overload where quick tweets can substitute for learned input.
The public educational process is an organized system with learning objectives of sciences and humanities for lifelong value.
In the past century it has gone through numerous reformations to meet continuing societal demands. But I worry how public education will survive this technological opponent under various names of modern education, online e-learning and free public virtual schools, especially at the elementary level.
First, I can mainly refer to my 24 years as a public-school teacher teaching grades from grade 3 (7 years old) to grade 8 (14 years old). I have an Bachelor of Education degree based on four years of university teacher preparation with core subjects as well as early childhood development, psychology and sociology.
Yes, I worked with specific curriculum objectives as mandated by the provincial Department of Education to ensure standardized learning outcomes at every grade level. There were daily lesson plans complete with resources, outlines, activities and evaluations. There was satisfaction at the end of a class and the school year when the students left with more What I Know Now vs What I Didn’t Know When I Started.
The Irreplaceable Co-Factors Classroom Atmosphere
Every subject had its mandates and particular parameters, facts, formulas, and hypothesis. But the classroom atmosphere had much more to offer. There could be 30 young people of different backgrounds, aptitudes and abilities in an enclosure who also had to learn the values of discipline, co-operation and group management. There was mindfulness for students of limited abilities. There was problem-solving and creativity from many perspectives and challenges. There was brainstorming and decision-making with multiple variables where the best alternative was with democratic approval. Analysis was communal and leadership self-evident.
These are essential skills of listening and collaborating that are co-factors in an integrated public-school education, along with a broad based global and historical courses of study from biology to physics to algebra to ancient history to literature. It isn't about any student's self-centered preference about singular agendas, but public participation in how society and environment continue a common discourse and work together.
No doubt, a public-school system has its constraints in a digital society. Perhaps a well-rounded core education doesn’t matter to your all-Googling cellphone. But it’s not a matter of learning to use a calculator versus learning the multiplication tables by rote; or better yet, by drawing pictures of things multiplying or dividing into equal groups to see the context. It’s not a matter of a program to spell correctly or use grammatical syntax. It’s the sequential thinking process that matters. In my brief encounter with computers in a classroom, I have yet to see a program that outlines how to write specific stylistic paragraphs for various topics while sharing evaluations for improvements.
Complaints about public education are valid discussions
... too much curriculum is teacher centered based on an old grading system related to passing exams on learned content
... passive disengaged students more electronically geared
... lack of parental involvement or too much personal ownership
... passed on to higher grades without grade level adequate skills
... facing negative group behaviors
... too many extra-curricular distractions
... possibly poor teachers who practice favoritism.
But I remember my Math professor once saying all you really need is one good teacher to turn you into a life-long student ... maybe he was right … virtual or a real handshake.
Compliments for self directed or online learning
... works best for the self-directed motivated students who can progress at their own pace
... able to concentrate in a home environment with remote instructors and virtual tutors
... skillful with interactive media and resources with automated evaluation via digital logs,
.... manage to stay the course from entertaining games. Parent supervision may be needed to make sure assignments are turned in.
But, there are also problems such as lack of social interaction or developing relationships with peers, other than communication on forums, chat rooms, message boards and videos usually with homogeneous viewpoints. So how do you learn in real time to deal with diversity or discrepancy in different situations or practice conflict management?
Undeniably, digital screens have become the natural habitat of young people in a transformation of subjects and thoughts unlike anything experienced in human history. This Internet of all Things has created Great Changes in our society and culture forever, but where are the educational safety nets for young developing brains to better cope with this newest subject?
Where is the educational process to teach this new knowledge for best learning outcomes based on setting clear objectives, seeking resources, asking questions, analyzing content, making consensual decisions and evaluating? Unfortunately, there is a lack of training for young people at any level to gain any kind of understanding much less mastery over these all consuming changes, new vocabulary and motivation in Selfie Domains.
Ignorance and confusion are a lethal mixture.
More than ever, I believe public schools are the best places to address and discuss this issue and others related to information overload and hyper social media interaction. These are serious social issues best dealt with by social discussion and remediation where listening, cooperation and empathy play central figures and consensus is mutual.
I believe that business marketing and political opportunities should not interfere in this sacred passage rite from childhood to adulthood. The future of education must not be monopolized by internet corporate giants with material agendas which is much easier to do with e-learners in digital controlled environments.
There is no doubt that technology as an integral part of daily life, for better and worse, needs to be incorporated into traditional classrooms. The fact remains that more and more educational tools, resources and Apps are always on the horizon to facilitate the learning process and improve outcomes.
However, there has never been a greater urgency to make the case that public education must remain democratic, diverse and strong; especially for young people who are the stimulus and hope as they inherit the future with greater degrees of fairness, ethics and justice, both to the kinds of society and environment they want to live in.
As a final word, I hope our future will include a broad-based public education with an open classroom with different backgrounds, experiences, and decision making based on majority consensus in order to show students how to effectively participate in society and produce positive contributions.
About the author
Experience begets Wisdom as teacher / author 4 e-books / social activist re education, family, social media, ecology, and changing cultural values. Big Picture Lessons are best ways to learn. HelpfulMindstreamforChanges.com