The Persistent Problems of Living are the enduring problems humanity faces every day in some form or fashion. It does not matter how rich or poor, young or old, or where you live in this great big world. Years ago, these were the basis of a proposal to change the essence of education, as part of the Social Reconstruction movement. I think due to the times we are living now, this is the reform we need. Thank you. George W. Lucero, Ed.D.
Double Dare the Schools to Build a New Social Order
Proposal for a Demonstration Primary School
G.W. Lucero, Ed.D.
Proposal for a Demonstration Primary School
G.W. Lucero, Ed.D.
What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all its children. Any other ideal for our schools is narrow and unlovely; acted upon, it destroys our democracy. All that society has accomplished for itself is put, through the agency of the school, at the disposal of its future members. All its better thoughts of itself it hopes to realize through the new possibilities (are) thus opened to its future self. - John Dewey, 1907
The genesis for this idea is not new but rooted in history, during a time when the world was in the after throes of a worldwide socio-economic meltdown. Politics were surreal with extremists at both ends and a great divide in the distribution of wealth and income between the moneyed corporate interests and the mostly unemployed middle class. From Germany of the 1920s and New York of the 1930s, new innovations in education were born from the ashes of war and the despair of the Great Depression, eloquently echoed by Dr. George S. Counts, who sought a “new world order” to achieve social change, justice and equity by altering the various social systems upon which humanity relies.
Counts and other Social Reconstructionists recognized that the main barrier to positive change is the fact that most dominant societies tend to develop educational systems designed to maintain the status quo, if not covertly oppress and marginalize others. In order to achieve this change, a system must be developed that serves as a catalyst, whose resolve is to positively align within the values of the hegemony, subtly changing its own relative hierarchy of dominance as the social contexts in which it exists logically develop and evolve.
Schools and Teachers
All sound educational reconstruction depends upon the development of a new type of primary school site, a relevant curriculum, and a cultured, competent teacher. While the three parts of this proposal are important, the teacher is the crucial element that will determine success. Teachers must be able to, through their professional efforts, call forth in their students constructive creative leadership and an appreciation for lifelong learning. The schools of the future have, as their chief problem, the standardization of curriculum nationally when no two schools are alike, and within that context, no two teachers, classrooms, or students are alike. The teachers of the future must be of a mindset very different from the perceptions of teachers today. This imperative need of a new type of school setting, a holistic, comprehensive student-centered curriculum, and intensive teacher training calls for modification of our present institutions to support the education of our greatest national resource, our children. The need for this is evident by the recent socio-political upheaval in our country. The commitment for an educated, thoughtful and reflective population has never been greater.
Aware of this urgent need, this proposal is presented for the study and implementation of a true community or neighborhood school. This new institution is deliberately intended to break a new way in student/teacher education, and thus provide facilities for observation, experimentation, demonstration, and practice of primary education in the field of professional education of teachers.
This begs the greater question of what is exactly the purpose of education. According to Dewey, it is, “to give the young the things they need in order to develop in an orderly, sequential way into members of society.” This belies the intimate nature of education to the individual, whose point of view seeking relevance and meaning ultimately affects the internalization of knowledge. In this proposal, the obvious purpose is to prepare students for middle or high schools by developing their intellect and character for academic success. The embedded purpose is to provide for the fullest possible development of each learner the chance to reach potentials in creativity and productivity in our democratic society.
An endeavor will be made to discover and develop new methods in the field of education.There is a definite intention of avoiding in this new undertaking duplication of present procedures. The curriculum will make no attempt to follow either traditional or radical patterns but will strike out with the consciousness of an urgent need for teachers to be globally astute, aesthetically developed, and keenly educated with the goal of embracing the curriculum's objectives.
Curricula and Plan of Study
Defining the curriculum as the sum total of experiences through which a student passes, what then are the chief characteristics of the curriculum of the new community primary school? The modifying forces and influences which are brought to bear upon the student and to which they react are the environment in which they live, the people with which they will interact with, modern and ancient cultures which will contextually be revealed to them, contact with an inspiring and experienced faculty, a fine appreciation of their heritage as found in books and museums - all of this with a plan of study and method which tend to develop the student through his own initiative and self-activity.
The curricula offered will be limited to those designed for the preparation of pre-kindergarten to traditional grade 6. The purpose is to prepare students to enter middle school or junior high school as the case may be. The period of study will vary according to the ability of the individual student. The traditional grade and credit system will be rejected, certification of academic progress and graduation being based upon satisfactory formative and summative examinations of both academic and professional character. Instead of grade designations, students will just be sorted in levels of ability, capable of advancing upon assessment. In place of a quantitative requirement of hours there will be substituted a qualitative standard of attainment in terms of subjects and fields considered essential to the education of the student preparing for life in contemporary society.
The curriculum will be based on the Persistent Problems of Living (PPL). These are the enduring problems humanity faces every day in some form or fashion. They were developed in 1931 by the original founders of Columbia University’s New College for the Education of Teachers (1932-1939). Inasmuch as we want students to be problem solvers, there must be a definitive platform to work from in order to determine the relevancy to their everyday lives. With that said, these are the problems that make up the wealth and depth of challenges in our collective human existence. There are no finite solutions to these problems, just the opportunity to delve into them with a critical eye toward various possibilities for improvement of their lives and by extension, the human condition. Sometimes the apparent solution of a problem invites the appearance of another, or one of a different kind. These problems will be examined and developed in relationship to and revolving around four aspects of human existence: human relationships, natural sciences, the arts and aesthetics, and philosophy.
The Persistent Problems of Living are:
- Adjustment to and cooperation with others
- Adjustment to and control of the natural environment
- Achievement and maintenance of physical and mental health
- Creation, interpretation, and appreciation of art and beauty
- Raising the standard of living
- Achievement of economic security
- Acquisition and transmission of the social heritage
- Guiding principles and ultimate values
Another essential phase of the curriculum of the new community school is the study of contemporary civilizations and culture. The student will be brought directly and indirectly to an appreciation of the psychology and modes of thinking of living in our modern society which will enable them to interpret the world and how it relates to them. Students will follow the widening spectrum of external influences beginning in the early grades with the perceived world around them (home, classroom) and gradually incorporate global perspectives in older grades, widening their horizons in a sense as they mature.
The day is past in all schools when education takes place within four walls. The envisioned primary demonstration school might be defined as extending as far as the children can physically travel within their community, and electronically throughout the world. Starting with a Central Seminar, or Meeting, students will address the problems that affect them Groups will be constantly underway studying first hand the rich environment around them, discovering facts and bringing received impressions back to the classroom for consideration and discussion. So, in the new school, the community in which the institution is located is much more important than the buildings in which the class work is held.
The most important phase or characteristic of the elementary school experience is the contact the student body has with a highly educated and broadly cultured staff. Nothing else is as important to the school of the future as a group of outstanding individuals as members of the faculty who serve as role models and intellectual leaders to the young students in the school. The close, intimate association of the student body with such a faculty is absolutely essential to the awakening of the young mind to its possibilities and in molding and shaping the individual and group character. While the contact of the student with modern life, especially in the age of social media, is extremely stimulating, the greatest educative factor in the school is the contact of mind with mind, the conflict of the spirit of the teacher with the ripening enthusiasm for learning of the student.
Special consideration and training must be given to teachers who will embrace Pre-Kindergarten, Kindergarten (level 1), and first grade (or level 2). These teachers will be the most important members of the faculty, inasmuch as they will be the first contacts of students and parents with the educational establishment. They will do the first observations of students, socially, emotionally, and intellectually in order to determine their level of entry. They will also determine any health or physical conditions that would require the school to accommodate or modify the curriculum delivery method, as in assistive technologies for the handicapped or even something as simple as glasses. This will be be done with the student referred to the school’s onsite health center for a professional health examination.
The Level 1 teacher will loop with the class for Level 2. Teachers in Level 3 will also loop with their students to Level 4, and so on. By rolling through two grades with the same students teachers will better know their students and forgo the usual honeymoon period of getting to know a class and more importantly making those contact with parents and guardians. This will also be better suited to continue the curriculum with little or no break for instruction to reteach skills from the previous level.
Within the curricula core, teachers should have a solid knowledge of child nature and development. Out of their experience with students, teachers will develop an understanding and appreciation of the problems concerned with the psychology and pedagogy of child life within relationships of the PPL. This will be the chief foundation of the teacher’s professional endeavor.
The teacher is in a very real sense a social worker. It seems necessary, therefore, that those intending to teach should come in close contact with the activities of society that have to do with the education of boys and girls outside of school, whether these activities be of corrective or preventative nature. The curricula of the school, with teacher guidance, will provide not only courses in social economy, but will look forward to affording each student active preparation in some form of social work, giving back to the community.
“Many there have been, no doubt, exceptionally endowed in temperament and character, who, without any aid from culture, but only by a heaven-born light within their own souls, have been self-schooled in restraint and fortitude; I would even go so far as to say that natural gifts without education have more often attained to glory and virtue than education without natural gifts. Yet I do at the same time assert that when to a lofty and brilliant character is applied the the moulding influence of abstract studies, the result is often inscrutably and unapproachably noble.” - Cicero
Fine courses and excellent faculty avail little without an enthusiastic student body. As a public community school, the first four levels of education will be essential in guiding students to a habit of lifelong learning and an appreciation of school. Charter schools, Magnet schools and certain schools of choice have the misplaced luxury of exclusion of students with special needs, language difficulties, or on any factor determined by that administration. Again it must be stated, teachers are the determining factor in the delivery of education to students. Nothing can kill a student’s spirit or enthusiasm for a subject, such as math or science, than a mediocre teacher. A close positive association with the parents or guardians is essential also, especially if the parents have had a previous negative experience with schools or the school system, probably from their own youth. Education is socially situated, that is to say a student learns more from his home social center, family and friends, than from school. The effect and reactions of one student upon another in a very real sense is an important part of the curriculum. We would term this contact of student with student and within the familial unit as educational living.
In order to keep with the goal of establishing a true community school in every sense of the word, students will come from the area surrounding the school within its established attendance area as determined by the community. Rigid but sensible methods of level/grade selection will be pursued so that students will be given the promise of developing socially positive character and leadership qualities throughout their primary academic career. Ideally , a student will begin their career in Pre-Kindergarten and matriculate through the grades.
Method of Study
While, as indicated, the usual pedagogy will be enhanced in the new community primary school, the greater emphasis will be laid upon group association and group work between students, faculty, and even parents. These groups must be small in order to provide that form of educative living essential to true education. This also is aligned with the first persistent problem of living, “The Adjustment to and Cooperation of Others”, in the family, the school, the community, and with other cultures.
Proven fundamentals of elementary study will be followed to allow each student to progress at a rate commensurate with their interests and abilities and to provide growth in resourcefulness and creative power. The development of metacognitive strategies leading to critical thinking skills and problem solving will be emphasized at the onset of early instruction. Essentially, the method will permit, under close guidance, independent work on the part of the student in dealing with problems of individual and social living. The traditional amount of classroom instruction will be reduced and supplemented with experiential activities, independent study of certain problems and fields of study, substantive field trips and field work.
Work in the area of elementary education will be the central core of all curricula, the entire course being professionally treated. The study of elementary education is conceived to be more than a consideration of the devices and techniques of teaching, or even educational theory. It includes a broad consideration of the principles and organization of educational endeavor and an intimate acquaintance with the fields of philosophy, psychology, sociology, and economics. It cross sections, indeed, every important phase of human activity. From this point of view, education is a composite science calling upon many other fields of knowledge for necessary materials and context.
The School Structure
The idea of a true community school is not new. There was a time before waves of corporate and business interests entered educational politics with alternative routes for education, such as choice or charter schools, when most children attended the school in their neighborhood. Prior to that, much of the country was rural, schools were and teachers in those schools were considered leaders in their community. Other examples of community schools can be found in history.
School reform in a shattered and defeated Germany right after the First World War was the result of experiments in single schools and classes throughout the land and not so much a matter of reorganization growing out of a directed national policy. Groups of teachers, parents, and community members seized the opportunity to control their own schools with freedom never known before. Within the schools themselves, organizing and keeping it alive was the teacher as a community leader and organizer. So was the genesis of the most radical of German “Community Schools”, the Gemeinschaftschulen. These schools placed social education above every other goal and formed the vanguard for other reform forces which would sweep through all German schools in the 1920’s.
This proposal describes what an ideal school site might look like if constructed from the ground up, outlining the necessary facilities to support this proposal fully. Of course, that would only be possible by an influx of funds to replace the existing aging infrastructure, or dramatically rehabilitate existing schools. In developing a possible model for replication by other schools, we will describe the essential components of the campus as a general template, inasmuch as previously asserted, that no two schools are alike and no two classrooms are alike.
Whenever a new teacher comes to a school and walks into that new classroom, thought must be given to the best way instruction can be delivered, given the placement of the teacher’s desk, the student desks, and the whiteboard/blackboard. Technology enhancements such as SmartBoards, video visualizers, or projector screens must have a place that is easily accessible for students to use. The design and layout of a classroom will be with the input of teachers who will teach there.
In order to make the school a true community center it must be able to serve the community that will send its youth through its doors. The community school campus should have within its campus an assembly area inside and outdoors, an area for a large community garden, a daycare/preschool, a healthcare clinic, a laundry, and a robust afterschool program for teenagers/adults in the community who wish to attain skills or resources in order to improve their lives.
The only consistent part of education in the past hundred years is the call for reform, which reflects the dominant society of the time. Sometimes they were prompted by global events like Sputnik, or by the struggle for civil rights. In recent times, they have been propelled by business or corporate models, where the socially situated nature of education is replaced by a definitive product (the student), wrongly holding the teacher fiscally accountable for test scores, and punishing districts who do not meet standards.
In my 24 years in education, in different schools with varied demographics, primarily Title 1 schools, I have seen these reforms rolled in with great fanfare, but with very little support or enthusiasm from teachers who were usually left out of the process. This is not a reform, but a revisitation to the type of schools our nation needs to build strong communities of united people striving towards for a common goal. Sometimes old ideas are the best ideas.