Millions of parents have suddenly found themselves responsible for overseeing their children’s education from home. This is a formidable challenge on top of the stresses due to the coronavirus pandemic. My hope is that parents, educators and policymakers will finally realize that education must evolve once students hopefully are cleared to go back to school in September.
Now is the time for our school leaders to generate a new compelling philosophy of education and an innovative architecture for a just and humane school system. We must refocus our energy on a foundation built on a sense of purpose, forging relationships and maximizing the talents of all children. Let’s take advantage of the possibility that our nation’s attention can shift 180 degrees, from obsessing over test scores and accountability to an entirely different paradigm of physical, mental, and emotional well-being for students and staff.
It is our collective responsibility to foster a meaningful post-pandemic education environment. As the great philosopher John Dewey stated more than 100 years ago, “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” Now is the time to revolutionize this antiquated system built on old structures and ideologies. I recommend we change the purpose of schooling to the following core values:
• Emphasize well-being. Make child and teacher well-being a top priority in all schools, as engines of learning and system efficiency.
• Upgrade testing and other assessments. Stop the standardized testing of children in third to eighth grades, “opt-up” to higher-quality assessments by classroom teachers. Eliminate the ranking and sorting of children based on standardized testing, and require only one comprehensive testing period to graduate from high school.
• Invest resources fairly. Fund schools equitably on the basis of need. Provide small class sizes.
• Boost learning through physical activity. Give children multiple outdoor free-play recess breaks throughout the school day to boost their well-being and performance. We observed schools in Finland that give children four 15-minute free-play breaks a day.
• Change the focus. Create an emotional atmosphere and physical environment of warmth, comfort and safety so that children are happy and eager to come to school. Teach not just basic skills, but also arts, crafts, music, civics, ethics, home economics and life skills.
• Make homework efficient. Reduce the homework load in elementary and middle schools to no more than 30 minutes per night.
• Trust educators and children. Give them professional respect, creative freedom and autonomy, including the ability to experiment, take manageable risks and fail in the pursuit of success.
• Improve, expand and destigmatize vocational and technical education. Encourage more students to attend schools in which they can acquire valuable career/trade skills.
We have an enormous amount of work to do, but our children deserve nothing less.
Michael Hynes is the superintendent of the Port Washington school district.