The choice before us tomorrow is not so rational as it is cultural, and school culture bears the lion’s share of the responsibility.
When we look beneath the invective that the candidates and the media throw around, and look instead at the America behind the words, two cultures become clearly defined.
Back in the “Father Knows Best” fifties father was always right even if he was a little laughable in the light of mother’s wisdom. Then things changed in the sixties. By 1971 “All in the Family” portrayed father Archie Bunker as a racist, sexist, backward-looking bigot. But the popularity of Archie revealed that now there were two Americas. Many Americans (like me) were happy to make fun of a narrow-minded buffoon, but many thought Archie had a point.
In presidential elections since, we have discovered that there are two kinds of baby-boomers: those who believe that we need collaboration, intellectual freedom and curiosity to “think out of the box,” and those who believe too much free thinking opens a “Pandora’s box” and lets evil into the world.
- Collaborate versus Go it alone?
- Create versus Get it right the first time?
- Generosity versus Look out for number one?
- Is politics best when clashes of different points of view result in creative conflict or when those who are right win?
- Is our economy best when everyone is looking out for himself, or can we do better than that?
- These seem to be the choices.
The revolution that began in the sixties is continuing, and the answers to these questions are even more obvious today than they were 50 years ago. The imperatives to collaborate, create, and contribute are increasingly obvious as required skill sets for human success both individually and collectively.
The need to create is qualifying the pressure to be right. The call to collaborate is moderating solo virtuosity. The imperative to contribute is preempting “take care of yourself.” Self-made, arrogant men are becoming increasingly unpopular as the solitary, autocratic, directive leader becomes more obviously dysfunctional. The surprising popularity of Donald Trump in this presidential race is the rear-guard phenomenon of an obsolete culture.
One of the reasons this revolution has taken so long is that the culture of most schools is obsolete. Efforts to make schooling an education fail not because of standards or curriculum or poverty or parents or privatization or technology or textbooks or money. They certainly don’t fail for want of trying. They fail because of culture.
Culture is the delivery system for education, because whatever the curriculum is, children’s brains are constructing their own content from the context in which the curriculum is delivered. They are minute-by-minute making a mental map of how the world works and how they can make it work. School culture shapes their brains. The context determines what they make of the content.
Therefore, instead of revising “standards” again and again and calling it reform, we must change school culture.
- Instead of doing things to kids and recording their re-actions, what if school were a place for kids to act?
- What if we were to look at students as agents of their own wellbeing?
- What if we acted as if people have an innate need to create?
- What if we acted as if relationships are our business and that working together and being valuable to other people and to society is what kids are born to do.
- What if we were to look not at building self-esteem, but rather what self needs to do to be efficacious?
- What if school were a place where teachers were held accountable for doing what got them into the business in the first place: helping each person in their care make something of themselves?
- Imagine a school where failure, conflict, mistakes and diversity are welcomed as our best learning opportunities.
- Imagine a school where “Builds on other people’s ideas,” “Knows when to lead and when to follow,” “Listens with a willingness to change,” “Uses mistakes as learning opportunities,” are metrics.
In this highly charged environment when fear and anger cause people to make stupid decisions, I would like to respectfully suggest that we look at school culture as the ounce of prevention for making America even greater than it is. Even if all we cared about were the 3R’s, we must teach them in the context of a school culture high in the three C’s: Collaborating, Creating and Contributing.