Former Teacher Has Five-Stage Blueprint For Change
BY TIM MUNKEBY
Editor’s Note: Former junior and senior high school teacher Tim Munkeby thinks America’s education system needs an overhaul, a facelift, a complete re-thinking. And so, he’s formulated his thoughts and ideas about change and improvement into a plan, a blueprint if you will, consisting of five stages. You might call it idyllic, or utopian–maybe unfeasible. Regardless, folks like embattled U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy Devos should definitely take note.
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If we want people to be open-minded and at least have a chance at getting along (peace in the world, for example) it would seem hard to dispute that education is the answer. And that education must start at birth. As Former President Barack Obama has said, “before the lines of division have hardened.”
Although peace in the world may have never existed, it certainly seems a worthy goal in the evolution of the human race. Our current philosophy of education obviously isn’t getting us anywhere near that goal. When American kids reach school age they’re often crammed indoors into a room of 20, 30, or even 40 students–and basically told to sit still and shut up. Many end up feeling ignored or angry, or both.
Einstein once pointed out, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that created them.” We need to change our thinking. We need to revolutionize how we educate. We need to start by determining what we are trying to accomplish with education.
Education of the Heart
The Dalai Lama, who is hard to argue with, tells us, “My hope and wish is that one day formal education will pay attention to what I call “education of the heart.” Just as we take for granted the need to acquire proficiency in the academic subjects, I am hopeful that a time will come when we can take it for granted that children will learn, as part of their curriculum, the indispensability of inner values: love, compassion, justice, and forgiveness.”
One might argue that this sounds like something you should learn in church and is the role of religion. But, as history has shown, religion has caused more divide, hatred, and war than any other institution.
The Dalai Lama, when asked what his religion is, answers: “kindness.” That may appear unreasonably altruistic, but any answer related to being fettered to a formal religion will, more than likely, divide–not unite–if history repeats itself. In a perfect world, all children would be taught the “education of the heart” by their families. But the reality is that this, for a number of reasons, seems not to be the case.
The current Pope, who is refreshingly ecumenical and universal in his moral scope embracing all religions–much like the Dalai Lama–has said: “The globalized world in which we live demands…the effective promotion of the cultural, social, and legal conditions which enable individuals and communities to grow in freedom, and which support the mission of the family as the fundamental building-block of society, ensuring a sound and integral education for the young.”
A Cancerous Trend
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one in three children live without a father in the home. Only 41 percent of fathers are part of a married-couple family. And according to a recent and not-surprising report in the Journal of Family Psychology, children without involved fathers have more behavior problems and do worse in school. They are more likely to be malnourished, suffer from obesity, experience unplanned pregnancies, commit crimes and end up in jail. In addition, a census-counted 2.5 million men are single fathers.
Changing this corrosive pattern, which is worsening each year, requires that our education system supply the support these children need. Hopefully, reforming how we educate children will reverse this cancerous trend.
The concept of “belonging” to a community with shared and supported values may be more important than is apparent. We have moved away from this with the closing and consolidation of school districts. While this may be economically prudent, if parents and communities, as well as local businesses, become more involved in the educational process, the sense of community – a culture reinforcing positive social values — can be reestablished. This is becoming more and more important as our communities, around the world, become more and more diverse and need assimilation strategies.
The Importance of Community
A commendable example of the benefits of community involvement can be found in community colleges, in some locations where the community ensures the schools are supported and funded properly. Community colleges fill a much growing need in our educational system; they help reduce the overall expense of a four-year college education, thus requiring less financially strapping student loans.
They also fill a significant need to retrain people whose jobs have been lost, primarily due to technology. It seems apparent that, while liberal arts and advanced degrees are appropriate for the academically inclined, workforce training is becoming much more necessary. In fact, the Center for the Study of Community Colleges proclaims, “Community colleges are now seen as the primary vehicles for workforce training in this country.”
When properly funded and supported by the community, including by local businesses, as much as 99 percent of community college students either go on to four-year colleges or enter the workforce. This is especially true in states that offer free community college tuition.
At the same time, at community colleges where there is no community support, a June 2017 TIME article reported that as little as 10 percent of students even graduate.
Teachers of Diminished Quality
Unfortunately we seem to be heading in the wrong direction. We currently have a shortage of teachers, and fewer and fewer are entering teacher-training programs. This is a huge potential problem and we need the foresight to deal with this before its crisis time.
There are many reasons for this. One, of course, is that we pay, what may be our most important profession, poorly. I can personally attest to this: I thoroughly enjoyed teaching, was considered a good teacher, and was heavily involved with specialty classes, coaching, directing plays, and publishing the literary magazine. But, with five children and my wife at home raising them, we were living hand to mouth, surviving—by raising our own food (vegetables and animals on our small hobby farm). My income was so small that my own kids qualified for the subsidized school lunch program. So, I left for a job I found rewarding as well, but making many times my teaching salary.
Tim Munkeby was a junior and senior high school English teacher for 13 years in a Minnesota public school district, serving also as advisor of a school literary magazine and as a soccer coach. Munkeby left the teaching profession in the mid-1980s to pursue a new career in financial management.
This is a big problem now and may well become tragic if nothing is done by our shortsighted government leaders. Lack of respect for the one-time highly respected profession is a problem, obviously. Competent people are not attracted to un-respected careers. Many teachers are relegated to “teaching to testing”–something a robot could do, and might if we aren’t careful.
Two additional Einstein nuggets: “It’s a miracle that curiosity survives formal education” and “Study is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.”
Just what are we thinking!?
More and more is expected from teachers and funding is regularly cut. Low morale is prevalent and too many teachers are frustrated teaching in an unchallenging and outdated system. Teachers who love teaching need to feel they’re challenging their students as well as themselves, and, by what they contribute, are making the world a better place through their efforts.
If we want to attract dynamic people and keep vital teachers, students, parents, communities, and the government must realize the world’s, as well as the U.S.’ priority has to be to provide the funding for an effective education for our children. This should include the “education of the heart,” and should provide on-going education for our ever-changing workforce. Neither of these needs is being universally met in our current educational environment.
A Blueprint for Change
The following is an initial attempt to outline how we might consider revolutionizing education in the U.S. to meet today’s needs–assuming, again, that learning starts at birth and never ends. Much of what I’m suggesting here is already being implemented in many exceptional schools. Naturally, passionate educators will have ideas to add and the application of concepts will vary by geographic demographics.
Although an important function of education will always be to inform, train, and enlighten people to reach their academic potential, it would seem at least as important, if not more so, that education’s mission is to make people aware of how to act, with solidarity, in a civilized world.
If we strive, as citizens of the United States, to be leaders, what better way than to lead the way to peace in the world by appropriately revolutionizing our educational systems?
Starting with Assumptions
Let’s start with assumptions—what we assume to be true, or in agreement about, when it comes to education as it stands today.
1) Our current education system is inadequate, outdated, and not fair to all.
2) Leaders in local and federal government must realize that the funding of education should be the country’s (as well as the world’s) #1 priority, and become aware that it’s less expensive to educate properly than fix the problems resulting from lack of proper education.
3) Teacher training institutions must adapt to reflect the needs of teachers in the revolutionizing of how to effectively educate our students and citizenry.
4) Since teachers primarily focus on instruction, counselors must play a larger role in the socialization, assessment, and guidance of students at all levels. It has been shown that even at college level, counselors are necessary in keeping students on track, thus increasing graduation rates.
5) Although PUBLIC education would seem to assure that education is standardized and thus fair for all, we may need to recognize that much of the pioneering in educational change may start with communities and private institutions which are able to innovate and lead the way until funding becomes available to provide an equally excellent education for all.
6) It’s difficult to comment on the necessary political strategies needed to bring about change, but to avoid gridlock and pitfalls at the highest levels of government, the impetus for the funding and revolutionizing of our educational system may need start with grassroots efforts. Community groups, educational leaders and then, ultimately, mayors and governors may be more prone to unbiased action at a local and state level (as opposed to the political pandering and obstructionism we see at the federal level).
7) There are dedicated and innovative minds in education who will understand how the changes should evolve and will be able to prioritize what changes should be implemented in which communities and appropriate geographical areas, until the funding becomes available for universal change. More activism and involvement from parents and students, themselves, should help provide impetus for the changes needed for an equally effective and fair education for all students.
8) The community, mentors/advocates, as well as parents, must become more active participants in the educational process.
9) Government and teacher training institutions recognize and elevate the essential role teachers play in a child’s life from birth, pre-school, through post-secondary, and continuing into adult life–and that the benefit to society of a well-educated citizenry be acknowledged. Educators’ pay should be commensurate with this understanding.
10) A properly educated citizenry is an honest, respectful, trustworthy, peaceful one and, thus, beneficial to humanity and our earth.
11) Although currently not, but ideally should be, an assumption: if education is perceived as our #1 priority, public education at all levels is free to all citizens.
Blueprint Stage 1: Birth to Kindergarten
And now, my blueprint, laid out in four stages. It’s a declaration of rights, of sorts, of what should be and must be in order for education to evolve. Stage one encompasses, approximately, ages zero to six.
1) A child’s education starts at birth.
2) Children are born curious, open-minded, and unbiased. Education initiated at birth should strive to maintain these attributes until school, throughout schooling and, hopefully, in life after schooling.
3) Every child will have at least one caring adult in his or her life.
4) If a parent (or parents) is unable to provide the caring for whatever reason (for instance, in a father-less or single parent-parent family), the parent(s) will be assisted by an advocate/mentor who will be trained and thoroughly vetted. “Assisted” implies a collaboration. In some cases where children are born into a toxic family life, an advocate (a caring adult) is absolutely necessary. Although the benefits of an advocate are endless, the basic purpose is to assure that a child is read to so they at least feel like they belong when they reach school.
5) All children interact with children of every other possible race and ethnicity before entering kindergarten, whether this be in funded daycare or a broader program. Dealing with diversity at an early age is essential.
6) All children are read to, if not by a parent, then by an advocate or caring adult. Although the advocate/caring adult may be more essential for children in toxic home environments, which can exist in any strata of society, ideally every child/student, regardless of family or living environment, is appointed an advocate at birth. This would avoid the appearance of any ‘profiling’ or perceived discrimination in the minds of a parent(s).
7) Although it may be necessary for various ‘pilot’ programs to spearhead this revolution in education, eventually all programs (which would involve advocates) such as Head Start, Big Brother/ Big Sister and the like, should ideally be consolidated in a well-organized, comprehensive program such as Early Childhood Education to ensure uniform benefits for all students. The books to be read to children should be selected by the program.
8) All parents must also be involved in the diverse groups, daycare or broader, that their children interact in.
9) Children will be taught, with parental involvement, the traits and values necessary for positive interaction: kindness, empathy, compassion, tolerance, trust, etc. (education of the heart).
10) Students, from birth, learn to trust their parent(s), advocate, parents of other students, etc.–eventually trusting their teachers and other students, ensuring their success in the school environment when they get there.
11) Special needs will be identified as early as possible and handled immediately by a professional.
12) No student should arrive at kindergarten angry, feeling he/she doesn’t belong, predisposed to fail.
Important takeaway here: If all children from day one (“Before the lines of division have hardened”) interact with as many ethnically diverse children and adults as possible, the world should be a more peaceful place.
Blueprint Stage 2: Kindergarten through Middle School
1) All special needs should have been identified by kindergarten and those students should continue to receive professional help. Special needs could range from behavior to exceptionalism.
2) Whenever students who don’t have English as their primary language enter school they will be enrolled in ESL/ELL, and, furthermore, along with their parents, have additional classes in assimilation strategies, including ESL/ELL for the parents if necessary.
3) A new student is assigned an advocate or a mentor, if they haven’t one, who could be a high school student, a college student, or community member, to collaborate with a parent(s).
4) Students are given daily play time, outdoors when possible.
5) Students are to experience nature first-hand.
6) Students in the city take field trips to the country; students in the country to the city.
7) The intent of education at this stage is exploratory. As students mature they are monitored to discover their interests, aptitudes, and natural abilities.
8) No student is made to feel stupid or allowed to feel bored/ unchallenged. Students, as they mature, can start to focus on appropriate skills and studies they are more likely to succeed at. Failure is not an option, just an undiscovered ability or skill.
9) Smaller class size, ideally no more than 15-20 pupils, is necessary for more individual attention and assessment.
10) Besides academic subjects, students experience working with their hands: art, music, woodworking, mechanics, home science, etc. — including physical activity.
11) In addition to sports, all students are involved in extra-curricular activities and clubs.
12) Students will experience less lecturing and testing. Working together in groups and utilizing a multi-dimensional, inter-disciplinary approach to subjects will be emphasized.
13) Students continue to get read to, and when able, are required to read themselves, supported by an advocate who, ideally, is still involved and has the trust of the parent(s) and student. If an advocate no longer exists, either a new advocate or a mentor, thoroughly vetted, is enlisted at least throughout STAGE 3. It should be considered a high honor for a community member or older student to be selected as an advocate or as a mentor for help in subject matter.
14) Parents, students, and advocate/mentor continue to meet and do events i.e., outings, picnics, get-togethers, with their original ethnically diverse group or new one if necessary.
15) Besides keeping students up-to-date on technology, they need to be educated and aware of the evolving significance of technology and how it and social media affect their lives, their behavior, and health.
16) Counselors are given a much more active role in a student’s education, assisting the teacher in continual assessment, and working individually with students.
17) Students are encouraged, if not required, to volunteer in their community.
18) Every student as they prepare to move into secondary school will be expected to excel at something, not everything.
19) Every student will have an exit interview with a counselor and/or teacher to ensure they understand as much as possible about themselves, and what their expectations should be for study in high school. This ideally not only includes ability but their learning and behavioral styles.
Important takeaway here: Students get to know themselves better, experience nature firsthand, and work with their hands as well as their minds.
Blueprint Stage 3: High School
1) Exploration should continue but students should start to focus on more specific areas of study dependent on continuing assessment of interests, ability and aptitude.
2) Students are made aware of their social skills and how they interact with others.
3) Problem solving in groups should be emphasized as well as public speaking to groups.
4) Positive attributes continue to be emphasized: empathy, kindness, tolerance, non-judgment, trust, etc.
5) Students continue to interact with diverse cultures and ethnicities. Hopefully their original diverse groups are still intact and, ideally, the advocate is still involved with the student as well as the parent(s).
6) Physical exercise is required daily.
7) Students should continue, in some fashion, to experience nature and the outdoors.
8) Any student, without English as their primary language, that enters school in high school is immediately enrolled with a professional in an ESL/ELL class and, along with parent(s), in a community or school sponsored assimilation program.
9) As technology evolves, students continue to be taught not only its use but also its effect on behavior as well as mental and physical health.
10) All students must start or continue to volunteer in the community as a graduation requirement.
11) Mentoring of a younger student, any age, qualifies as volunteerism. It should be considered a high honor to be selected as a mentor.
12) Counselors continue to be and are even more involved with students their senior year regarding plans after graduation.
13) Every student has at least two informational interviews at companies or businesses they’re interested in. An internship could qualify as volunteerism.
14) Every student has an exit interview with a counselor, along with parent(s) and advocate/mentor, concerning post-grad choices.
Important takeaway here: From Einstein, again: “Only a life lived for others is worth living.” Students learn they are part of something much bigger than themselves.
Blueprint Stage 4: Post-secondary Education
1) Having had more directed and personally guided exploration of areas of study, and exposure to classes geared to interest, aptitude and ability, students are more able to select appropriate areas of study and institutions of higher learning. Having had informational interviews and internships in middle and high school will also have helped in post-secondary decisions.
2) Community colleges should be utilized more frequently for the first two years to limit student loans, and help direct those students that may be unprepared and thus become failures in large universities to other options, including training for the workforce.
3) Universities and alternative educational institutions should cooperate and do what’s best for the student, not the economics of the institution.
4) Especially with freshman, counselors continue to play an active role in aiding students in the direction their educational choices and studies lead them.
5) Counselors should provide personal inventory tools to ensure students’ career choices match their behavior, learning, and work styles.
6) All credits from two-year institutions transfer to any four-year school.
7) Students should get college credit for volunteering in the community, especially for mentoring students in Stages 1, 2, and 3.
8) Various means should continue to be provided and required for students of different race, cultures, and ethnicities to interact with each other.
9) Education continues not only on the changing use of technology in life and careers, but also on the personal and social impact of various social media.
10) All students have programs on career and financial literacy.
11) Informational interviews at companies in the student’s field of study should be encouraged and credited.
12) Colleges and universities make up-to-date labor statistics and changing employment needs readily available for students.
13) Students are made aware of fields of study and careers for which there are no employment prospects.
14) All schools have studies available to students related to a) companies and corporations that have instances of abuses of social justice and the environment; and b) companies with recognition for doing inherently the “right thing” for the environment, society, and the world at large.
Important takeaway here: Healthy, informed, open-minded people make good decisions.
Blueprint Stage 5: Re-training and Continuing Education
1) Accessible programs should be more actively created at public institutions for re-training and educating workers who have been laid off or whose jobs have disappeared due to technology or changing demand.
2) Unemployed people who want to get back to work should not be prevented from doing so due to lack of personal funds or the lack of attaining or inability to pay back student loans. All workers wanting to re-train should be able to without restriction. Ideally re-training or educating an unemployed worker is free.
3) All schools are more involved in the community and have programs involving the community regarding the acceptance of diversity and promotion of cultural assimilation.
4) All schools have programs screening and preparing adults to become mentors and advocates for students in stages 1 – 3.
5) Schools consider companies, corporations, and institutions that supply employment in their communities as being citizens of their community and assess and make public how good a citizen each is.
6) Schools at all levels encourage their community citizens, including institutions, to be involved in community service and volunteerism.
Important takeaway here: With workforce needs changing so rapidly at all levels of employment, our educational institutions should be made easily accessible for re-training and re-education.
The Intent and Process of Education
Originally, the purpose of “schooling” was to teach the three R’s: Readin’, Ritin’, and ‘Rithmatic. Basic knowledge was taught and students went off into the world to learn their trade on the job. Education evolved to include “higher education” as called for by the Industrial Revolution and now the fast-expanding Technological Revolution. Needs have changed but our process has pretty much remained the same.
So, does our now antiquated process, and thus our anticipated goals and outcomes [of education], need to change in light of our specialized and global world? It seems apparent that our schools need to do so much more now.
Students themselves can no longer “receive” an education passively, but must be more proactive and involved. Due to technological advances, the attaining of information has changed and is much more available, instantly–requiring a change in how we get “information” to students. Students, along with teachers and counselors, must pay more attention to their skills, talents, aptitudes, abilities and interests so as to be successful, happy and fulfilled. Their education must evolve in order to prepare them to be flexible to the rapidly changing needs of society.
Education’s Influence on Ethics, Morality and Tolerance
In the past, how to behave socially was left up to students’ families. This was easier to accomplish with a parent at home and with families cloistered in homogeneous communities with similar backgrounds and values. In a world of ever-changing technology and social media, much of our children’s moral code, ethics, and behavior is now influenced by sources outside the home.
Consequently, the behavior conducive to interacting peacefully and respectfully with each other must be taught and reinforced in our educational system. Some of this is being done in some communities here in the U.S., but it’s apparent that it’s not done sufficiently or comprehensively.
It may be that the most essential intent of education would be to encourage students to respect and get along with people regardless of their race, gender, ethnicity, or religion. They must be taught to embrace diversity. At birth we have no biases. We need to keep it that way–with education that commences at birth and continues throughout life.
If teaching respect is theintent, the means is guiding each child in his or her quest for success, happiness and fulfillment. And really, aren’t “success” and “happy” synonymous?
The Right to a Successful Education
No one should start school feeling they don’t belong; nor should they drop out or even graduate feeling they’re a failure. It isn’t the student who fails, but the system, the educational process that failed. It’s in the U.S. Constitution: Everyone has the right to pursue happiness. It should be a “right” for all to have access to the education essential in this pursuit.
Yes, it’s going to take a revolution to convince our governmental representatives that education must be our number one priority. But again, we need to show them that it’s not too expensive to provide the best educational experience possible for our people, that the money saved will be more than the money spent later.
Is this a possibility or is it a pipedream? If we in the United States could, with all our clout, first provide a template and then show success, maybe a worldwide organization–the United Nations, for instance–could adopt the template and reach for universal success.
If we can agree that the goal of humanity is world peace, we must also realize that education is the answer. In fact, in the long run, this realization may be necessary to simply save humanity.
Tim Munkeby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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