Monday, November 23, 2009

In Praise of Elinor Ostrom

Does public education have to morph into more of a distributed rather than centralized system in order to become truly representative of the "public"? I have always thought so. But, how to make the case without seeming to overlook those who will be elbowed out? Recently, to my delight, my faith in the unconditional wisdom of everyone was scientifically and economically validated when  Elinor Ostrom won a Nobel for her "new science of governance for a new age" by applying  the "practical economics" ("A Nobel for Practical Economics" of voluntary associations and communal ownership to protecting the shared common good. I apply her logic to education.

No. Ms. Ostrom doesn't mention education per se. But, given that an exuberant, well-loved, and healthy childhood is a common good that deserves shared protection, allow me to make the leap from the governance of our shared natural resources like fisheries and grazing grounds to the governance of our shared human capital like teachers, parents and students.

Ms. Ostrom's research finds that natural resources and the common good are best protected by local, knowledgeable, voluntary associations with rules designed by enlightened locals to fit a "local ecology".  Distant, publicly regulated entities or privately owned for-profit markets do NOT protect the shared common good better than local enlightened and invested associations. Ms. Ostrom's work lays to rest "the tragedy of the commons", the long-held justification for distant authorities to regulate locals for the sake of the common good because, so the theory goes, locals can't be trusted to protect the common good due to greed, politics and ignorance. Hmm.

The opposite turns out to be true.  Locals actually are BEST at protecting the common good because local knowledge leads to rules that make sense and work for local conditions.

The solutions proposed by the WSJ education task-force assume the opposite of Elinor Ostrom's conclusions. The CEO's of the WSJ education task-force assume that the social and moral responsibility for the public education system rests solely with government and business. No teacher, parent or student is on the task-force.  The only references to teachers, parents and students are as distant, problem-persons to be "rewarded", "denied", "removed", "educated about consequences", and "mobilized". The overriding belief of the moderator and the task-force appears to be that government and business are wiser, more responsible and more innovative and productive than the single teacher, parent or student.

This is not true. Government and business are NOT wiser, more moral and more entrepreneurial that the single individual teacher, parent or student. The single individual is at least as, if not more so, wise, moral and entrepreneurial than government-regulated authorities and privately-owned markets. Systems, in modern times, have to be designed around trusting the individual, not to make the individual dependent on a system.

Looking through the lens of Ms. Ostrom's research that small & local is wisest, more moral and more protective and entreprneurial, we see that the WSJ moderator and task-force solutions assume "the tragedy of the commons". Our current education system thinking assumes that the single, individual teacher, parent or student are lazy unless prodded with "high expectations" and matching rewards and punishments made up by distant authorities.

Applying Ms. Ostrom's research, I invite the WSJ task-force to consider five alternative recommentations.

An Educated I N D I V I D U A L: The Top Five Alternative Recommendations

1. INDIVIDUALIZING EDUCATION IS OUR TOP PRIORITY. Given that 25 years of standardized. "outcomes-based" education has given the nation and business "alot of subprime ... human capital", "dismal graduation rates", "teachers bailing out of the profession", "parents frantic", "student performance [that] pales next to competition abroad", and "business [that] can't find the talent it needs in the work force that our education system produces" let us stop and think about policies to support small, local enlightened associations of teachers, parents and students instead doubling down on more of this obviously failing strategy. If what's working are small, "pockets of excellence" then let us create a system that encourages a network of many small pockets of excellence.

2. LOCAL COUNCILS OF ENLIGHTENED INDIVIDUALS. Invest resources in cultivating local wisdom, social responsibility and entrepreneurship.  The charter movement is a perfect example.  One law allowed for many flowers to bloom and then it began self-organzing.  The only hold-up is distant regulators creating bottle necks and stalling improvisation. When Districts start to support schools, rather than schools propping up Districts, change will be here.

3. CREATE EFFECTIVE SCHOOLS OF EDUCATION.  Invest in the input and you have to invest less in crying over the output. Schools of education need to tie research into children's cognitive, emotional and physical development into how to teach and what to teach and when to teach it.  Working with the child, rather than against the child, will prove to be the magic bullet. Schools of education ought to connect with schools to create feedback loop of ongoing learning and experimentation between teacher education and teacher classroom experience.

4. TRANSFER OWNERSHIP OF EDUCATION FROM GOVERNMENT AND BUSINESS TO SCHOOLS OF EDUCATION & WORLD-CLASS CORPS OF TEACHING PROFESSIONALS. As long as distant authorities treat teachers, parents and students as threats to the shared intellectual commons, this will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Business has demonstrated these last 25 years or so that flattening the governance and trusting in the brilliance of the individual makes the business smarter and faster and more fun.  And it makes the trusted person actually brighter! Instead of going backward and dreaming up more layers of regulation, let business ring the bell for a local, distributed network of entrepreneurial and self-organizing networks of teachers, parents and students linked up with universities.  Then we will be a collective, national "learning organization".

5. INITIATIVE TO TELL THE EXTENDED PRE-NATAL - HIGH SCHOOL STORY OF ENLIGHTENED PARENTING. Get IDEO to think of a way to do this. Youtube, social networking, neighborhood meet-ups - Make "Parent For America" part of the "Teach for America" agenda -- brainstorm, brainstorm ... Get IDEO together with Po Bronson' Nurture Shock, Waldorf early-childhood educators, others. Make if fascinating and entertaining like Annie Leonard's "Story of Stuff". 

If government and business continues to make and recomment policies that empower distant authorities over empowering individual persons, we will not only not evolve as a social organism, we will go backwards. Witness this summer's eruption of mental and emotionally-challenged town-hall meetings. From this point forward, we evolve one enlightened person at a time.  We get enlightened by being personally responsible, not just being "held accountable" with carrots and sticks by external and distant authorities.  The days of distant authorities getting between the wisdom of the local parent, child and teacher unit is over.

25 years of Big Standardization, Big Education Industry, Big Union Outcomes-Based Education, RIP.
25 years of Small, Local Personal Responsibility-Based Education, Hello.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Dial back the bubbling machine!

 Ever on the prowl for signs of the times and openings for Waldorf education to be of impact, an FYI:

Edutopia is producing a "webinar" with Linda Darling Hammond next Tuesday on the subject of assessment, "The Race to the Top is on, and it's being driven by the next generation of standards. Learn about how top-performing nations assess student learning and examine its implications for the next generation of U.S. assessments." 

I've signed up for both the morning and afternoon sessions in order to get Linda's latest thinking and her behind-the-scenes perspective on how to proceed with a more human approach to that ol' devil assessment. 

Even though I don't share the exact values expressed in Obama's "Race to the Top" strategy, whatever gets the subject of evaluation on the table is fine with me. Here in Hollywood that's called "I don't care what you say about me, just spell my  name right".  

A move to evaluate for learning and reflection and innovation instead of ONLY for quantitative numbers and statistics, is, I think, central to transforming education around the child and the human spirit.  I believe the sooner Waldorf education counters the prevailing winds with the Waldorf education approach to evaluation and assessment the better. Criticism is not enough. People need concrete ideas to examine and try out.  

And of course, the more of us merging our energies the merrier, so, if you have time to check in on the webinar .... follow the yellow brick road ... 

Rest assured, we in Waldorf education have many like-minded souls looking at a human-centered approach to evaluation: A recent example: At "Sustaining Innovation in Evaluation"  GOOD magazine and the "design thinking" company, IDEO, pair for a "bloginar" on this question. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

3 Game-Changing FACTS about public schools "inspired" by Waldorf education:

Some MYTHS about Waldorf education continue to straggle on ...

By Joan Jaeckel

((1))MYTH: Waldorf education is based on religion or some new age notion of spiritual truth (and did I mention quackery?). FACT: Waldorf education’s curriculum, methods and attitudes are best described as based on objectivity that comports with the most interesting and useful research questions and ideas of our time. Waldorf education is based on evolutionary consciousness, humanly-moral values and social and environmental ecology.

Yes, (shockingly) Waldorf educators like many if not most people who care about people and the planet hold a “spiritual” worldview. Simply means that there are things going on in the universe that affect us, which we account for, even if we don’t (yet) fully understand how it all works or why. Not afraid to say this since, obviously, concepts like “ideas”, “morality” and ”ecology” are not material objects but words for spiritual concepts. Heck, even gravity is an invisible force which we don’t understand. How does consciousness work? Cognitive scientists want to know. Let’s not pretend in our schools that all the questions have been settled once and for all by either traditional religion or traditional science.

As a matter of fact the process of being “educated” is inner development. Even when we try our damndest to pull the education rabbit out of the Scranton hat we know we’re only fooling ourselves. The real deal is invisible.

Furthermore, the institution of public education itself is based on a spiritual worldview. Public education holds the spiritual worldview that every child has the right to an education. Waldorf education holds this same worldview. In a nutshell, the contribution that Waldorf education wishes to make to 21st Century learning could be described like this:

“We hold this truth to be self-evident that every child is a mysterious and unique individual hell-bent on manifesting the gift he or she wishes to give to the world. Education’s job is to help him or her know that this is so, to find it, and to acquire the mental discipline, the social-emotional sensitivity and the practical skill-sets to become fit to be it, live it, give it”.  

Scarrreeeee. Really?  

((2))MYTH: Waldorf education violates the principle of separation of church and state, when it is practiced in public schools, because its spiritual world view of evolutionary consciousness, humanly-moral values and social and environmental ecology interweave every lesson. FACT: And this is bad, why? U.S. institutions, ideally, embody a spiritual worldview or truths. Our spiritual worldview or truths include “all men [humans] are created equal” and the “right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. The principles of freedom, democracy and equality interweave all of our U.S. institutions. Despite this spiritual worldview we continue to consider ourselves a secular society. As a matter of fact these spiritual truths are so fragile and evaporative that they don’t even really exist at all … except in practice. We do freedom, do democracy, do equality.

With the claim, “these truths are self-evident”, America took an objective, moral and evolutionary stance about the value and dignity of human existence, human life and human aspiration.  These are “spiritual” truths, a spiritual worldview, because they were not discovered in a lab using the traditional scientific method.  No one sat in a bathtub, noticed his ass displacing water and yelled “Eureka!”  These spiritual truths became suddenly obvious.  It simply occurred to a critical mass of humans one fine day that “we hold these truths of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to be self-evident”. Self-evident = obvious, “proof” not possible. No one can convince you of their truthfulness and reality.  You either see it or you don’t. If we wish, we could say that Steiner had his eureka moment when he realized that every human has the capacity for a Eureka moment. Everyone can expand their mind, develop an inner moral compass, and live to give their gift - regardless of their social station in life.

Our current victories and crises are all victories and crises of the spirit. Human beings possess the capacity to evolve through personal inner spiritual effort. Best of all, anyone can do it and it costs nothing. Waldorf education proposes that having an inner life going on in your head is simply human and not religious any more than “the pursuit of happiness” is religious. Viewing each student as a gift to unwrap rather than a problem to solve is the educational magic wand we have been looking for these 25 years since “A Nation At Risk”.  Committing to personal inner development of our innate human intelligence is Waldorf’s big eureka-moment idea. Scientists call it neuroplasticity. Is that so wrong?

((3))MYTH:  Steiner’s so-called “spiritual science” is an oxymoron and his anthroposophy is a cult.  FACT: Describing what he does, Rudolf Steiner repeatedly said “I don’t teach. I relate what I have inwardly experienced”. He called his process of investigation “spiritual science” because he used the invisible tools of thinking, imagination, inspiration and intuition to explore the invisible properties of reality. That’s all Steiner’s anthroposophy is. Him bad. No wonder Steiner so admired Albert Einstein (that very very bad religious nut) and his theory of relativity which equates invisible energy with visible matter. 

From this perspective, every human being who thinks, who has feelings, and who does stuff is a spiritual scientist – especially if we stop and look back at moral consequences. That’s not religiosity. It’s being responsible.  Waldorf education is part of a larger societal evolution towards “stumbling on happiness” and living “lifestyles of health and sustainability”.

We have safely landed in supra-consciousness land. The story of human moral aspiration and the story of material evolution have met up. It is no longer controversial to see science and spirituality skipping down humanity’s ongoing quest for meaning and knowledge together. It’s time our educational system mirrors this relationship. We need an educational HYBRID that allows the smarts of both science and life's mysteries to co-exist and co-evolve. Given that public education has given all children a right to an education, how will we shift public education in modern times to give all children a meaningful education?  That is THE question.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The other "climate change"

You can't fool the kids. The next big shift for the educational system is emotional climate change in schools.

The psychological weather in children's schools and classrooms needs to move from an atmosphere of competition to an atmosphere of collaboration. Have we forgotten that kids pick up on the emotional climate between adults? Mitchell Landsberg in "Birmingham High Goes Charter" writes that students, when asked by their victorious principal on the first day of their school re-opening as an independent charter school, "are you guys excited?", responded with "No!". A clue to their seemingly ungrateful and oblivious behaviour lies, I think, in the school climate adults created during the transition: Mr. Landsberg reports adults saying things like, "offended by accusations", "it hurts", "losing my best friends, and I would feel uncomfortable talking to them now", and "[what drove me out was] the quality of the people ... in this school". Just like kids pick up on bickering at home, students pick up on bickering at school. Ironically, the piece is illustrated with an image of two students embracing, obviously excited about each other. No climate change needed! The school climate will change when "unions" make allowances for choice and "reformers" make allowances for children, teachers and parents . The students are always right on.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

J O A N . J A E C K E L and E R I C . U T N E Calling for the Transformation of Education Through Developmentally-Intelligent Design THE 4 TRENDS

Guest Editorial Reprinted from GREEN MONEY JOURNAL winter08/09

In this issue we're making the case that, society-wide, things are getting better because of four positive education macro-trends
  • Holism 
  • Inner Growth 
  • Civil Society, and 
  • The Learning Organization
Even our highly industrialized and regimented educational system which standardizes, alienates and instills helplessness in students, is being transformed into one that instead protects and nurtures children's growing minds.

In our view, we're not just at a crisis point; we're at a threshold of opportunity. 

There's no one to blame, no good old days to go back to, nothing to fix or save. Why would we want to fix or save a Model T? The old educational paradigm was revolutionary in its time and today, not so much. 

The 15 Inspired Educational Transformers in this special issue of GreenMoney Journal describe the first steps to a new, civilized educational paradigm-a shift away from systematically making children feel that there is something wrong with them towards a culture of developmentally intelligent learning. 

We question the outdated industrial-age framing of education as a commodity-pretending that minds are empty vessels to be filled and measured, rather than fires to be ignited (see articles by Arthur Zajonc and Betty Staley). 

The paradigm is shifting. New, flexible, self-organizing approaches to learning run less on rigidity and more on plasticity (like our "neuroplastic" brains say Linda Lantieri and Jane Healy). These new approaches can be recognized and evaluated without invoking "rigor" (as in "knuckle crunching," "tough," and "mortis") Deborah Meier and Ingrid O'Brien suggest. Plasticizing experiences like the arts (Gayle Davis), nature (Richard Louv) and working with animals (William Crain) train our minds to think clearly and flexibly, while seeing with wondering eyes and compassionate hearts. 

We noticed that the four positive education macro-trends correspond to the four positive cultural macro-trends which account for the Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) sector: being Green, socially responsible business, investment and philanthropy, meditation and contemplation (with neuro-scientifically proven benefits!), and conscientious individuals as a new sector, "the cultural sector" or "civil society." The conscientious educator takes the social change lead (see articles by Ron Miller and Ocean Robbins). 

A civilized educational system moves public education and private education to the next level of cooperation. We can cultivate people who weave originality, community, and service into civilization's fabric from generation to generation, as Joan Almon so movingly describes. Like cradle-to-cradle manufacturing, generation-to-generation education doesn't end with graduation. The developmentally intelligent educator is a cultural healer who first, does no harm, (see article by Deborah Meier), wastes no lives, and returns bright, loving and enterprising "nutrients" into the social soil. Let us step up with confidence and be like Betty Staley, Sonja Williams and Elizabeth Goodenough! 

We gratefully acknowledge over a decade of support for whole childhood from Susan Kendall Newman/Paul Newman-Newman's Own with gratitude. 

Finally we thank you, Cliff and the GreenMoney Journal team for opening your pages and treasured readers to these views. 

As the election is over and nation-building begins in America, please forward this issue to everyone you know and start a conversation! 

Here at you will find an expanded online version of the special education issue including an exclusive article by Ocean Robbins, founder of Youth For Environmental Sanity (YES!). 

- Joan Jaeckel and Eric Utne, Guest Editors 

Joan Jaeckel is a thought-change activist for social transformation through intelligent human design. Email: and website:

Eric Utne founded the Utne Reader and is an educational innovator and social entrepreneur. Website: 


This issue is dedicated to the Ten Civil Societarians who are exemplary friends of Childhood and Youth: 

  1. Geoffrey Canada, Harlem Children's Zone
  2. Van Jones, author of Green For All: Building a Green Collar Economy 
  3. Dave Eggers, 826 Valencia 
  4. Rachael Kessler, PassageWays Institute 
  5. David Orr, Center for EcoLiteracy  
  6. Deborah Solomon, Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE) 
  7. Wayne Jennings, The International Association for Learning Alternatives 
  8. Steve Bonchek, Harmony Education Center 
  9. Craig Kielberger, O Ambassadors 
  10. Sir Ken Robinson's TED talk, "Do Schools Kill Creativity?"

R I C H A R D . L O U V The Coming Wave of Natural Education Reform

Reprinted from GREEN MONEY JOURNAL winter/08/09

Many of us are no longer willing to allow the growth of what, in Last Child in the Woods, I dubbed "nature-deficit disorder" - the psychological, physical and cognitive costs of human alienation from nature. During the past couple years, as I've spoken on this issue in the United States and other countries, I've been moved by the number of college students who come up to tell me that they've decided to change their career choice, that they're now committed to bringing nature to the lives children (and adults) - including in education.

Environmental educators and others have worked for decades to reintroduce children to nature. But in recent years, too many school districts have turned inward, building windowless schools, banishing live animals from classrooms, and even dropping recess and field trips. But we are beginning to see progress. There have been a number of recent successes in the United States and elsewhere that may point to a cultural shift, reflecting a rapidly expanding grassroots children and nature movement - which has changed the tone of the public conversation. 

The nonprofit Children & Nature Network ( ), for which I now serve as chairman, has tracked and encouraged more than fifty regional campaigns that are helping reintroduce children to nature. These campaigns, often focused on children's health, will offer added power to a nascent, overdue movement for what might be called natural school reform. Bucking the status quo, an increasing number of educators are committed to an approach that infuses education with direct experience, especially in nature - one that redefines the classroom. 

On September 18, the U.S. House of Representatives took a step in that direction, by voting to approve the No Child Left Inside Act of 2008. Approved by a bi-partisan vote of 293 to 109, the bill would require K-12 school systems to build environmental literacy, strengthen teacher training and provide federal grants to help schools pay for outdoor education. In coming months and years (whether or not the Senate version of the bill is approved) educators will be encouraged to return nature to the classroom - but the key to success will be if sufficient support comes to educators who take students beyond the classroom, into the rich environments of nearby nature: parks, farms, the woods and creeks and canyons adjacent to schools. 

This approach to education is not new, and the definitions and nomenclature of this educational movement are tricky. In recent decades, the approach has gone by many names: community-oriented schooling, bioregional education, experiential education and, most recently, place-based or environment-based education. The basic idea is to use the surrounding community, including nature, as the preferred classroom. When it comes to reading skills, "the Holy Grail of education reform," says researcher and educator David Sobel, place-based or environment-based education should be considered "one of the knights in shining armor." Students in these programs typically outperform their peers in traditional classrooms. Sponsored by many state departments of education, a 1998 study documented the enhanced school achievement of youth who experience school curricula in which the environment is the principal organizer. 

More recently, factoring out other variables, studies of students in California and nationwide showed that schools that used outdoor classrooms and other forms of nature-based experiential education were associated with significant student gains in social studies, science, language arts, and math. One recent study found that students in outdoor science programs improved their science testing scores by 27 percent. 

A nature-balanced life reduces many barriers to education, including stress and attention deficit. Researchers at the University of Illinois have shown that the greener a child's everyday environment, the more manageable their symptoms of attention-deficit disorder. Teachers could also benefit from natural education reform. Canadian researchers found that teachers expressed renewed enthusiasm for teaching when they had time outdoors. In an era of increased teacher burnout, the impact of green schools and outdoor education on teachers should not be underestimated. 

One exciting development is the increasing popularity of nature preschools, where children learn to track wildlife even as they learn to read. Design approaches are central to the movement. "Natural spaces and materials stimulate children's limitless imaginations and serve as the medium of inventiveness and creativity," says Robin Moore, an international authority on natural school design, who heads the Natural Learning Initiative. New schools must be designed with nature in mind, and old schools can be refitted with playscapes that incorporate nature into the central design principle. Another approach is the use of nature preserves by environment-based schools, or the inclusion of established farms and ranches as part of these "new schoolyards." Norway's departments of Education and Agriculture support partnerships between educators and farmers to revamp school curriculum and to provide more direct outdoor experience and participation in practical tasks. 

Ultimately, K-12 education cannot be transformed without reforming higher education - which sets many of the standards and expectations for primary and secondary education. In higher education, greater public knowledge about the generational nature gap should educate policy-makers to require universities to teach the fundamentals of natural history, which have been displaced in recent decades, especially at research universities, by a patent-or-perish emphasis on microbiology and genetic engineering. Higher education can also more consciously engage students as researchers on topics involving the relationship between children and nature, and the opportunities that will emerge as nature takes a more central role in people's lives. 

In coming decades, environmental challenges will require fundamental changes in our lives and institutions, including the reintroduction of nature to the classroom and the young to the natural world. 

Article by Richard Louv, Writer 

Richard Louv is chairman of the Children & Nature Network and the author of seven books, including his most recent, "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder" (Algonquin). He is the recipient of the 2008 Audubon Medal, and has served as an adviser to the Ford Foundation's Leadership for a Changing World award program, is a member of the Citistates Group, appears often on national radio and television programs, and speaks frequently in the United States and overseas. 

Useful links for this article include: 

o The Children & Nature network: 
o Related research and studies: 
o New York Times article: Why are Schools Designed Like Prisons? 

E L I Z A B E T H . G O O D E N O U G H Secret Spaces of Childhood and the Pedagogy of Place

Reprinted from GREEN MONEY JOURNAL winter08/09

There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.
- Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory (1940)

If you drive around cities and suburbs in the U.S., you will notice that children no longer play much outside. As you observe streets devoid of children, your first assumption may be that they are at school or at parks competing in team sports. Gradually it dawns on you that as more green space is paved over, as inner cities are further neglected, as fear of strangers intensifies, children are relegated to worlds without sidewalks or main streets connecting them to a wider community of neighbors. At this point you ask, "Where do the children play?" 

In the last 30 years the range of independent mobility for North American 12-year-olds has shriveled from one mile to 550 yards. Children have less privacy, yet paradoxically, more access to media. Current statistics indicate more hours are spent watching screens than attending school. Should we worry that growing up minimally engaged with plants and animals might prove dangerous to nature itself? 

The UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre's report on the well being of children indicated that of 21 wealthy nations in 2007, the United States was rated at the bottom of the list and came in last or next to last on three of six criteria--health and safety, behaviors and risks, and family and peer relationships. These statistics suggest that childhood itself is increasingly under fire as a worldwide demographic, cultural invention, and 
social institution. Grim as the figures are, they only hint at the reality of growing up in a society disrupted by violence, driven by competition, and divorced from nature. As Brian Sutton-Smith, play specialist, has put it, "the opposite of play isn't work. It's depression." 

How educators use and create spaces for children determines how the next generation experiences reality. Yet, in a world of high stakes testing, we may be losing not just recess but also those psychic locales where imagination and confidence can grow. That's why we need collaborative pedagogies to look at where children and adults learn most enjoyably. Certainly practices of self-discovery where learning and play meld deserve to be treated with as much care by educators and families as the cultivation of literacy and mastery of math. Yet we know little, it seems, about the vitality recreation draws from sites of natural beauty. 

Starting as a question about how the young process their own ecology, Secret Spaces of Childhood developed in 1998 at the University of Michigan as an investigation of cultural memory. Campus-community partnerships, coordinated by Residential College students, grew from our study of children's literature. Curious about the power of fantasies like "Crusoe's Island" or the "Secret Garden" to shape our core identities, I wondered how children's stories change over time, and how images like Hogwarts or Tarbeach fashion feelings within society. 

A two-day conference enabled a thousand children to celebrate Nichols Arboretum with performances and story telling. At the Residential College, architects, children's authors, educators, storytellers, and artists discussed issues of environmental justice and the need to preserve sanctuaries for free play. Walls displayed illustrations from children's books. Participants shared a sense of having been profoundly shaped by hideouts of their own making. Even the sole public zone in the exhibition, Gerald McDermott's charcoal drawing of a medieval winding stone staircase at the Detroit Institute of Arts, conjured a "pathway to the infinite": "We all have secret spaces…where we separate ourselves from the rest of the world, and incubate. We imagine ourselves into existence." 

Recently The Poetry of Everyday Life has provided me tools to plan and even document community-engaged scholarship, observing how and where children make their own structures, whether in shelter building, collage, poetry, or drawing. Seminar participants seek to understand the role of children's voices in public and city life; to develop teaching, collaboration and leadership skills in school settings; to experience poetry as an imaginative response to local geography such as the Huron River watershed. Partnering with local children and their teachers, we embark on field trips, journal, write poems and make art about place-making, organize a poetry reading, and mount an exhibition at the Ann Arbor Public Library. 

Some explore the role of forts; others photograph and map schoolyards, theme parks, and designated "kid spaces" as these reflect class backgrounds and assumptions about the nature and needs of elementary school children. Or they examine and compare specialized curricula related to local organizations like Retired Police Horse Adoption, The Greening of Detroit, and Hands On Museum. Some document contested land use or a problem that prevents playing in the neighborhood (application of pesticide, recent crime, lack of access). 

The project produced mini-documentaries about children's "places of special meaning" and how "ordinary" spaces often inspire stories. It filmed children's author Christopher Paul Curtis (The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963) in his hometown Flint speaking with schoolchildren about their experiences of play and place. Such sharing can help us look around and find common ground with others. Some of these children helped inspire Where Do the Children Play? airing on American Public Television through 2010 ( ). As William Cronon puts it, "To protect the nature that is all around us, we must think long and hard about the nature we carry inside our heads." 

Article by Elizabeth Goodenough, Scholar and Activist in Children's Studies 

Dr. Elizabeth Goodenough of the University of Michigan helped produce "Where Do the Children Play?" a project that encompasses an award-winning PBS documentary written and directed by award-winning filmmakers Christopher Cook and Mark Harris for Michigan Television, a three-volume anthology, and an outreach campaign to promote outdoor play via community conversations throughout the U.S. Located at the Ginsberg Center in Ann Arbor, WDCP? builds partnerships with organizations such as the Alliance for Childhood, the National Wildlife Federation, and Children & Nature Network. In addition to A Place for Play: A Companion Volume to WDCP?, Goodenough's books include Infant Tongues (1994), Secret Spaces of Childhood (2003), and Under Fire: Childhood in the Shadow of War (2008). 

O C E A N . R O B B I N S Education in the 21st Century

Reprinted from GREEN MONEY JOURNAL winter08/09

I don't know about you, but I've met students whose eyes are lit and whose spirits are aflame with meaning and purpose. And I've met others who seemed mired in an almost pathological level of boredom and cynicism. What are the dynamics at work that lead some to thrive, and others barely to survive? What can be done to nurture the potential in the next generation?

Is it possible that, like a walnut carries within it the DNA it needs to grow into a magnificent tree, we all have within us a particular calling? If we were to contemplate the role of education as being to "educe", or to bring forth, the wisdom, the courage, the creativity and the brilliance that are within each child, then how might that inform our way of thinking about it? Are there ways that conventional education sees kids as needing to be shaped and stuffed with cookie-cutter information so that someday they can be people? What if we could recognize children as little people, whole and complete in who they are, and needing the right soil, the right sunshine, the right loving attention, to help them manifest their particular gifts? 

I grew up with pretty loving soil. My parents were committed to nurturing my gifts and helping me to believe in myself. Twice, our family moved specifically to be near to a particular school that my parents wanted me to be able to attend. Then, when I was ten, I became a home-schooler. Believing with Mark Twain that "you can't let school interfere with your education", I got off to an early start in taking responsibility for my own learning journey. My parents supported me every step of the way, as I became an entrepreneur with the launch of my own Bakery, "Ocean's Bakery," selling natural organic baked goods to more than 100 neighborhood customers door-to-door. As I grew a little older, I went on to facilitate two international youth summits in Moscow at age 14, and at 16 had founded YES!, an international youth leadership organization that I continue to direct now, 18 years later. 

I believe that we all have a desire, in fact a need, to contribute to the world around us. As young people grow up, they come to realize that we are facing some fairly daunting challenges in the world. Typical schooling may teach about history and current events, but it often does little to help young people feel like they can be active participants in the world around them. More often, they tend to wind up feeling like cynical and passive victims. In a world with nuclear weapons, with a resource consumption overshoot that has us on a collision course with systemic environmental collapse, and with increasing numbers of people living in desperate poverty, there is little space for the most powerful generation in the history of the world to be schooled in a culture of apathy. A change in our culture of education is not only important to the well-being of the next generation, it may be fundamental to our survival as a species. 

What, then, do I suggest? 

Service learning, parental engagement, cultural education, engaging older kids in helping teach younger kids (thus making their own learning come to life), expanded use of the arts and creative expression, cross-cultural exchanges (where kids from different communities visit each other and learn from each other), cultivating an environment of honesty and trust in the school culture (making use of circle sharing and other formats to encourage kids to talk about what matters to them and listen to each other with respect), on-site environmental stewardship (such as trash clean-ups, recycling programs, school gardens, etc.), conflict resolution trainings and programs, and space for kids to share about their dreams for the future. In general, kids need to spend les time listening, and more time talking. Less time absorbing, and more time creating. 

As they get older, kids need space to explore issues like gender roles, race, class and power. We all inherit a legacy that includes the work and dreams, as well as the bigotry and fears, of those who have gone before us. Teens need a space to explore these dynamics for themselves, and to consider what kind of values they hold and what kind of people they want to be as they grow up. In time, cultural exchanges and even citizen diplomacy can be extraordinarily valuable. 

If it takes a village to raise a child, then perhaps it takes more than schools to educate children. Perhaps it takes all of us. When we treat children with respect, they learn to respect themselves. When we set an example of living with consciousness and purpose, we help them to find their place in the world. 

Article by Ocean Robbins, Youth Activist 

Ocean Robbins is director of YES! - "Helping Visionary Young Leaders Build a Better World", which he founded at age 16 in 1990. YES! has held 100+ week-long gatherings for young leaders from 65+ nations, and spoken in person to more than 650,000 people. Ocean is a 2008 recipient of the national Jefferson Award for Outstanding Public Service. He speaks widely at conferences and events. For more information about YES!, go to , and for more information about Ocean and his life and work, go to

G A Y L E . D A V I S 12 Ways Arts-Integrated Education Grows Furure-Oriented Minds

Reprinted from GREEN MONEY JOURNAL winter08/09

Business sage Edward Deming observed decades ago that an education system in which 50% of the students are below average is in serious need of a paradigm shift.

His point was that though mathematically correct, such a formulation is educationally misguided. The focus on high stakes testing perpetuates this unfortunate mindset. We "teacher proof" classroom instruction with scripted teaching devoid of the ARTS at the expense of innovative, meaningful student-teacher interaction. Young seekers are in danger of being consigned to an unimaginative wasteland, devolving into parched souls ill equipped to attain the full stature of their humanity and without the capacity to imagine, invent, improvise, re-frame problems, and transcend boundaries. In an attempt to prepare children for the "real world", we have focused on transitory facts and technology at an early age, oblivious that whole industries become obsolete overnight. Our over-emphasis on information impoverishes the very faculties and capacities that should be being cultivated in future-oriented education. 

The world needs confident, creative, visionary, and altruistic individuals. I am convinced that the educational approach best able to stimulate, develop and nourish such capacities is one replete and richly permeated with the ARTS. 

Twelve Essentials - the ARTS Teach Children: 

1)    The ARTS educate and heal senses over stimulated from television, computer games, traffic noise, i-pods, etc. We filter out the richness of the world in order to cope, damaging the ability to perceive and discriminate the subtleties of quality, yet our conceptual life is rooted in observation and the forming of relationships between perceptions, and sensory-integration is fundamental for learning. 

2)    The ARTS teach discipline. Practice, focus, concentration, patience, precision, fine-tuning and accepting disappointment are critical counterpoints in our attention-deficient world. 

3) The ARTS promote pleasure, self-esteem and empowerment. 

4) The ARTS teach us that there are not single answer solutions, but many perspectives, levels, and interpretations. Life is more ambiguous than a multiple-choice test. 

5)    The ARTS promote appreciation for materials - think sable paintbrushes and Stradivarius violins - and the basis for "true-value" economics to a throwaway world.

6)   The ARTS teach respect for artistry, craftsmanship, creativity and ultimately "Creation". 

7) The ARTS are a unique window on history, and a common language to appreciate various peoples and cultures. 

8) The ARTS give us a whole, contextual vision. Design, patterning, harmony, balance, order, proportion and coherence are principles that contribute to ecological consciousness and whole system thinking. 

9) The ARTS speak a language of the heart, reverse spectator consciousness and demand involvement. Passionate love for a subject leads to insight. 

10) The ARTS are hygienic, bringing healing and harmony to our lives. 

11) The ARTS give us a means to look at the darkness of humanity man to man. Great poetry, novels, paintings and music allow us to grapple with the unfathomable. Joseph Chilton Pearce calls criminality "a lack of imagination". 

12)    The ARTS cultivate higher-level thinking and stimulate creativity. They invite levity through improvisation, imagination, inspiration, and even intuition. They foster the capacity to generate the hypotheses that advance knowledge 

I invite educators to imbed the ARTS fully into the curriculum both as single subjects and integrated into all courses, not just as a reward. As Morris Tannenbaum, former CFO of AT&T, has commented, "Tomorrow's scientists and engineers need grounding in the arts to stimulate their creativity, to help them perceive the world in new and different ways. If nothing else, a blending of the arts and sciences can cement a foundation for learning how to learn, a trait that is proving all the more critical at a time when knowledge simply won't stay put." For guidance in the implementation of such a program, I recommend looking to the Waldorf school movement founded by Rudolf Steiner, which has successfully practiced this approach for nearly ninety years. 

Article by Gayle Davis, Educator 

Gayle Davis is President and CEO of Rudolf Steiner College: A Center for Transformative Education and Arts ( ) in Fair Oaks, California offering programs in Waldorf education, Anthroposopical Studies, Bio-Dynamic Agriculture, Consciousness Studies, Eurythmy, and the Arts. She has worked at the College for over twenty-five years. Her interests include music, philosophy, educational reform, organizational development, and change management. 

D E B O R A H . M E I E R Democracy-Friendly Education

Reprinted from GREEN MONEY JOURNAL winter08/09

Re-thinking schools starts with re-thinking its fundamental purposes and function. There are, first and foremost, only two purposes that matter to me. Everything else is a luxury.

The first purpose of education is to do no harm to the individual children and their families, which includes leaving them a little better off than when they came to us. Let us leave them stronger and more loveable. 

The second purpose is to inspire a generation of Americans to take on our collective task of preserving and nourishing the habits of heart and mind essential for a democracy, and, as we now see, the future of the planet itself. 

The purpose of education is not: (1) to produce a small "leadership" political elite to lead us to the Promised Land or (2) to produce employees to fit into some particular niche determined by others, and surely, (3) it is not to produce higher test scores and give out more diplomas-which isn't even a very good way to do the previous two things! 

Democracy, and the kind of thinking that's good for it, doesn't just happen. It is not "natural"-like walking and talking. But it is not unnatural either. We need then to ask ourselves, what happens in schools that make for greater devotion and understanding of democracy and its place in our complex modern global world? An educational system that keeps this first and foremost on its mind will not have to sacrifice the so-called "basic skills". It might have to place calculus lower on the agenda than statistics and probability, or modern history before ancient history. Maybe yes, maybe no. It may have to sacrifice the arts, or it may have to place greater demands on them. 

But what a democracy-friendly education surely must do is change the way people relate to each other in schools, and how their voices are heard and taken into account. And the change we need is not tinkering on the edges, but fundamental. 

What we do know is that creative and critical thought are not natural allies of multiple-choice tests or stereotype short-answer quizzes. The inventiveness we need cannot be left to elite few, because in a democracy such out-of-the-box thinking will be sabotaged by ordinary citizens and rightly so, if they are not well-educated too and become a party to the needed changes. We pay an enormous price for dismissing the impact of an alienated political public. We've even gone so far as to dismiss the need for the voices of teachers-viewing them as merely tools of reform, not at its heart. Our parents and teachers have replaced our financial and business leaders as the new "special interest" group. Thus the answers become increasingly divorced from the problems on the ground. 

Let's imagine how we'd design the life of youngsters from birth to 22 if we hadn't got stuck in the traditional school model and just extended it for 10 more years? Let's imagine how we might re-design if we spent more time listening to those in the real "know." Based on what we know about human beings, how else might we ask the young to spend their precious time? Would we have cut them off from relationships with adults engaged in interesting work-and vice versa-for 12-16 years? Would we have labeled so much of the world's important and critical work as "menial", and "nonacademic"? Would we expect that efficient learning takes place by sitting till and listening for 5 hours a day? Would we have measured success by a multiple choice test rather than a "road test"? 

We can't change overnight, but we can begin to make sure that the policies we adopt do not strangle the innovation we need. Too many big-time reforms today try to "fix" the current system in stone-making it ever more standardized rather than ever more inventive. We need to ban the use of the word "rigorous" in schools - with all its unmistakable dictionary meaning of harsh and inflexible-and find a language that suits the task ahead of us. 

Yes, small is good. But, aimed at the wrong "ends", it's just another shifting of the chairs on the sinking Titanic. Yes, technology is useful, but…Yes, better teacher "training" is good, but…Yes, observing the impact of our work is critical, but…Yes even more money is good, but…

But, none will matter until we are prepared to tackle the "what for?" And on that question we are all experts. On that question we don't want anyone to lead us to the Promised Land; we want to lead ourselves, with our families, neighbors and children right alongside us. 

Article by Deborah Meier, Writer 

Deborah W. Meier is currently on the faculty of New York University's Steinhardt School of Education as senior scholar and adjunct professor as well as Board member and director of New Ventures at Mission Hill, director and advisor to Forum for Democracy and Education, and on the Board of The Coalition of Essential Schools. She is active with the In Defense of Childhood organization . Her books, The Power of Their Ideas, Lessons to America from a Small School in Harlem (1995), Will Standards Save Public Education (2000), In Schools We Trust (2002), Keeping School, with Ted and Nancy Sizer (2004) and Many Children Left Behind (2004) are all published by Beacon Press. 
More information at

R O N . M I L L E R Five Principles of the Coming Education Revolution

Reprinted from GREEN MONEY JOURNAL winter08/09

Our system of schooling was shaped by a particular worldview, a mechanistic/technocratic mindset that gave rise to the age of industrial and imperial expansion that began in the mid-nineteenth century. It is increasingly apparent that this historical era has spent its creative energies and is now on the verge of decline. Another worldview is emerging, one concerned with sustainability, interconnectedness, and celebration of human diversity. It is a holistic worldview, which brings with it entirely different ideas about education.

The growing interest in educational alternatives-Montessori and Waldorf schools, homeschooling, "democratic" schools, Quaker education, charter schools and various other approaches-represents a leaderless, self-organizing revolution riding the incoming wave of this new worldview. I think it is a genuine social movement, which will eventually replace our current system of schooling with a decidedly different form. Unlike the standardized routines of industrial-age schooling, these alternatives engage young people in an active, meaningful, caring relationship to the world and encourage them to participate in building a just, compassionate, sustainable culture. 

Although the movement comprises diverse educational methods, it is unified by five foundational principles: 

1) Respect for every person 
Maria Montessori said it well: the child is the builder of a unique human personality, driven by a creative force from within to engage the world inquisitively and purposefully. Human beings are naturally endowed with both the capacity and the imperative to fashion an individuality that will experience and live in the world in ways that no other does, and we require autonomy and security in order to fully achieve this potential. We carry the seeds of our highest aspirations and potential evolution within our own hearts. The purpose of education is to nourish these seeds. 

2) Balance 
The education revolution reflects an openness to the complexity of life. To live in balance means holding our beliefs with humility, remaining open to aspects of reality that are dissonant or surprising, recognizing that all manifestations of reality are contingent rather than final. This principle enjoins us to approach each learner with sensitivity and flexibility, not with ideology and method. A public system of education seeking for balance would no longer be a coercive monoculture; it would provide diverse alternatives representing various philosophical and cultural possibilities. 

3) Decentralization of authority 
Today, truly important decisions that affect the lives of millions are made by political and corporate elites, not by citizens engaged in public deliberation. The standardization of schooling, the frenzied pursuit of accountability that leads to prescribed curricula and textbooks and relentless testing, was not driven by those most intimately involved in the educational endeavor -teachers, parents or young people-but by corporate CEOs and powerful foundations and the mass media. No Child Left Behind (sic) is the educational policy of a technocratic empire. The educational alternatives movement represents a striving for grassroots, participatory democracy-decision making on a human scale. 

4) Noninterference between political, economic, and cultural spheres of society 
Philosopher Rudolf Steiner (the founder of Waldorf education) argued that a society is healthiest when its three primary functions or spheres-economic, political, and cultural-are allowed to maintain their own integrity, without interference from the others. He observed that in modern times, economic enterprise has spilled over its proper boundaries, so that every aspect of our lives, including education, has become a commodity-something with a market value rather than intrinsic value. The education revolution seeks to return teaching and learning to the cultural sphere of freedom and creativity. Those who have left public schooling for independent alternative schools or homeschooling are not simply out to privatize the educational system, for this is still to treat learning as a commodity in the marketplace. Rather, they are intuitively responding to the awareness that genuine learning is an organic, spontaneous, and deeply meaningful encounter that requires autonomy from the political and economic forces that have taken over public education. 

5) A holistic worldview 
From a holistic perspective, the primary goal of education is not to transmit authorized portions of knowledge but to help students experience a sense of wonder and passionate interest in the world, along with habits of open-ended inquiry and critical reflection. Possessing these qualities, holistically educated people can engage the world purposefully, creatively, and transformatively. 

Taken together, these five principles constitute a thorough rethinking of the assumptions and beliefs underlying the present system of schooling. 

Article by Ron Miller, Educator, Writer 

Dr. Ron Miller has been involved in the educational alternatives movement for more than twenty years. He has written or edited nine books; this essay is adapted from his latest one: The Self-Organizing Revolution. He has founded two journals and is currently editor of Education Revolution magazine, published by the Alternative Education Resource Organization ( ). Ron established the Bellwether School in Vermont and is now helping to organize a Quaker school there. Meanwhile, he teaches history at Champlain College. His contact information and writings are featured at

S O N J A . W I L L I A M S Please Find a School Your Child Does NOT Attend, and Volunteer!

Reprinted from GREEN MONEY JOURNAL winter08/09

So, how does K-16 education need to change in order to prepare young people to become effective participants and change agents in the 21st Century?

First, a disclaimer. I teach in the "inner city" of Los Angeles, so my perspective comes from a place where, as near as I can tell, not many people are expecting those, these, OUR, inner city children to be "change agents" or "effective participants" in the 21st Century. By "inner city" I mean un-academically educated, non-middle class, not generally a part of the American mainstream, whether perceptively or concretely. By middle class I mean academically educated, and a part of mainstream society, and literate. I do not want to get too heady into why I think inner city kids are not perceived as agents for change in the future, but I do think it is important to note that my opinions are based on my experiences working in an overcrowded, over 100-year-old, hardly diverse and VERY ISOLATED - from middle class ideas and resources - middle school in South Central Los Angeles for the past eight years. Most of my students are Latin American, with a small percent being African American. I am solidly middle class, brought up with educated parents, went to summer camp, and was read to often, and always, as a child. The arts were a central part of my academic upbringing. I have a lot to learn from my students and their families. And they from me. 

To dispel some common myths and assumptions: Urban kids are just like non-urban kids in almost every way: They are eager to learn, eager to do things and eager to get their hands into things. They don't like to be bored, they don't like to be in trouble, they don't like to be disrespected or yelled at or ignored. They don't like to read textbooks and they jump at the chance to play music, do art, perform in plays, and they LOVE science. They love to APPLY math. They are silly, and funny, and test me and don't like to sit in their seats for too long. They like to eat, chew gum and write notes in class. They like to have hobbies and lots of colorful things to create with. They like to be class clowns, out-wit their teachers and their peers and they like to be loved and encouraged. They like to feel comfortable and challenged and try out new things. They like to show off for each other and they like to be popular. They like to take care of each other, especially when it really, really counts, and they will. I've never had a discipline issue on a field trip, or a tagging issue or disrespect of elders. They think that the way they live is the way all people live. They like themselves. They are normal. 

How they differ from their middle class counterparts: they most often have un-academically educated parents; they don't get to go to camp; they have too many kids on their campuses; they don't get enough field trips; their parents work really long hours, or have lots of stress, and sometimes see school as day care. They have a really boring curriculum in school. The slightest infringement is met with the threat of citation or even arrest by the school police officer. Sometimes their classes are interrupted in a "search and seizure" manner to confiscate their pencil sharpeners which have "blades that can be used as weapons." Sometimes this makes them cry. They live far from the beach. They can't play outside. They often have close family members in prison. They don't have books at home. There are no bookstores in their neighborhood. They have to be "extraordinarily extraordinary" to succeed and go to college or even have that choice. They can't just be normal and succeed academically. They are very strong when they do succeed. They often don't know they have these things working against them. They often have very strong family support mechanisms. Their families have huge social networks. They often know how hard their parents work for them. They want to be kids anyway. They speak at least three languages: English, Spanish and/or Black-inner city English and they often must translate between two cultures. Standardize test that!!!!!! They travel between here and South American countries often. They have foreign relatives with foreign ideas. They get to visit them. I have seen my students go out of their way to make a child they've never met, on a field trip, feel comfortable on a play ground. I've never had a discipline issue on a field trip. I've seen them come to each other's aid without hesitation when one of them was feeling uncomfortable or in distress. They have a sensitivity I don't remember seeing when I was a sixth grader, and I certainly never hear about it on the news or mainstream media. There are so many things I don't see because I am not living there. 

At our school, over 90% Latin American, and in our district, English tests are the litmus for how" intelligent" a student is considered to be, what class level they are placed in and what extra-curricular subjects they are allowed to study. For example, the music and art options - and they are not many and they are a recent addition to our curriculum - are offered primarily, if only, to the "English-only" and honor's strand of students. Humanities are an "elective" class that is taught by English teachers to a strand of their students that fall into the above categories. This means that if you are a beginning English learner, thus a low tester, you do not get subjects outside of math, science, history and English. Subjects, incidentally, taught via Sixth Grade English Level Text books. This approach also disregards any aptitude in math, as students are placed in ALL subjects according to their English levels. I believe this is done because it is easier for the administrative process. 

So, what do our students need? From the school, and district, they need us to educate them with the vigorous assumption that they are intelligent and eager to learn no matter how low or high their level of English. They "ALL" need music, drawing, sculpture, wood working, singing, music, theater and CREATIVITY - in all sizes and shapes, every day and every year and these subjects need to be considered as important as the "testable subjects," math, English, history, etc. 

What they need from "US." The greatest challenge our urban kids face is that their parents are largely less academically educated than their middle class counterparts. Inner city kids are more isolated. I do not believe that a lower economic status naturally leads to a lower educational level. I do think, however, that it needs more attention to correct the tilt. We need to start thinking about all kids as OUR kids. Schools need the parental attention the middle class schools get. We need middle class parents volunteering in inner city schools. And I don't mean to overrun the cultures that exist in those schools, but to bring the academic presence up. I'd love to know more about Hispanic culture. I need to incorporate more of my students' parents' strengths and interests into my classroom. We need parents who know how to participate to show the parents that don't know, how. The inner city is woefully over looked by the middle class. I called Big Brothers Big Sisters to get help for some of our boys who needed a positive outside influence I was told that there are NO volunteers for South Central! There are none within the South Central community and none outside willing to come in? There are over eight million people in Los Angeles! Are they all saving Darfur or adopting kids from China? My colleagues who teach in independent/private schools can't get rid of their over-achieving "helicopter" parents fast enough. I'll take them. I want parent aids in my class room to help with field trips, organize fund raisers, science fairs or theater productions. I want them to show our parents how they can be involved. And it's not that our students' parents don't want to help, many of them don't know what it looks like. They do not come from academic backgrounds. 

Please, find a school near or far from you that your child does NOT attend and volunteer. Become a class rep for an urban school. Organize a PTA. Become a Big Brother or Big Sister to an urban youth; there are NONE in South Central. Help get the word out in urban areas that Big Brothers Big Sisters even exists. There are mentors within the inner cities! Volunteer to do a reading program after school. Help get a theater department going. Organize a science fair. It's not money we need, its participation and education. Head up a garden. Do some landscaping. Organize parents to get homework clubs going. And do these things with the parents of our students who really do want to be a part of what their child is doing but in many cases do not know how. WE need ALL of OUR children to be willing and enthusiastic participants of society. And OUR children really DO want be WILLING and enthusiastic participants in OUR society, and WE need to show them how, by being WILLING and ENTHUSIASTIC participants ourselves, in OUR own society. 

Article by Sonja Williams, Public School Teacher, Circus Performer 

Sonja Williams attended Highland Hall Waldorf School from kindergarten through 12th grade, and graduated with a BA in History from UCSB after years of academic experimentation at six city colleges. She has been teaching since 2000, and loves to travel, cycle, and perform in the local circus. [Sonja is GMJ guest editor Joan Jaeckel's daughter.] 
More information at

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I N G R I D . O ' B R I E N Learning Needs Teaching

Reprinted from GREEN MONEY JOURNAL winter08/09

If we want to prepare our nation's young to be active, engaged citizens, we must address the failure of the education system to effectively prepare the 13 million children growing up in poverty - nearly one-fifth of our nation's youth - for full societal participation. And we can reach them, if we are willing to do what it takes to provide our nation's most needy students with outstanding instruction.

One month after graduating from college in 2007, I flew to San Francisco to join the ranks of Teach for America (TFA) and get trained on the essentials of teaching. Two months after that I was handed my very own second-grade bilingual classroom in East Oakland and met my 20 darling, enthusiastic, and mostly seriously below-grade-level students. My students came to me with many challenges that I had never faced during my childhood education. Half of them had had a series of substitutes for most of first grade, and as a result didn't learn to read until the very end of the year when the school finally found a permanent teacher. A few had transferred into the bilingual program from an English-only class, whose teacher (according to veterans at my school) had generally ignored her non-English-speaking students. One student's parents were illiterate and had no phone. Another's father was in jail. Another lived in a one-room converted garage with three sisters, a jobless father, and a mother who takes in sewing to support her family. Many were undocumented immigrants and had no health insurance. All were low-income non-native English speakers. They have many factors stacked against them, and statistically speaking the odds of their achieving academically are not good. Of the 13 million children growing up in poverty in the United States (approximately 19% of all US children,, half will not graduate from high school. Those who do will perform, on average, at the level of eighth graders in well-off communities ( 

However, all is NOT lost for my students or those like them. While there is much controversy in the educational community about the effectiveness of TFA, there is no doubt that their foundational principle promotes an important and under-recognized truth: the achievement gap between low- and high-income students can be narrowed or even closed with good teaching. If we want to prepare our nation's young to be active, engaged citizens, we must address the failure of the education system to reach this huge sub-population, nearly one-fifth of our nation's youth. Addressing the myriad effects of poverty on education is a complex process that will take a long time, but we can make an immediate and far-reaching impact on achievement by addressing the role that good teaching plays in education. We need better training to create a corps of teachers who have the skills needed to minimize the achievement gap, better pay to attract the best teachers to the areas that need them most, and on-going training and support to retain great teachers in these difficult environments. 

First, teacher training, recruitment and evaluation must be based on student performance outcomes. Student achievement is the only worthwhile measure of teacher achievement. How to measure student achievement is a very controversial issue, but the refrain I heard throughout my TFA training holds true: "No one is teaching if no one is learning." TFA has been observing and analyzing their most successful teachers for years in order to distill the teacher characteristics necessary for maximum student learning. This research has led to a document known as the Teaching as Leadership (TAL) Rubric, which is used to recruit, select, train and constantly evaluate corps members. It consists of six broad traits and 27 sub-traits that TFA has found to be present in the classrooms of virtually every classroom where low-income students are achieving: setting ambitious goals for students, investing students and their influencers, planning purposefully, executing effectively, continuously increasing effectiveness, and working relentlessly ( This sort of model (not necessarily the TAL Rubric itself) must be adopted nationwide. Teachers must be prepared and evaluated according to the proven best practices as demonstrated by student achievement, which aren't just programs or curricula but which are mindsets and approaches to teaching. 

In addition to improving teacher effectiveness by focusing on student outcomes, a great deal more must be done to attract the best teachers to the schools that need them most - where the students are furthest behind. They can achieve, but they and their educators must work twice as hard to overcome the extra obstacles they face. These schools need teachers who go above and beyond what is traditionally required of teachers. I, and every other TFA corps member I know, regularly put in 60-70-hour weeks, more than 20 hours beyond what we are paid for, but we cannot build a sustainable education future on self-sacrificing volunteers. We need to support dedicated teachers with salaries comparable to those of business professionals who put in a similar number of hours. It must be worth the while of excellent teachers to stay where the work is most challenging but most necessary. 

Which brings me to my third recommendation: teachers, particularly in low-income schools, must get more support in order to reduce teacher turnover. In 2006 the National Education Association reported that 50% of teachers leave the profession within their first five years. According to a study released in 2007 by the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, "so many teachers leaving the profession creates a self-perpetuating cycle of failure in some school systems, as a lack of experienced mentors and a sink-or-swim environment lead to trouble in the classroom and demoralization" (Nelson Hernandez, "Teacher Turnover Costs Systems Millions, Study Projects," Washington Post, 21 June 2007). The first years of teaching are extremely challenging and often demoralizing, particularly when students perform at several years below grade level. Had I not been provided the constant technical and moral support of my TFA advisors and, in particular, a corps of peers going through the same experience, I might not be able to sustain the energy necessary to stay in teaching. To keep teachers in low-income schools, they need regular one-on-one mentoring from master teachers that includes frequent opportunities for both parties to observe each other teaching. Furthermore, they need the opportunity to participate in formal social and professional networks of teachers in similar schools, and not just through required credentialing classes. Both of these things have been invaluable in helping me and my fellow corps members stick with teaching in the face of great challenges. 

In sum, if we as a country are willing to invest in what it takes for all children, even the most disadvantaged, to receive outstanding instruction, then we will be well on the path to preparing our children for the challenge and opportunities of 21st Century citizenship. 

Article by Ingrid O'Brien, Teacher
Ingrid O'Brien grew up in suburban Chicago and attended Brown University, where she concentrated in Development Studies. She recently began her second year with Teach for America ( ). She teaches second grade in a bilingual Spanish-English classroom in East Oakland.

A R T H U R . Z A J O N C We Need an Educational Philosophy Fit For Human Beings

Reprinted from GREEN MONEY JOURNAL winter08/09

The educational imagination of one age is simultaneously a foreshadowing of the society we will live within a generation later. An impoverished educational imagination will inevitably lead to a diminished human society and an abused planet. In his essay "The Loss of the University," Wendell Berry said that the goal of higher education is, "…not just trained workers or knowledgeable citizens but responsible heirs and members of human culture."Berry is right; the human being in the fullest and most comprehensive sense should be in our minds and hearts when we take up the high task of education, and We must seek to educate the whole miraculous human being for the sake of the individual, society, and our planet. 

While specific pedagogical interventions and strategies are important, of urgent significance now is a coherent and encompassing view - an educational philosophy. 

The three dimensions of an educational philosophy of education originate in an understanding of child development and age appropriate curriculum. An understanding that is holistic and multi-dimensional. An understanding that cultivates social and self-responsibility.

1. Understand child development at different ages. 

  • Acquire rich, expansive understandings of the children we teach and the world in which they live. We need to embrace and elucidate the multi-dimensional nature of both ourselves and our world - body, mind, and spirit. Our education needs to address each with a pedagogy that is as rich and varied as our own nature, engaging all aspects of the student: head, heart, and hands. It should be an embodied learning that moves the soul and speaks to the highest spiritual ideals.To educate the whole human being requires teachers who teach out of their full humanity. We teach who we are as well as our subject matter. 

2. Teach the whole child. 

  • Cultivate all capacities in our students for knowing and creating. If we and the world have several aspects, we should not expect a single mode of exploration and understanding to be sufficient. Rather to each domain of nature and to each level of our own being, we should craft a nuanced means of inquiry suited to that realm. Specifically, of equal importance to the scientific method, which is so well-developed, we should recognize the crucial place of contemplative forms of inquiry. They lead from humility and a gentle engagement to a full and intimate participation in that which we would understand. As Goethe wrote, through a participatory epistemology we make ourselves "utterly identical with the object thereby becoming true theory." He was pointing to the truth that we only genuinely understand that which we love. Such deep connections shape us, transform us so we become more insightful. "Every object, well-contemplated, opens a new organ in us," said Goethe. Living patiently yet energetically with real questions allows time for the changes required in us that enable us to live our way into the answer, to paraphrase Rilke. 

3. Foster free will and social responsibility 
  • Foster values that balance individual freedom with an ethic of compassionate concern and social commitment. The third aspect of an adequate educational philosophy concerns the practice of life. With a full appreciation of body, mind, and spirit, and with multiple ways of knowing, we must contribute to society and the planet in ways that are of greatest benefit. As students become more self-aware and cosmopolitan, the strictures of their childhood fall away and the new basis for values is sometimes slow to appear. If we would shun a fundamentalist return to blind obedience to religious dictates or social customs, then we need to locate the source of a free ethical understanding and action. Here again a partial and reductive view of the human being can offer nothing, and we are left with a sophisticated but ultimately empty nihilism. However, the fuller view we advanced at the outset is one that embraces the body, mind, and spirit of our students, ourselves, and our world. This opens up the possibility for the ethical refinement of our moral sensibilities such that genuine moral insight becomes available to the individual. And yet, it also honors and serves human culture in all its diversity within a complex, contemporary global community. 

With this view of our full humanity, we can cultivate a knowing that becomes love, and an active, compassionate, and inclusive ethic that honors both individual and community. Our education can and should support such development. 

Article by Arthur Zajonc, Chair, Physic Department, Amherst College 
Arthur Zajonc partners with Parker Palmer on his next book about the future of higher education; he directs the Academic Program at the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society 
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