Monday, October 26, 2009

What is "Schooling?"

“Schooling “ and Learning

If you could create an “ideal” school, what would it look like? Imagine having no constraints in terms of money, space, or program. Where would you build your school? Who would lead it? How many students would be enrolled? What types of learning moments would you want to incorporate? What skills would be at the core of your curriculum?

These questions were posed by Dr. Stephen Brand, an entrepreneurial consultant, as part of a seminar hosted by our Institute for Excellence in Teaching on October 13. The event, which is part of a core course for the associate teachers, was also attended by several administrators and faculty members. The topic for the day was “Schooling in America: Theoretical and Social Context.” Dr. Brand’s questions came toward the end of the day, after we had examined the contributions of many thinkers who have shaped the format and structure of schools in the United States.

We began our seminar with a compelling keynote presentation by Professor William Stokes, interim Dean of the Lesley Graduate School of Education. Dr. Stokes framed his remarks about the nature of educational theory as an ongoing series of debates between “traditional” and “progressive” ideas. He traced several of these debates back more than 500 years, noting that throughout history, schools have been seen as social institutions from which political, philosophical, and even moral principles have emerged. He pointed out the similarities in arguments that have been raised for centuries about the role of schools to train citizens and to shape the thinking of future generations.

Both of our speakers addressed aspects of schooling that are central to the mission of Belmont Day School: the nature of community, the importance of values, and the necessity of presenting curriculum in multiple forms to serve the needs of all learners. Dr. Brand showed a brief video clip, which used dramatic statistics about the almost incomprehensible growth of information in our society. At its core was the message that we are training children for jobs that don’t exist yet. “How do we prepare children for these jobs?” Dr. Brand asked. In our discussion about these challenges, we focused on the critical need for educators to guide students in the process of learning; teaching them how to learn, and how to develop skills to respond to the changing needs of our world. The curricular stories that we present in this column each week are our responses to some of Dr. Brand’s questions. They are examples of teaching methods that address advanced thinking skills, and which provide opportunities for our students to engage in the type of learning that will serve them well in the future.

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