Charter Schools as Valuable Alternatives

As a nation we are seeing a rapid rise in the number of charter schools. The new trend in education is “publicly funded but privately run (Fryer, 2012),” allowing for flexibility in curriculum, delivery, and student choice. Teachers in charter schools have the luxury to truly teach freely rather than being bound by the rules, regulations, and curricula set forth by public schools. From incorporating art in multiple aspects of academia to establishing time within the school year to engage in service-learning, charter schools look far different than the rigidness of public schools.

Most supporters of charter schools are not trying to rid education of public schools; instead, their aim is to provide the best solutions to education across all types of schools, both charter and public. There is mutual agreement that not all charter schools have improved outcomes for all students. The argument in favor of charter schools stems from numerical data which depicts improvements, even if small, providing some sort of foundation for future educational developments.

The National Alliance of Public Charter Schools describes the locations of most charter schools as no mistake. “Many charter school operators make the strategic decision to open charter schools in underserved neighborhoods with high concentrations of low income, minority, and low performing students (National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, 2011).” Following years of consistent low-achievement, charter school operators will plant the school in an area that has students that need the most assistance, or “at-risk” students.

Paulo Freire was a philosopher who consistently advocated for the “at-risk” population. “Liberation pedagogy in Freire’s philosophy of education refers to the power of education to liberate or free oppressed people from the social, economic, and political conditions that disempower and marginalize them (Gutek, 2011).” Education meant freedom from the chains of injustice. However, public schools were allowing students in impoverished areas to fall through the cracks in the world of education.  For Freire, “he argued that conventional learning was the tool of the elite because it treated students as objects…(Rugut, 2013).” That is where the nature of charter schools can serve as a successful tool for those falling behind.

Rugut (2013) explains that ‘Friere’s generative theme is a student centered system of learning that challenges how knowledge is constructed in the formal education system and in society at large.’  Conventional educational practices, such as those observed in a public school setting, often still lack this student-centered approach.  This is often associated with a hesitancy towards change, since this methodology requires both teachers and students to ‘modify their thinking and actions towards education’ (Sablonniere, 2009).  Not only must educators base instruction around prior knowledge and individual student needs, they must successfully instruct their students on how to take charge of their own learning.  This motivation is sometimes particularly difficult to foster with reluctant learners within the public school system.  Public schools deal with further issues, such as inadequate library, lab, and technology resources; larger class sizes; and standardized tests (Jabbour, 2013).

However, charter schools regularly adopt a student-centered approach, and research shows that these institutions have been quite successful in closing the opportunity gap, particularly for African-American and Latino students.  Linda-Darling Hammond, Stanford University professor and SCOPE faculty director, reports, “Students in the study schools showed greater achievement than their peers, had higher graduation rates, were better prepared for college and showed greater persistence in college. Student-centered learning proves to be especially beneficial to economically disadvantaged students and students whose parents have not attended college” (Frey, 2014).

Some politicians in Virginia recognize these benefits for disenfranchised students, and have passionately fought for an amendment to the Virginia State Constitution, a measure necessary to allow for the formation of more charter schools in the area.  Senator Mark Obenshain argued that ‘they would provide a “lifeline” for poor children in a state that provides “a world-class education in some jurisdictions… [and] a third-world education” in others’ (Vozzella, 2016).  This echoes Friere’s desire to establish educational institutions to champion the oppressed.

Efforts in Baton Rouge showcase the ability of charters to influence the neighborhood economy and community life.  A study of the area showed that ‘NSBR is embedding community engagement in everything from vetting and recruiting school operators, to building a local pipeline of teachers who look like the students they serve, to striving to deliver what the community itself defines as an “excellent” school’ (Campbell, 2016).  In the “third-world” areas of rural Virginia referenced by Obenshain, community involvement is crucial in providing higher-education opportunities for students.  The Virginia State Council for Higher Education agrees, citing the need to increase minority voices in decision making (Nelson, 2015).  As Friere believed, bringing authentic minority voices into the multicultural dialogue strengthens our educational system and our democratic society.

Charter schools not only outperform public schools on standardized testing, they also utilize cutting-edge practices and change classroom approaches.  Abdulkadiroglu (2009) explains, ‘Proponents see charter schools’ freedom from regulation as a source of educational innovation, with the added benefit of providing a source of competition that may prompt innovation and improvement in the rest of the public system.’  Since charter schools focus so heavily on the success of every child, they are forced to adapt to meet the needs of individual students in ways not always feasible in larger public school classrooms.

According to the Virginia Department of Education there are currently nine operating charter schools serving students across the state. In comparison to surrounding states, Virginia ranks severely low in maintaining quality charter schools. “The Center for Education Reform gave Virginia a grade of “F” on its 2013, 2014, and 2015 charter law scorecards (Lehen, 2016).” The poor scoring quality of charter laws serves as discouragement as we advocate for the new opportunity that charter schools bring. Weak and restrictive laws are responsible for holding back the growth of charter schools here in Virginia. For starters, “Virginia enables only local school boards to serve as authorizers (instead of having multiple authorizers), but the boards often oppose charter school formation because they wish to retain funding and control (Lehen, 2016).” Fearful of losing resources, funding and support from current public schools, and having the power of the final say, local school boards often deny applications even if the state school board has given approval. “Virginia’s [law] also does not require authorizers to notify charter schools of problems they perceive or provide them with opportunities to correct those problems…laws also do not command authorizers to provide renewal guidance or allow charter schools to augment performance records with plans for improvement (Lehen, 2016).” Those in favor of charter schools find their frustrations in these laws and call for reform. If Virginia were to tailor the laws in such a way to promote charter schools, the state would be able to explore more options in the education system that has seen increase in popularity in some other states. With few successful charter schools in the state, there is little interest in exploring the failing charter school system, leaving the unjust laws hidden while charter schools continue to struggle to take off.

Our neighbors in Washington D.C. embrace 114 charter schools; 105 more than in Virginia (Lehen, 2016). D.C. utilizes a Public Charter School Board, which consists of members knowledgeable in various areas of charter schools. “The D.C. law explicitly exempts charter schools from statutes, policies, rules, and regulations established for public schools, further enhancing educational freedom (Lehen, 2016).” The positive legal aspects behind D.C. charter schools are deemed responsible for their success. As a whole, they invest in the tools and people required to have quality exploration into charter schools. Moreover, D.C. charter schools were able to build in more days of reading and math with the flexibility their rules allow. Holistically, Washington D.C. can serve as an example of what Virginia can become with reform to the laws.

The benefits of charter schools versus public schools add enough value to outweigh the negative viewpoints of critics. Charter schools allow for exploration into the reform of education, allowing teachers to embrace their own methodologies without rules hindering their ability. While not all charter schools have been successful, there has been significant progress in the overall success of students both academically and socially and allows for teachers to maximize their full potential as educators. As a nation, we must be willing to inform ourselves of the effect of these benefits to truly embrace what education can become.

 

References

Abdulkadiroglu, A., Angrist, J., Dynarski, S., Kane, T., & Pathak, P. (2009). Accountability and

Flexibility in Public Schools: Evidence from Boston’s Charters and Pilots. doi:10.3386/w15549

Campbell, C. (2016, April). Roots of Engagement in Baton Rouge: How Community Is Shaping

the Growth of New School Options. Retrieved April 16, 2016, from

http://www.crpe.org/publications/roots-engagement-baton-rouge-how-community-

shaping-growth-new-school-options

Details from the Dashboard: Charter School Race/Ethnicity Demographics. (2011). National

Alliance of Public Charter Schools. 1-10. Retrieved April 16, 2016, from

http://www.publiccharters.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/NAPCS-2010-2011-Race_Ethnicity-Details-from-the-Dashboard_20120516T152831.pdf

Frey, S. (2014, June 17). “Student-centered schools” close opportunity gap. Retrieved April 16,

2016, from http://edsource.org/2014/report-student-centered-schools-close-opportunity-

gap/63317

Fryer, R. F., Jr. (2012, September). Learning from the Successes and Failures of Charter Schools.

Retrieved April 13, 2016, from

http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/fryer/files/hamilton_project_paper_2012.pdf

Gutek, G. L. (2011). Historical and philosophical foundations of education: A        biographical

introduction (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Jabbour, K. K. (2013). Issues that restrain teachers from adapting student- centered instruction.

Tejuelo, 17, 85-96. Retrieved April 16, 2016.

Lehen, K. E. (2016). Charting the Course: Charter School Exploration in Virginia. UR

Scholarship Repository. Retrieved April 17, 2017 from

http://scholarship.richmond.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1121&context=law-student-

publications

Nelson, K. (2015, January 28). In Rural Virginia, Community Involvement Crucial in Getting

Kids to College. Retrieved April 16, 2016, from http://www.schev.edu/schev/newsReleases/nr-jan2015/nr012815.asp

Rugut, E. J. (2013, March). Reflection on Paulo Freire and Classroom Relevance. Retrieved

April 16, 2016, from http://www.aijssnet.com/journals/Vol_2_No_2_March_2013/3.pdf

Sablonnière, R. D., Taylor, D. M., & Sadykova, N. (2009). Challenges of applying a student-

centered approach to learning in the context of education in Kyrgyzstan. International

Journal of Educational Development, 29(6), 628-634.

Virginia Department of Education. 2014 Annual Report of on the Conditions and Needs of Public

Schools in Virginia. (2014). Board of Education, 1-124. Retrieved from

http://www.doe.virginia.gov/boe/reports/annual_reports/2014.pdf
Vozzella, L. (2016, February 15). Charter school amendment dies in Va. Senate. Retrieved April

16, 2016, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/charter-school-

amendment-dies-in-va-senate/2016/02/15/681ad980-d417-11e5-be55-2cc3c1e4b76b_story.html

 

Standards of Learning

Recognizing that there is no perfect way to assess accountability or measure student achievement on a single-administration test, I do believe that states need established standards of learning and a system to evaluate individual attainment of those standards.  A recent poll administered by VCU would agree – the majority of Virginia feels that the SOLs are far from perfect, yet they are needed as an academic measure of success.  Perhaps most interesting, minorities and other disadvantaged populations (education level, socioeconomic status) responded most favorably to the need for tests.  I believe this attests to their understanding that ‘gap group’ students will not be ‘left behind’ or overlooked compared to other demographics of students if there is a system in place that requires schools to implement supports that ensure their success.  In my own experience with SOL testing, I find that parents of my lower-performing students are much more willing to ask for additional support, and much more open-minded about mastering strategies, than other groups.  In fact, I spent last Spring calling parents about Writing SOL scores, and my inbox filled up with heartfelt ‘Thank You’ letters.  When a parent senses that you truly care about their student’s individual success, and can see the improvement their student is making from a very official state-approved score, it somehow means so much more sometimes.  They have assurance that their child is truly meeting expectations that do not simply amount to being pushed through the K-12 pipeline.
All this being said, I do feel that there are areas in which testing can be cut back.  Right now, students take many SOLs that are not ‘required’, often in science and history courses. Students rightfully question why they have to sit through a test that they are told they don’t actually need to graduate.  An argument can be made that testing in these areas during the same week as a math or English exam (required for graduation) leads to burn-out and probably negatively impacts the accuracy of any of the scores as a truly valid assessment.  Why not focus on alternatives in those areas to take some of the high-stakes anxiety out of the equation?  There might be significant improvements overall.

“Commonwealth Education Poll finds majority of Virginians are increasingly concerned about the impact of SOLs on classroom learning but see benefits to the tests” Retrieved April 20, 2016, from http://www.wilder.vcu.edu/news/cepi.html

Condition of Education

When reading details from the report on the condition of education, I was particularly drawn to the demographic section, which explored children living in poverty.  I was actually surprised that only 21 percent of students lived in poverty, which was further explained as ranging from 9 in New Hampshire to 33 in Mississippi.  Looking at regional breakdown, there was not as much disparity as I had presumed, ranging 18 – 23%.  I actually expected rural areas to factor more significantly into the equation.  In addition, Virginia is cited as having less students living in poverty than other states.  Certainly, Northern Virginia is lowering the statistics, but what about Southwest Virginia and even urban centers in Richmond and Va Beach area?  Even West Virginia is ‘not measurably different’.  Of course, when looking further into racial disparity, the numbers more closely mirror my expectations.

Within my high school last year, the majority of students lived in poverty.  Considering this research, I begin to wonder not only how poverty effects learning, but what additional issues result from living in dense-poverty areas.  Are poverty-stricken students more likely to struggle within schools or educational systems with higher prevalence of economic issues compared to within an average district?  In ways other than that associated with resource allocations, etc?
Aud, S. (2012, May 24).  The Condition of Education – Population Characteristics – Demographics – Children Living in Poverty – Indicator May (2015).  Retrieved April 20, 2016, from http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cce.asp

Personal Philosophy of Education

At the most integrated level, a philosophy of education melds theories developed at the epistemological or ethical level and relates them to concrete practices within the classroom. Ben-Peretz (2000) describes this as ‘serious reflections of practicing educators, curriculum theorists, and educational policy makers’. That is, it is a process through which to ‘develop thoughtful, and to varying degrees systematic or coherent, justifications for their educational practices and commitments.’ In examining various schools of educational thought, I most frequently associate with Dewey’s pragmatic approach that stems from Rousseau’s initial development of progressivism in education.

I believe that my role as an educator is to encourage multiple flows of support and learning: from myself to my students, from my students to their fellow students, and from my students to myself as I discover how to best serve each student and classroom. This support has three key components. First, to care: to form a relationship with my students and adapt to their genuine interests and needs. Second, to facilitate: to encourage inquiry and innovation in the learning process, acting as a guide on each student’s journey. And third, to instruct: each student crosses into the classroom to build upon the knowledge they already have and acquire valuable new skills – it is my purpose to ensure they achieve those objectives.

My own educational journey has taught me that school is most enjoyable when students view it as a caring, safe haven. I desire to create a community of respect within my classroom, where all participants are equal and encouraged to practice self-expression and active engagement. My goal is to facilitate group discussion, foster inquisitiveness, and never focus on the ‘how’ without also exploring the ‘why’. Collaboration is King, not only in coursework, but also in thoughts and ideas, in problem solving and solution-identifying.

Adaptation to students’ needs and abilities was at the forefront of Rousseau’s philosophy. Monteiro (2005) explains that this insight established that ‘teaching and training consist, not in inculcating ideas, but in furnishing the child with opportunities for the functioning of those activities that are natural for each stage.’ Dewey, building upon Rousseau’s views of psychology, felt that ‘lessons should start with the problems of the world – problems that brought interest and motivation for the children’ (Ghiraldelli, 2000). This encourages student engagement and active thought, creating a student-centered classroom instead of adhering to the traditional model where teachers were the primary imparters of knowledge. It is also imperative to include scaffolding of student tasks to build upon prior knowledge and experience.

Both Pestalozzi and Froebel influenced this approach to curriculum. This was coined ‘natural education – where the innate desire to learn is nourished and curiosity is unfettered’ (Shaffer, 2015). Activity is essential to student learning for both philosophers, and I believe this to hold true at all levels of education. ‘Play’ at the secondary English level might include role-playing to identify with characterization, word molding to create poetry that mirrors a particular style or format, or an in-class debate to structure persuasive arguments.

Discovery learning has changed since the time of these philosophers, and has been enhanced by the technological advances of our society. I believe in a 21st Century Classroom for the 21st Century Learner, and I understand the importance of building a foundation of technology for today’s scholars and tomorrow’s workforce. As such, an ideal classroom and curriculum design does not just incorporate computers and media, but is structured to allow for the innovative use of electronic resources. Each student should not merely become familiar with a keyboard, mouse, and basic software, but grasp how to utilize those tools to create: to formulate graphs in order to analyze; to design presentations in order to effectively communicate their ideas; to blend sight and sound and movement in order to conceptualize both the concrete and the abstract.

Thus, technology in education is not a diversion from a student-centered environment, but an extension that allows for students to actively partake in their journey in meaningful ways. This is an extension of Dewey’s philosophy of ‘learning by doing.’ The tasks that students can complete with the aid of technology – from research papers, to presentations, to a diversification of products such as videos or musical compositions – are authentic, goal-centered problems. Dewey found it problematic that ‘the subject matter of education consists of bodies of information and of skills that have been worked out in the past; therefore the chief business of the school is to transmit them to the new generation.’ Technology as a learning tool allows students to gather facts, build concepts, negotiate interpretations, invent representations, and critique shared products (Wilson, 1996).

Education is both ‘to impart’ and ‘to acquire’. I believe that as a teacher, I am on the same team as my students and that the success of individual students reflects the supportive learning environment that the entire classroom has created together. All students come into the classroom with varying levels of ability, and as an educator I believe in structuring lessons to meet those differing needs. My classroom is not one of preacher and parishioner or of doctor and patient. It is a classroom where every student has knowledge to acquire, and every student also has insights to impart about the subject matter and the learning process. Together, we all achieve.

This community-centered differentiation is naturally aligned with Dewey’s approach, but is further justified with roots in Confucianism. The scholar was humanistic in his approach, and believed in cultivating the ‘whole’ individual. Confucius ‘impart[ed] knowledge without reservation and never reject[ed] anyone who came for instruction, regardless of the readiness and ability level.’ He also employed various strategies in his teaching to consistently engage, support, and challenge his students. Formative assessment included conversations and observations, which enabled him to deliver ‘well thought-out instruction in line with the learner’s ability, temperament, mental state, interests, needs, and life goals.’ Similar to Socrates, Confucius was simultaneously the ‘facilitator, guide, helper, while the student is the main actor, and sometimes peers scaffold when appropriate’ (ProQuest, 2007).

Dissenters might argue that an educational approach incorporating these various aspects is well-devised, but impossible in a society that utilizes ‘high-stakes’ testing as a means of accountability and assessment. In fact, philosophers such as Du Bois are often cited as voices who would be opposed to testing because it might unfairly subjugate those belonging to particular demographics. However, I posit that these policies are in fact representing a child-centered, inquiry-based, hands-on approach that is integral to developing critical thinking and analytical skills as required by the modern workforce, and as assessed on skills-based tests such as Virginia’s Standards of Learning.

Common assessments do not deter from the needs of focusing on the social and emotional development of our students. Instead, they ensure equity in the classroom by providing a quality education for all students, regardless of educational track or societal labels. Through standardized testing, we recognize when particular individuals, or even particular groups, are struggling in their learning, and can better differentiate their needs and remediate weaknesses. Du Bois championed the ‘right to learn’ in order ‘to give our children the fairness of a start which will equip them with such an array of facts and such an attitude toward truth that they can have a real chance to judge what the world is and what its greater minds have thought it might be’ (Darling-Hammond, 1997). Policy makers and educational practitioners need to continue to work together to ensure there are measurements in place that champion every student’s right to challenge themselves academically.

My educational philosophy is grounded in these varying ideals, but just as each theory both drew upon and revolutionized education before it, so too is it the role of every educator to continue to adapt individual theory and practice to reflect both changing times and changing environments. It is this flexibility of thought that mirrors flexibility of approach and practice in regards to our students. In keeping a child-centric approach to education, one must always adapt in ways to best benefit the dispositions and lives of the upcoming generation.

 

References

Ben-Peretz, M., Brown, S. A., Moon, B., & Aker, K. (2000). Routledge International

Companion to Education. Routledge.

 

Darling-Hammond, L. (1997). The right to learn: A blueprint for creating schools that work. San

Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

 

Ghiraldelli, P., Jr. (2000). Educational Theory : Herbart, Dewey, Freire and Postmodernists.

Retrieved April 15, 2016, from http://eepat.net/doku.php?id=educational_theory

 

Monteiro, T. (2005). Rousseau’s Concept of Education. Retrieved April 15, 2016, from

http://snphilosophers2005.tripod.com/ternan.pdf

 

ProQuest. (2007). Exploring the Assessment Aspect of Differentiated Instruction: College EFL

Learners’ Perspectives on Tiered Performance Tasks. Retrieved April 15, 2016, from

https://books.google.com/books?id=ukL4FLcBF74C

 

Shaffer, S. E. (2015). Engaging young children in museums.

 

Wilson, B. G. (1996). Constructivist learning environments: Case studies in instructional design.

Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

Technology & Education

I a proponent of technology in the classroom, although I began my educational career by working in a division where access to particular technologies was very limited.  When I incorporate it into my teaching, however, I think it is necessary to utilize technology as part of an ‘authentic task’.  That is, if the student would utilize the technology in a real-world situation, or could somehow benefit via real-world relevance, I find it appropriate.  This is in contrast to utilizing technology ‘for technology’s sake’, and I believe when you look at studies that show how teachers are not utilizing much of the technology that schools have purchased, you might find that perhaps those technologies are somehow lacking in authenticity of process.

For an English teacher, it’s easy to list the main uses of technology: word processing and Internet access that is needed for research papers. Last year, my then-school library was particularly lacking, so the Internet provided access to scholarly articles that students couldn’t otherwise access.  Likewise, Microsoft Office or Google Document skills that are acquired as they compile and organize their research mirrors life in college or the work force.
Technology is also a great way to build context for students.  In teaching American literature last year, and introducing various perspectives, I found that it is still difficult for students who might have never traveled outside of this area of Virginia, to picture what is being discussed in the text, or how the world might have impacted what is being presented.  Images, videos, and other resources (including simple things such as online maps) allow the student to more easily relate to the author’s viewpoint and perspective.
Finally, technology is often a tool that fosters parent communication, and in teaching the ‘whole’ child, this is wonderful.  I use a website called Remind.com for my students, and often have parents text me through the program to chat about important information, or ask for assistance while they help their child understand difficult topics.  Last year, I moderated a class Twitter feed, and whereas students did not utilize it during class time because the platform was ‘banned’ at school, they did sometimes discuss after hours; it’s always exciting to see a ‘quiet’ student share their insight in this way.

Dewey’s Influence on Education

Dewey’s profound influence on education is readily apparent.  What sets him apart from traditional education of the time is the focus on a student’s everyday experience.  This relates to ‘modernist’ thinking of the 1920s and 1930s, which broke free from traditional structures and sought to find meaning in the ordinary (i.e. famous writers such as William Carlos Williams).  It was Pestalozzi who championed ‘learning by doing’, and Froebel who discussed the ‘importance of play’, but Dewey combined these philosophies into a child-centered approach that emphasized the student’s natural proclivities.
Gutek (2011) suggests that ‘in the twenty-first century, Dewey’s emphases on social intelligence and community has again elicited a favorable response’ and his ideas of education based on experience ‘is being reasserted by some educational policymakers’ (p 364).  Dewey’s ideas concerning ‘inquiry methods’, the ‘need for process-based learning activities’, and the utilization of ‘authentic assessment’ would be applauded by any educator utilizing higher-order thinking skills in the classroom.
I often think the shift in the teaching of vocabulary when I consider how instructional processes have shifted from the traditional to today.  Even during my student teaching, students would learn vocabulary by utilizing a workbook which presented them with a list of words to memorize and definitions to regurgitate at the end of the week.  Now, our standards call for us to teach vocabulary acquisition through context-clue strategies in authentic texts.  The long-term benefits of this are astounding.  When students connect a word to prior knowledge or some other experiential context, they retain the connection.  Likewise, in situations where they encounter an unfamiliar word, they have supports in place to help them utilize critical thinking to determine the meaning without a dictionary or other crutch.  Dewey would applaud the emphasis of building vocabulary through personal connection.  This makes perfect sense when you consider the ways in which a toddler acquires vocabulary: connecting words to objects that they encounter every day.

Gutek, G. L. (2011). Historical and philosophical foundations of education: A biographical introduction. Boston, MA: Pearson.

Philosophers + Contemporary Issues

For a Matrix detailing viewpoints of educational philosophers (Wollstonecraft, Froebel, Addams, Du Bois) and current contemporary fit, click HERE

 

 

Addams: Seek a Pluralistic Society

Gutek (2013) explains that Jane Addams was ‘not a revolutionary who wanted a radical transformation of the fundamental political, social, and educational institutions of the United States’. Instead, she was a progressive who sought social collaboration. She recognized that our ‘once-agrarian’ nation was undergoing industrialization, urbanization, and becoming a global technological society. Addam’s developed a strategy to ‘guide teachers who seek to work for a larger, more pluralistic and peaceful world community.’ (Gutek, 2013)

In my first education job, I worked for a rural community that faced many social, economic, and cultural issues. Racial inequity was at the forefront of our conversations in faculty meetings, student forums, and professional development discussions. Without much in the way of local industry or employment opportunities, most students relied on public assistance (including that which the school provides, such as free and subsidized meals and transportation) to survive. Technology was lacking, and the learning curve was steep when it was available; home internet access was not available for much of the population.

Jane Addams began to address some of these issues with sensitivity and inclusion. She encouraged public schools to appreciate the ‘history, culture, traditions, and arts and crafts of immigrants’ native countries’ (Gutek, 2013, p 339). As a school, we strive to build a climate of cultural competency, ensuring that all students feel safe and welcome in the building, and understand that they are a vital part of the school’s success and bring unique perspectives and experiences to the learning environment. In my classroom, not only do I encourage progressive discussion, but I attempt to ensure that all cultures are represented in the works that we read – both historical and in more relevant non-fiction. I build real-world examples into the curriculum to ensure students explore the interconnectedness of our nation, and seek consistency and equity in their personal relationships as they grow into pre-adulthood.

Mary Wollstonecraft similarly teaches us about the importance of equity, with a focus on gender equity (Gutek, 2013). As educators, we must not give credence to a false sense of academic inequity between the sexes. We must also encourage equal exploration of subjects regardless of gender. Female students have the same right to participate in math, science, and vocational studies as male students do to enroll in home economics courses, choral showcases, and ‘female’ sports such as color guard or cheerleading.

Continuing this philosophical trend, W. E. B. Du Bois championed equal educational opportunities for African Americans. Even today, minority students often come from disadvantaged and disenfranchised communities. Not only should they receive equal opportunities within a classroom that celebrates their heritage, educators should encourage students to pursue advanced educational opportunities. I strive to learn about the personal goals of each of my students, and discuss with them a method for achieving those goals, or formulating a path to success. Too often, students come from homes where college or particular job options are not seen as viable, and it might be that a question from an educator is what it takes to allow a student to succeed. W. E. B. Du Bois challenged Booker T. Washington’s notion that agricultural education was ‘better suited’ to African Americans in the South (Gutek, 2013). We, too, should question stereotypes and teach our students how to break through glass ceilings and other barriers that they encounter.

As for Froebel, his emphasis may have been on early childhood education, particularly kindergarten, but his idea that all children should be allowed to ‘develop according to their needs’ (Gutek, 2013, p 281) relates to all levels of the curriculum. This speaks to both individualized learning and differentiation, particularly content differentiation by readiness. Educators can also relate this to the importance of developmental or emotional relevancy in the classroom, just as Addams might consider cultural relevancy.

All of these philosophers championed the individual, regardless of social perceptions associated with their situation: race, gender, nationality, developmental age. As educators, we too should focus on ‘Every child, every day’ and ensure that no one falls through the proverbial crack.

 

Gutek, G. L. (2013). Historical and philosophical foundations of education: A biographical introduction. Boston, MA: Pearson.

Service-Oriented Education

I believe that there is definite value in service-oriented education, for it is part of educating the ‘whole’ individual.  A study by Astin, et al., followed college students who participated in service-learning, to determine how it affected them, and ‘why’ it affected the students.  The results were very promising.  The study analyzed 11 different performance measures, including academic performance, values, self-efficacy, leadership, choice of a service career, and plans to participate in service after college.  The results showed that service learning ‘adds significantly to the benefits associated with community service for all outcomes except interpersonal skills, self-efficacy and leadership’.

One observation of the study is that service learning is most beneficial when students are able to discuss and analyze the service project after completion.  I believe this is what truly sets apart ‘service learning’ and ‘community service’.  In college, when students participated in popular Habitat for Humanity trips or Alternative Spring Breaks, they would be required to meet as a cohort for roundtables after they returned, and publish a presentation for a group of professors or deans.  Many people initially saw this as an obstacle to ‘weed-out’ prospects who were looking for a budget-friendly trip without service-oriented convictions, but examining this requirement through the lens of an educator, it is a profoundly sound approach to allow the student to truly reap the maximum benefits of the experience.
This is certainly a strong argument for providing structured opportunities for students (versus merely suggesting students seek opportunities to enrich their high school resumes), because only through that intentional design are students guaranteed opportunities for self-reflection, learning through dialogue, and relating it back to academic goals.  Of course, the best experience are those that truly are viewed as relevant from the start, for initial enthusiasm sets the project on the path to success from the get-go.

Astin, A. W., Vogelgesang, L. J., Ikeda, E. K., & Yen, J. A. (2000, January).  How Service Learning Affects Students.  Retrieved April 7, 2016, from http://heri.ucla.edu/pdfs/hslas.pdf

Gender Bias in Education

Gutek (2011) explains that Mary Wollstonecraft lived in a time where women had no political rights (read: citizenship rights – owning property, controlling her income, serving as a legal guardian to her own children).  Wollstonecraft ‘struggled against the pervasive conventions that ascribed women’s social role as subordinate in a patriarchal, male-dominated society.’  I believe we can agree that we have made significant steps on the legality front for women – we can vote, own property, have a personal bank account, are protected by marital/divorce laws, and are overwhelmingly allowed custody of children in court.
From an educational standpoint, Wollstonecraft was disgruntled with an educational system that was divided by ‘appropriateness: a particular kind of education was designed to prepare a person to discharge one’s specific station in life.’ (Gutek, 2011, p 204)  Higher education and professions were closed to women, whose ‘glass ceiling’ alternative to being a homemaker was to serve as a teacher….of small children.  Women were not even teaching in the upper grade levels.  Thankfully, women are now given equal opportunities to attend college, even becoming doctors, professors, lawyers, engineers – thanks to the initial seeds of feminism planted by Wollstonecraft in her writings and through her advocacy.
However, despite this increase in the quality of equality (and foregoing the popular debates of true pay equality, frequency of women holding the highest offices in both business and politics, etc) we can still see a disparity in how the world views the duties of the domestic sphere.  Many women still choose to stay at home, which is a fine and noble pursuit.  (After all, Wollstonecraft was focused on the opening of human possibilities, and the right of choice, an alternative to ‘blind-obedience’ and not a diatribe against the feminine perspective.)  What is striking is that women who choose careers often complete domestic duties at home in addition to their professional endeavors.  What is frightening is that society might place even less value today on these ‘traditional’ roles and obligations, which in some sense devalues the worth of women and creates even more gender bias.  Instead of perceiving the woman who can ‘have it all’ as a somewhat unattainable ideal, we are producing women who ‘must’ do-it-all, often thanklessly.  Perhaps instead of equal standing, this is putting an added burden on females.  I liken this somewhat to the disparity between vocationally tracked students and college-bound students; often the first is seen as inferior, despite the important role skilled work plays as a necessary part of our everyday survival.
I like what Maisie Williams (Arya Stark, Game of Thrones) said in an interview last spring (I apologize for lack of formal reference).  To paraphrase, she believes that to truly reach gender equality, we must stop identifying as ‘feminists’ and instead recognize that anyone who does not believe in equal rights is simply a ‘sexist’.  Through labeling the negative, we better identify what must be fixed.

Gutek, G.L. (2011). Historical and philosophical foundations of education: A biographical introduction. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

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