One size does not fit all in public education

Like so many people my age I’m tired of seeing everyone on the street glued to their cell phones.  But the amazing thing about this trend of staring into glass rectangles is that if you could see what individuals were looking at odds are no two would be viewing the same thing.

We all have different interests and are motivated by different experiences.  This is the exactly the point U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has been making on a “Rethinking Schools” tour she has been on for the last seven days in six states.  In Wyoming, at the beginning of her visits, she highlighted this concept, as explained by the Washington Post’s David Von Drehle:

“Most students are starting a new school year this is all too familiar.  Desks lined up in rows.  Their teacher standing in front of the room, framed by a blackboard.  They dive into a curriculum written for the ‘average’ student.  They follow the same schedule, the same routine – just waiting to be saved by the bell.  It’s a mundane malaise that dampens dreams, dims horizons and denies futures.”

In a beautifully written piece, Mr. Von Drehle describes Secretary DeVos’s time at Kansas City Academy, a six through twelfth grade private school with 76 students.  This is not exactly the type of institution where you would expect to find Ms. DeVos.  As the Post writer observes, the school’s “heavy emphasis on the arts, the environment and social justice makes it an attractive option for progressive families.  School lunches are farm-to-table.”

Protesters joined Ms. DeVos for her visit.  Supporters of the school were aghast that she stopped by.  A student who recently graduated from City Academy said she was “scared of someone coming into the school who disagrees with just about everything they believe.”  This same former pupil went on to indicate that bathrooms at the academy are “trans-friendly.”

Now I will allow Mr. Von Drehle to tell the rest of the story:

“But as she pinched out a clay pot in the ceramics room and whipped up a veggie burger in the culinary room, DeVos was a living reminder that people who disagree about some things don’t have to disagree on everything.  DeVos agrees passionately with one of the founding concepts of Kansas City Academy and the other schools around the country that practice ‘Expeditionary Learning.’   That is:  Not all students learn in the same way or thrive in the same settings.  This realization has sparked innovation in schools over the past generation.  But it does pose obvious challenges to traditional public schools that group students by geographical boundaries rather than individual needs. . .

DeVos finished her 90-minute visit by answering questions from students in government class, where she made a warm impression on students who had found her mean and forbidding on YouTube.  [Tiger] Baker [a senior at Kansas City Academy] said that ‘she was personally nice, respectful – kind of a mom thing.  I loved being able to talk to her personally.’  When asked by the secretary why she chose his school to visit, DeVos replied that she admired the school’s approach to nurturing individuality.”

If we are to finally close the academic achievement gap and bring children living in poverty up to the same scholarly level as affluent families we are going to have to drastically change the way we having been teaching our kids in the past.  This is the point of Ms. DeVos’ trip to Kansas City Academy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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