Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Custodial care is a shaky justification for schools

When I think about why children should come to school, I need a good answer. John Merrow, a talented, passionate education journalist, recently pointed out the dilemma that haunts, frustrates, and seemingly bedevils those of us who care about public education. 

"Parents used to send kids to school because that's where the knowledge was.
They were also interested in socialization and custodial care.
That's all changed.
And it's not clear schools have responded as briskly as they should have.
Today knowledge is everywhere with the internet.
We have apps for socialization.
And custodial care is a shaky justification for schools. 
Educators need to find their way in this new world."

If it was ever true, schools can no longer can say that we have access to knowledge that students do not have.

If was ever true, schools can no longer say that the only place to socialize with other children is at school.

So why then should parents willingly send their children to our public schools? Why should children willingly and eagerly attend our public schools?

These are questions that those of us who believe in and care for public schools must answer - and answer well.

Here's are two answers.

We send children to our public schools because we believe what James Comer, the Maurice Falk Professor of Child Psychiatry at Yale University, said:

No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship.

Public schools, the schools in our community with the students from our neighborhoods, create bonds that allow learning to take place. The time spent in classrooms allows students and teachers to build a community of trust and acceptance. Working side-by-side for days and weeks allows students to build friendships, learn to ask questions, take time to share wrong answers, fail, try again, and discover right answers.

Shawn Achor, a gifted writer on happiness, argues that our brains are designed to understand and connect to others. The real measure of students' knowledge is not what they know as individuals but what they can build with others in a classroom. The deeper our social connections the more our brains will function at a higher capacity.

So why should we believe in public schools? Because the power of the community that is built within the walls of the school can and will improve the ability of students to learn. The relationships that we build with and between students and teachers allows students to think more clearly, understand more deeply, and apply learning more concretely. 

School is also a place where I found adults - other than my family - who cared deeply for me. I knew my mother and father, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles cared deeply for me. But, outside of my family, did I matter?

I found that answer in school. Through the care and comfort and courage and challenge of Miss Harriger in 2nd grade, Miss Hixenbaugh in 4th grade, Mr. Robbins in 6th grade, Ms. Zellner in 7th grade, Coach Braig in high school, Ms. Ely in 10th grade, and many others, I found myself. A child who was not at home in school, who felt left out because of physical handicaps, who was painfully shy, found adults in school who not only taught me the curriculum but made me feel like it was important that I learn. In school I found adults who championed me. 

These adults did not forget me or humiliate me. These adults cared for who I was and helped me see whom I could become. 

So why should we believe in public schools? Because kind, generous, positive adults enable all children - the shy, forgotten, lonely children and the engaging, outgoing, confident children and all those children in between - to begin to believe that a bright future is possible. 

Mr. Merrow is right - custodial care is a shaky justification for schools.

My justification for schools is that the power of the school community of learners improves and deepens learning.

My justification for schools is that adults help students learn not only about the curriculum but about themselves and their potential.

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