If you want to change your classroom, you need to plan backwards from the foundation of what you want to accomplish. If we are going to change schools, we have to ground what we do in a philosophy that is meaningful and practical, one that we can all agree on.
The basis for everything you will read in this book is simply this:
The purpose of school is to prepare students to
live fulfilling and productive lives.
There. How can anyone argue with that?
If we take this statement seriously, if it becomes the foundation of our conversations about how to make school better, it will lead us in new and better directions. It is the philosophical bedrock that informs every decision and reshapes everything that we do.
You’ll notice this statement is about students. There is no mention of how rigorous the curriculum should be or how high the scores on standardized tests should be. Rather, we start by focussing on the people for whom the school was built. Let’s call this the Student Agency Model of education.
The first thing our new purpose requires us to ask is this: What does a person who is well-prepared for life look like? What are the core skills and knowledge she must master to be able to enter and navigate the world? What is the role of school in guiding each student? Furthermore, in a world in which no one can predict what jobs will exist even in the near future, how can school prepare her for the workplace she will be entering?
To answer these questions, we must recognize that who our students become in school is as important as what they know. Attributes like self-directedness, creativity, tenacity, and the ability to work well with others are critically important in achieving success and happiness in the world they are entering. We must therefore seriously consider how their education shapes them as people, how it affects their character.
Redefining the purpose of school in this way affects every aspect of the classroom. We must rethink our curriculum to ensure that it is preparing our students to live life well. (Much more on that later). Beyond shaping what we teach, our new definition has serious ramifications for how we teach. It affects the roles and the working relationships of teachers and students. It alters the way we think about basic classroom structures, like homework, group work, testing, and grades. We have to redesign these structures so that they prepare students to be self-sufficient in life, to be responsible citizens.
First, we have to recognize the entrenched habits of mind and classroom structures that will be impediments to the change we are seeking.