The Journey is Long, The Road Hard, The Goal Worthy

Building a Movement for Creativity and Collaborative Learning

In the 21st Century

Michael Peterson


Creating Schooling For An Inclusive Multi-Cultural Society

This book asks a critical question: “How can we harness the capacity of people to work together, to use human creativity to create learning that will lead towards an inclusive, multicultural society?” It is one of our most important questions for the 21st Century. 

When we talk about education, about schooling, we have some very fundamental questions to first ask, questions that affect any and everything else we do. Questions like: 

Why do people go to school? What is the real purpose? 

Who is school for? Who goes to school together? Who gets separated and why? 

How do we do schooling (a broader term and concept than ‘teaching’)? What does it look like? 

It is clear that schools will look very different depending upon their social purpose. Schools have served many, often conflicting purposes – the national acculturation of immigrants, preparation of the elite for their ‘proper role’ in society, teaching technical skills to the working class, sorting who belongs in what role. Schools were also supposed to help solve great social problems, poverty, violence, social unrest. At their idealist best, many had hopes that schools would be tools of a new, strong democratic culture, a view best known in the works of John Dewey. 

The purpose of schooling, of course, depends upon our image of the type of society for which schools prepare young people. At the beginning of the 21st Century, we are in the midst of fundamental social decisions – whether we move towards great democracy, inclusion, and equality or more towards autocracy, segregation, and inequality. Virtually every political conflict can be framed in these terms. Schools are critical conflicted territory in this struggle as it is in schools that children will learn to either be obedient to the existing social order or thoughtful, creative actors who help analyze and shape the world in which we live. 

At the present time, major shifts are underway that lead us towards inequality and autocracy. Consequently, it is not surprising to see policy initiatives all over the world which move schools away democracy, away from teaching children skills to analyze and change their social situations through political advocacy, away from engagement in real thought. We see increases in . . 

1.Rigid, narrow teaching – phonics only (follow the rules and you can read all you need to know), textbooks, the ‘bunch of facts’ curriculum (rather than real thinking and questioning). 

2.Standardization of the curriculum and assessment -- focus on ‘knowing the facts’, thinking technically but not critically, being able to answer questions, sorting kids, schools, and communities by those who know and those who don’t. 

3.Segregation – by race, class, culture, language, ability, behavior. We have an amazing array of mechanisms to sort children so we can easily see who is the ‘best and brightest’ and who is to be avoided. Special education classes and schools, alternative schools, classes for ‘gifted’ students assure that we don’t build a real, diverse community where people support one another and critically question interests that seek to divide people. 

4.Autocratic rule. We say we live in a democracy and most schools say their purpose is to create democratic citizens. However, most schools operate with a top-down, autocratic rule that makes a mockery of these claims. 

We are, however, the makers of our social world. Collaboration which brings people together under a joined vision of a caring, inclusive, democratic community has power. Creativity which will allow us to use our resources and energy holds great promise. We hold in our hand more than we know. So, we have choices.

Text Box: THE FIVE PRINCIPLES OF WHOLE SCHOOLING1.Empower citizens in a democracy: The goal of education is to help students learn to function as effective citizens in a democracy.2.Include all. All children learn together across culture, ethnicity, language, ability, gender & age.3.Authentic, multi-level teaching for learners of diverse abilities. Teachers design instruction for diverse learners that engages them in active learning in meaningful, real-world activities; develop accommodations and adaptations for learners with diverse needs, interests, and abilities.4.Build community & support learning. The school uses specialized school and community resources (special education, title I, gifted education) to build support for students, parents, and teachers. All work together to build community and mutual support within the classroom and school; provide proactive supports for students with behavioral challenges.5.Partner with families and the community.  Educators build genuine collaboration within the school and with families and the community; engage the school in strengthening the community; and provide guidance to engage students, parents, teachers, and others in decision-making and direction of learning & school activities.WHAT MUST BE DONE?

Whole Schooling As A Framework For People Centered Schools.

While we must fight against injustice and bad policy, we first and foremost need a vision of the type of society and schools that we seek, a vision that can be understood and embraced by many people, a vision that can serve as a practical alternative to more controlling, segregating, disempowering visions of community and school, a vision that can guide both policy, practice, and political advocacy.

Towards this end, in 1997, I and several colleagues developed an alternative vision for schools based on what we have come to call the Five Principles of Whole Schooling. We drew from and built on the experiences of progressive school reform organizations, particularly Accelerated Schools, Comer’s School Development Program, Howard Gardner’s Project Zero, and Sizer’s Coalition for Essential Schools. Like the developers of these programs we were concerned with the lack of engaged teaching, the failure of schooling for students in poverty, the need to better support families and connect schools with their communities, the need to support teachers in being real learners and decision-makers in the school as partners with parents. However, we were also concerned about the lack of explicit attention to two major additional dimensions of schooling: (1) the ongoing segregation of students with different learning styles and abilities into special programs for students with disabilities, at risk, gifted, limited English speaking and (2) the lack of attention to the social and political context of schooling – the increasing inequality in schools and communities, pressures for standardized testing that separate students, families, and whole communities by race, socio-economic status, and ability. Collectively, the Five Principles of Whole Schooling describe a culture of a school that seeks to be a place of care, belonging, human growth, a place where community is experienced, a place where preparation for an inclusive democracy, communities where people of different color, culture, ability, and wealth are welcomed as partners, is the central thrust. 


Bridges To Be Built, Connections To Be Made

Since our articulation of these principles in 1997, we’ve been amazed at the degree of response we’ve had. We’ve struck a chord of need we believe and have provided a framework that serves many purposes, one of them being to unite people who have different beginning points in seeking to build inclusive, democratic communities and schools. Seeking to build such ‘whole schools’ challenges much, as one parent recently said to me, “You are seeking to shake up everything”. 

Many people are engaged in work and struggle related to at least one important issue embodied in the Five Principles of Whole Schooling. Parents and teachers concerned about the segregation of children with disabilities have been building a movement towards inclusive education. A growing number of courageous teachers and parents are challenging the rampant growth of high stakes standardized testing that links scores on dubious examinations to the future of children, the funding of schools, teacher’s salaries, and real estate prices. People of color and other ‘minority’ groups have long fought for recognition and respect for different cultures and ethnic groups, learning across languages. Whole language teachers have built an international movement dedicated to supportive freedom, choice, and empowerment in the learning process. 

Yet, people do not adequately see how intimately and inextricably connected are these issues. As the stories above and our ongoing research indicate, engaged teaching, authentic assessment, community, inclusion, and democracy are wedded to one another. As those pushing narrow teaching, standardized tests, control of children, segregation, and autocracy have created a multi-dimensional, integrated onslaught, so we too must understand that, at their root, all these issues are connected to a common core – a vision of more caring communities and schools that will support that vision. We must see connections if we are to build such schools. We must join together. We must act together. 


Schooling For An Inclusive Democracy

To move the direction we want, we don’t have much choice than to build a community for change with people whose position, role, starting interests are different than our own. Parker Palmer in The Courage to Teach describes our coming together as a major decision, a decision to no longer be alone, a decision to make a difference. Coming together to build a community for change, where people care for and support one another and commit to engaging in change efforts is difficult. Building a community goes against the many trends in our culture that separate and segment. Building a community for change, by definition, means that we struggle with power structures, seeking to build a new power base among people in a growing movement. Can this be done? We believe it can. 

In the summer of 2000 a momentus event occurred in Detroit, Michigan. For the first time, some 250 leaders in progressive education came together from all over the United States and two additional countries. What was unique about this event was that it drew together people who represent the many starting places embodied in the principles of Whole Schooling, parents, teachers, professors, consultants, administrators talked and shared about inclusive education, whole language practice and politics, the movement against standardized testing, community service, critical pedagogy. People had the opportunity to begin to understand connections, develop relationships, and talk and strategize about building a movement for change. 

Since it’s inception in 1997, the Whole Schooling Consortium has grown organically, not bureaucratically, providing various methods of involvement that include: 

·Individual initiatives. Members of the Consortium exist as of this writing in 23 states and four countries and have taken action based on the Whole Schooling principles in various activities. 

·Action and learning networks. In some communities, educators, parents, students, university faculty meet together to share, learn, support one another, and take action locally. 

·Schools. Some schools have joined as mentor schools to be studied as part of research and to provide support to other schools in a learning partnership. Other schools have adopted the Five Principles of Whole Schooling as a framework for their school renewal efforts and are working with support partners to develop a process model that can support positive school change. 

·Support organizations. Other organizations include university-based programs that provide support to schools via training, technical assistance, and consultation who have used the Five Principles of Whole Schooling to organize their work in schools. 

Text Box: WHOLE SCHOOLINGIf you are interested in the Whole Schooling Consortium, contact Michael Peterson, more information, go to: work of the Whole Schooling Consortium provides one example of the work described in this book. The work of the present and the future is to build coalitions, have courage and ingenuity to take action, link with other coalitions. We have ideas, knowledge, tools. We have but to harness our inventiveness and capacity for group effort to build a better world and hold back the terrors of the one that threatens to overtake us. 

May we all gather from the wisdom of the authors of this book to begin the journey, gathering fellow travelers for the road. 

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