A Common Education with a Common Human Core

By JON MADIAN

Like evolution, it seems that much that is happening and has happened in our educational institutions happens unconsciously, and so much is the result of unintended consequence. How much is also a matter of biology where cause and effect mix with destiny in ways unfathomable to people in any given period of time?

Here we should keep in mind that evolution may be moving us from locally territorial creatures to locally and globally empathic, and some would say, transcendent citizens of the creation.

It seems we may still be more in our territorial phase than the humanitarian stage of our development as a society. Without the ability to secure our basic territory, survival is unsustainable. But territory secured at the expense of others leads to great social dangers and a deadening of the heart of both the victor and the loser, the Master and the Slave. Both Marx and the early Christians understood this.

It seems clear that the more materialistic, atomistic, defensively analytic and frightened we are, the more territorial and controlling we are at the expense of our empathetic and transcendent potentials.

Unfortunately, our education system is currently choosing this defensive, materialistic posture. Our current focus on accountability is one part of that materialistic, bureaucratic and controlling push. Though envisioned to push for equity, in fact, No Child Left Behind and its antecedents has dehumanized all children. We must re-humanize the system to achieve our goals — an equal and useful education for all.

For example, New York City under Mayor Bloomberg, and with the best of intentions, invested tens of millions of dollars in school reform. It was all focused on academic progress and building a technology enhanced accountability system. IBM was one of the primary corporate partners. The result, there was no significant improvement.

Why? Perhaps NYC didn’t accurately and deeply diagnose the problem so the standardized curriculum did not reach into the lives of the most challenged, the most at-risk students. These students’ emotional, social, and psychological needs were ignored. The paucity of identity enhancing substance that would provide a sense of purpose and hope into their lives was utterly ignored. Self-expression and exploration to discover and nourish identity-enhancing projects was deemed irrelevant. Teach what needs to be taught to pass the test was the mantra. And it was a “disasta”.

Accountability as Hector Vila in “The Prepared Mind” makes eloquently clear, is the handmaiden of conformity. Conformity is the goal of the factory and the army and the enemy of growing a healthy, unique, thinking and feeling identity.

Our current curriculum with its focus on standards and accountability places teachers and students in the strip malls of their minds. The wonders and beauties of creation and of being are dehydrated into a testable, textbook sterilized world where eventually even the human voice is either mechanical or mute.

Because our manufacturing culture is ultimately a dehumanizing culture, it has to advertise that love comes with a new car, white teeth, a new iPhone, a sexy partner. What commerce takes away that is our birth right it replaces with a product we can buy. When the orange groves in orange country were cut down to build tract houses and strip malls, the streets that paved over the fertile soil were named Orange Blossom, Orange Blvd, Orange Way.

Thus, we are sold the idea that a “successful” learner is a successful earner and thus a successful consumer is at the pinnacle of the food chain. So go to college. You’ll earn more. No you won’t necessarily learn more about who you really are. You won’t necessarily learn to hear your heart speak with musical, poetic, mathematical, or humanitarian eloquence.

Since our true identity is through reflection, feeling, heartbreak, creativity, empathy, purposeful projects, the arts, and work as “love made manifest” we need to redirect schooling in these directions. These drives all began in our tribal origins. Likely we were better and wiser when we lived in our first tribes as extended and mutually dependent families. Tragically our do-it-for-profit society ignores our from-prophets (or from the heart) wisdom grounded in our deepest origins and purposes.

So, what is the way back and forward? Surely NOT measurable accountability that pushes us toward an ever more standardized, superficial, time-ordered and fragmented culture of meaningless learning, or work without purpose, all designed to prepare us to pass THE TEST.

The sensitivity and talent that exists in our communities is the place to begin to change this. We have to believe that we can wed our capitalistic-industrial and financial genius into a force for good for all humanity.

Yes, let’s discover together how to stop covering superficial and soon forgotten content that dehumanizes students and teachers and begin to design to discover our individual and global human potential. Let’s teach students to recognize and appreciate the best in their genetic and cultural heritage.

Let’s bring the science of learning and of human development forward and work for a shared purpose. Let’s bring that spirit and purpose into our classrooms to help students discover moment by moment that they are created by — born from and into — a beautiful creation where their identity and ability is built on co-creating, nourishing others, honoring diversity, and not on suppressing one’s liveliest instincts in order to memorize content to pass standardized tests to get to the head of the line with the largest smart TV.

If we can unite our greatest humanistic traditions, our sciences, and our current technologies with the best in our business sense we will revolutionize how we create, organize and disseminate knowledge.

Then we can build our schools into 21st century cathedrals for human development. In this way, within our schools, we can nurture our common human core and the knowledge contained in our 21st century culture, along with all that has come before and all that is possible for our future.

It is our choice: Do we continue to build and work in our schools modeled after factories and strip malls, or do we stake our life’s work on rediscovering our reverence for who we are and on the magic and miracle of the world we have been blessed to be born into. Ironically, this is a world our scientific, technological culture makes more miraculous every day. How is it possible that in the name of education and equity we are taking that miracle away?

Jon Madian founded Humanities Software with his wife, Karen Jostad, in 1983 — sold to Renaissance Learning in 1999. Jon also founded the Artist-in-Residence Reading Project in the Inner City of Los Angeles (1976–1979). Foundation, state, and federal grants capitalized R&D to create one of the first learner-centered, computer-assisted curriculum design programs. A consultant for Apple, IBM, Capstone, and Microsoft and for schools and curriculum publishers, Jon is also a psychologist and children’s book author. He helped developed over 100 reading and writing software programs and has written extensively on technology, curriculum, and school reform.

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Community Works Institute (CWI) provides resources, professional development, and collaboration opportunities for educators. Our focus is on place based education, service learning, and sustainability.
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