Positive Change in Education: Efforts Toward Sustainable Economic Development

Submitted by Sudhir Kade on Mon, 10/31/2005 - 00:22.

Several organizations in Northeast Ohio have wrangled with the
concept of educational reform for decades, yet we have only seen
incremental improvements over the years. More recently, change efforts
have been ramped up, with survey and dialog based initiatives such as
Voices and Choices and By the People currently in full swing. RealNEO
has advocated educational reform since inception and has hosted City
Club roundtable forums over the past year to address this very
issue. All of these efforts have centered upon core challenges to
address and these are as follows:

  1. Creating curriculum for the 21st century
  2. Funding quality education for all people
  3. Higher education : mitigating brain drain
  4. Role of Parenting versus Government
  5. Collaborating effectively to drive positive change in Education
  6. Appealing to the intrinsic motivation of students (see 1)

Opinions
vary and differ on approaches and methodologies to employ to resolve
these issues, and as such polling and survey data from Gallup, Voices
and Choices, and MacNeil / Lehrer have all provided insights
representative of Northeast Ohio from which strategic action plans can
be constructed. Understanding the enumerated issues above creates a
critical foundation from which meaningful progress can be made. I
discuss relevant issues and concerns relevant to each topic area as a
separate article starting with…

Article One: Creating Curriculum for the 21st Century

Curriculum
change at all levels of education has been called for decades – many
schools employ teachers who use outdated texts and traditional lesson
plans which lack innovation or appeal for today’s young
people. Furthermore, core positive change concepts which need to be
inculcated throughout curriculum are rarely addressed – for example,
many educational institutions fail to integrate arts and culture
appreciation, creative writing, foreign language, or music instruction
which can be important in cultivating appreciation of culture and
diversity. Mandates such as the No Child Left Behind Act have come
under scrutiny for disregard of topics which speak to culture and
creativity in preference for teaching which focuses on standardized
test preparation and performance. Supporters of the mandate insist that
it creates a measurable standard and sets clear expectations for
teachers and students in the process.

In addition to
curriculum reflective of arts and culture there is great opportunity to
foster an appreciation for issues of the environment and sustainable
community development. The former speaks to cultivating a clear
understanding of the profundity of the situation and cultivating the
shared interest of young people in eco-friendly strategies that help
ensure a decent quality of life for future generations. These teachings
are rarely emphasized at the grade school level and are often
introduced for the first time in college- by this time core behavior
and attitudes on the part of students may have become too entrenched
and reinforced to allow for easy transition to new behaviors and
paradigms supportive of sustainability. A core shift needs to occur not
only at the individual level – which is characterized by shift in
behavior toward recycling, reuse, and reduction of waste products and
consideration of alternative energy sources which are less conducive

to
pollution and global warming. A similar shift is needed to move
students toward ethical integrity and strong character – ethics courses
and experiential learning gained through community service and
citizenship behaviors can help greatly in this regard.

In
essence these curriculum changes need to result in a learning process
that is fun and exciting – and it is here where the creativity and
talent of the teacher are critical. The most innovative curriculum in
the world is still only as successful as the teacher driving and
facilitating the learning process. In order to lead by example, teacher
education needs to reflect these same core values of cultural
appreciation, innovation, and sustainability. Teacher education needs
to stress the identification of the core interest and passion areas of
each student and the cultivation of that energy and passion toward
expertise in that realm. To put it simply, people love doing work they
love.

Innovation in schools themselves (organization and
governance) is also key to change and can mean many things – such
innovations include charter schools, magnet schools, educational
vouchers, shared educational resources across districts, distance
learning, and school choice. There are several verifiable success
stories and best practices to fit each of these innovative models and
these need to be studied and highlighted to feed change efforts where
they are needed.

There has long been a prevailing paradigm
among students in schools of education that studying and learning are
‘nerdy’ behaviors – the popular students are invariably the jocks and
cheerleaders - and this illustrates a perverse pervasion that requires
a fundamental shift. To some extent this means empowering students and
accepting that they are capable of understanding these positive change
concepts should they be clearly and carefully illustrated. A simple
example would be providing examples of ‘nerds’ who have become
billionaires like Bill Gates – perhaps even more effective would be
having alumni of the school return to tell their success stories as
investment bankers, entrepreneurs, or artists and draw the connection
to the importance of hard work and study to their respective success
stories.

Certainly there are many more possibilities in
designing future curriculum and there are always measures of
controversy which require a carefully balanced and fair representation
of issues. Controversy over the appropriateness of spirituality in
public schools is just one example of this – the long standing debate
between Creationism and Evolution is yet another. Traditionally science
has remained steadfast in sticking with those theories and principles
which have significant support and merit. The separation of church and
state (secularism) has been the prevailing paradigm for decades in most
of our nation’s schools. Yet one must wonder if there might be merit in
a non-sectarian, unbiased representation of the world’s religions as a
means of illustrating the diversity of faiths which share remarkable
commonalities. – Agnosticism and Atheism could be included as well, of
course. I can’t help but wonder at the implications for peace and unity
in the world should such lessons in ‘diverse unity’ be instilled in
today’s young people.

Innovation is the key to creating
exciting new curriculum that can positively influence community
development efforts , servitude and citizenship in the future leaders
of tomorrow. Still, the talent and creativity of the teacher steering
discussion and learning cannot be understated. And we must not forget
that there are many entrenched paradigms and there is much resistance
to change that is new or novel. Such resistance will need to be
overcome – and it is hoped that dialogue and study on the part of the
region’s people will help prime the community for change and overcome
prior prejudices and hang-ups. The potential for curriculum and school
change is exciting – and unprecedented collaboration and a willingness
to take calculated risks will both play important role in educational
reform for the region. I, for one, can’t wait to contribute.

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