I too despair at watching my president stoop to schoolyard nastiness.
Why do we expect our democracy to function better than our schoolyard? Because we don’t get what should be going on at school. The schoolyard is prime testing ground for how the kids are coming along in their preparation for democracy. What we see in the schoolyard is what we should expect to see in our government.
ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS FOR SUCCESS
How to resolve differences, how to collaborate, how to get a group to create something of value, how to learn from others! Those all-important “soft, non-cognitive” skills (which everyone now acknowledges are the essential ingredients for success) are highly cognitive and the bedrock of a being a successful learner. They are also the foundation of a successful family, company, government and citizenry.
Although good educators have always known this, schools have not often practiced it. The schoolyard is the ideal place to learn these skills. What better place than where kids gather to face challenges together under the tutelage of professional educators. If education were simply about increasing knowledge, school is now obviously obsolete. Want to know something? Ask Siri; she knows more than your teacher.
PREPARED FOR DEMOCRACY?
To be prepared for democracy our children need to come out of school understanding that important issues do not have easy answers, that arguing well is the process for addressing them, and that arguing is not about winning but about the mutual learning that is the necessary ingredient in creating something new. To be prepared for democracy, we need all educators to make their classrooms places of interpersonal challenge—lively conversation, cooperative learning groups, buddy programs, collaborative projects that make a difference. To be prepared for democracy, schools must prepare us for the schoolyard.
If we measured what matters in a classroom, we would count the number of student questions, the number of student decisions, the amount of risk-taking, the number of disputes that got resolved creatively. What if, at the end of each day, we counted the number of conflicts that resulted in mutual learning?
If it feels sometimes like the American democratic experiment is failing, it is because school teaches the easy stuff like writing, algebra, scientific thinking and how to program a computer and leaves the really hard stuff to the parents and “the community.” How’s that working for us, David?