At many junctures in a child’s life, teachers ask parents what their goals are for their child. The purpose of the question is to understand what parents expect – what their hopes and dreams are for their child. Invariably, parents will say that they want their child to do her best and to be happy. We all want to raise human beings who are happy and well-adjusted.
Recently, many in the field of education have began to question the true purpose of school. Do we send children to school to learn facts, to be the “best” students or to question ideas that have withstood the test of time? Should an established curriculum be the focus, or is it important to learn to think and discover facts beyond what is taught in the set curriculum? What approach will best set children up for success in their future lives as adults in a rapidly changing world?
Research has demonstrated that those who “do school well” will rise to the top in educational settings. They will be at the top of their class; they will understand and follow the rules of school; they will experience success. That definition of success is one that can be challenged. Schools began as a way to educate our citizens. They allowed everyone to learn to read and write. They leveled the playing field by providing opportunities for all, and that is the minimum standard which most schools meet. But does this set children up for success in life?
To truly educate our children, we must look beyond the basics that education can offer. We must challenge our educational system to do that and so much more. How do we teach children to solve real-world problems and to question and evaluate new ideas and solutions that are offered? How do children learn to work as part of a team, contributing at various levels depending on the circumstances, ideas and information available? How do they learn the math or science beyond what is taught in upper-level courses when it is needed to explore a problem or its solution? Where will they go to learn more when the information is beyond what a teacher is able to teach? How will they evaluate the credibility of the information they find?
Education is slow to adapt to change. We know what works for one student doesn’t work for all. We want children to think for themselves and become more and more independent as they grow. We need a system that nurtures a growing sense of independence, that isn’t threatened by non-conformity. We need schools that are individually and collectively responsive to the needs of the children they serve. That is the path to success. Each child who enters school at a young age needs to know that he is on that path, and it is a path that is created with his individual needs at the center. When parents say they want their children to be happy and be a good person, they are also saying that they want their children to be understood and honored for who they are. That is what will lead children to want more and learn more. That is lifelong success – not simply school success.