Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Humanizing Education

Yesterday, we met with a group of students at Sci Academy, a Charter school in New Orleans East. The students we met with are part of a ReThink club, a group of students who come together weekly to work on creating solutions to challenges students feel in the school.

One topic emerged as central to the students' experiences at school: dehumanization. Students have fealt that in their school they are unable to be their full selves, express who they are or the struggles they face.

Paulo Friere wrote that central to authentic liberation is the process of humanization.

What then is a human education?

Currently few schools exist that are actually designed for human learning.  Traditional school was designed to turn human children into adult factory workers.  It succeeded, but what if we no-longer desire such a system? What if our desired outcomes for children and youth have changed since the industrial revolution? 

Our desired outcomes for our children have changed. What are those desired outcomes today, and can the kinds of outcomes you would choose for your child’s life be effectively measured by a multiple choice test?

When parents are asked what outcomes they would like for their children, they often say “I want them to be happy. “ And they also report a desire for a better world for our kids to live in. They applaud ideas like bringing compassion, understanding, caring, creativity, and love.

As we were visioning a school here in New Orleans, we asked ourselves, students, parents, colleagues, friends, neighbors, and anyone else who would give us the time: “What is the purpose of education?”  After a few months of asking this question to as many as possible, we’ve heard hundreds (maybe thousands) of answers, and have noted that very few of the answers we’ve heard actually have anything to do with traditional “academic learning.” Far more often, the answers focused on who our children and youth are and how we can support them in expanding that. In other words, it starts with the human.

So what is the disconnect that allows parents and educators to then turn around and send children into schools where their success and often self-worth is measured purely through a set of multiple choice tests in math, science, and reading, and some letter or number grades which tell us nothing of value?

Why do we not act on what we know intuitively… that who our children are is much more important than what they know?  It is who they are in terms of character that will shape our world.  All the knowledge in the world has never yet assured that our knowledge will be applied with wisdom.

Fortunately there are schools that get this and parents who are willing to allow their children to go to them, or who even get involved in creating them.  Through our continued relationship with the Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO) and the Institute for Democratic Education in America (IDEA), we have been able to connect with and learn from some of them.

Many of these schools are democratic schools run by partnership between adults and children. These schools provide education for humans, not for industry.  They know that future industry must change to fit future humans, and not the other way around.  A human education system serves the human children within it first and foremost.  The interests, skills, talents, and physical, mental, emotional and spiritual requirements of children are top of the list when designing schools. 

So as we begin with the human, the first task at hand when our students join us is keen observation of how the youth acts, the things they are drawn to, the foods they choose, the friends they empathize with, the information they choose to learn, the clothes they wear, the way they speak, listen, and interact with others. All of this is quite valuable in facilitating the expansion and learning of each student. 

Once their strengths and interests begin to emerge, we can then begin to support their journey.  This is how New Orleans Liberation Academy functions: in service to the human.

No comments:

Post a Comment