I was at a conference of educators yesterday. I had been invited to sit on a panel concerning the integration of professional learning communities in schools (primary and secondary). One of the attendees asked the panel how we dealt with the mindset of parents, who expect our schools to produce a certain “product” (i.e. to form their children into a certain mold). I often hear educators talking about students as “products”, and I find this terminology disturbing. It seems to me that there are two major mindsets in the educational world right now.
The first mindset is what I’ll call the “product” mindset. Educators in this mindset think of students as raw material that they must shape and form into a pre-ordained mold. They think of schools as factories that take in all different kinds of raw material and churn out homogeneous “products” (i.e. students) to certain specifications. This mindset comes out of the application of principles from the industrial revolution to the field of education. Many parents and current teachers went through an educational system that treated them this way, and so this is how they conceive of “school”.
The problem I see with this perspective is that every child comes to school as a unique individual; every child has different interests, natural talents, background, family, interest in school, work ethic, perspective, mindset, fears, hopes, dreams, habits, cultures, etc. Personally, I have always been a believer and a follower of the classical “liberal arts”--the skills which, once mastered, set the learner free (i.e. liberate her/him); and which help her/him be a better human being today than s/he was yesterday. I believe authentic education is more about discovering one’s self and one’s place in the kosmos (order of the universe/world) than about learning pre-determined facts.
I don’t see my students as raw material that I need to shape into some desired “product”. Rather, I see my students as individuals, and I try to be a mirror for their souls, to help them discover their true nature, their gifts, their deep selves, and their place in the world, so they can go forth and be authentic human beings who can contribute positively to a global society.