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Schools must produce contributors

Publication Date: 2008-03-21

Standard-Examiner, March 14, 2008

Lynn Stoddard asks a crucial question. Ask parents what their priorities are for their children.

The Standard-Examiner recently reported that America now has more people per capita in jails than any other country -- at a cost of $49 billion per year. Simultaneously, Education Week reported, "NCLB related testing is fueling (high school) dropout rates." High pressure testing of compulsory learning is pushing more and more students out of school. With the higher rate of criminal activity among high school dropouts, our traditional public school system may be largely responsible for the overload of our jails.

What would happen if we changed the main goal of public education from improvement of achievement test scores to this: Develop great human beings to be contributors (not burdens) to society?

This is the goal that was adopted at one school in Northern Utah after teachers interviewed parents to learn of their priorities. They discovered that parents wanted more from education than improved scores on achievement tests. Three objectives were more important to them than high standardized achievement test scores:

1. Identity -- Parents first of all wanted their children to sense their unlimited potential, develop their unique abilities and have feelings of self-worth as contributors.

2. Inquiry -- Parents wanted their children to be curious about the world, hungry to learn and able to ask important questions.

3. Interaction -- Parents wanted children to respect one another, cooperate, communicate and get along.

These findings led to a new concept -- curriculum should not be viewed as a "goal" but as a "tool" to help students grow in the priorities of parents. Teachers found that students learned reading, writing, mathematics and other disciplines faster and better when they focused on helping students grow in personal identity, inquiry and interaction. They worked with parents to find something in which every child could excel. There was no achievement gap.

We can reduce the jail population by changing the main goal and mission of schools.

If we change what we hold teachers accountable for -- if we stop expecting teachers to standardize students and start valuing and nurturing individual potential, we can create a system of education where teachers can perform as professionals and inspire students to become valuable contributors (not burdens) to society.

Stoddard is a retired educator living in Farmington. He can be reached at lstrd@yahoo.com.

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