• How will schools embrace the fact that by the year 2010, 39% of American school children will be minority students?
• How will schools respond to the changing needs of the American family, only 6% of which are two-parent, one-wage-earner households?
• Given the technological advances in society, will schools of the future be a modification of today's schools or an entirely new generation of schools?
• How will schools ensure that faculty have access to the ongoing research in learning and teaching?
• Will schools be able to break down the barriers between academic departments to allow the degree of collaboration that an integrated approach to learning demands?
• How will schools address the issue of moral education and the dilemmas that it poses?
• Can schools be creative in keeping tuition down while generating new revenue sources?
• To what extent will schools join into collaborative ventures with one another for programming, purchasing and capital investments?
An excerpt of comments made by Pamela Jones Clarke ‘62 at Shipley’s Centennial Symposium on Education, which was hosted by Shipley on January 22, 1994.
Education does change.
If [Miss Speer] had convened such an educational meeting as this at the 50th anniversary of the School, I believe the menu would have featured quite different questions; we would have talked about whether to teach foreign languages to our kids and which foreign language to teach. Our political divisions over isolationism vs. intervention would bear on the choice—no one considered the Asian languages, and German would have seemed unnecessary or not refined enough. French was the language of culture and literature, and Spanish wasn’t mentioned.
In the ’50s, the discussion might have centered on approaches to the teaching of reading—shall we do phonics or phonetics?
In the ’60s, the educational topics turned to math and science and the business of keeping up with the Russians. Sputnik made us feel unprepared, and teaching went on a run towards the moon. We were competing now in the western European arena, and we didn’t want Ivan to read better than Johnny.
In the ’70s, we’d have debated open classrooms and the notion of assessing readiness for learning—shall we force youngsters to learn according to a calendar, or shall we wait until maturity or inspiration strikes? We began furiously to surround our children with stimulating objects of learning—enter the plastic letters for the fridge and the Cuisenaire rods for the classrooms.
And now look at our program today—diversity, gender, technology, values, and ethics. The topics for the present and the immediate future are largely affective... I’m not complaining, but the task before the school has changed enormously—it is a given now that we will do the academic learning and a new requirement that we provide safety and health education and three meals per day in many schools.
We are all aware that the children we teach have changed as well... By 2010 (16 years) 39% of the kids in the US will be minority students... These changes in our populations affect our schools, for sure, and I maintain that the change is for the better. What we must do is to mirror the population in order that we provide the most effective and most realistic education for all kids.
We know, too, that the American family is changing as well, but are you aware that on the 1990 census, only 6% of the families registered as two-parent, one-wage-earner households?
What is the effect of this changing population on our teaching? Changes in society always affect what we teach and now we must first teach these diverse children to know one another, and we must now teach some life skills and some ethical lessons that might once have been taught at home.
The academic issues remain how to teach reading and writing and arithmetic, and the curriculum has grown by leaps to include computers, environmental studies, and personal health. College majors reflect change as well: African-American Studies, Arts for therapeutic purposes, Women’s Studies, computer programming.
The most important thing we must teach in the 21st century is non-violent confrontation and peaceful resolution of differences. The lessons taught by Mahatma Gandhi and reiterated by Martin Luther King resound through life, long after the thrill of reaching the moon or Mars has receded into pleasant memory and a story for the grandkids.
I think for the next century that we must begin to teach these values by first teaching our children to live and to work and to play and to sing together and to learn together with all the children of this truly universal nation of ours. No small task.
Like any big job, the way to accomplish it is to break it down into smaller parts and begin. Our children must understand, for example, not only the Judeo-Christian religious tradition into which some have been born, but also the major philosophic tenets of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, B’Hai, Shinto, and all the religions represented in this country. Our students, in order to work and play and sing and learn together, will have to know African history, Australian culture, Asian philosophy, and Eastern bloc politics. They’ll have to study other language systems in order better to understand and to appreciate their friends and colleagues.
I am not talking about teaching tolerance. The time for tolerance is past. I am not talking about acquiring versatility with politically correct language. I am talking about acquiring the freedom, flexibility, and sensitivity to understand and appreciate a person of another color, another language, another value system, a religion other than one’s own.
Another task is to move beyond assimilating students of other races and histories into our own and towards understanding the tensions and histories that exist between and among students of other cultures as well.
So our first order of business is to learn to get along. All our kids... must learn the lessons of democracy if they are to be successful learners together here. And if we are to conquer the health and safety issues besetting our schools—the AIDS, the guns, the fights between groups, we must start in the schools and teach genuine understanding.
The schools must do this by first modeling the behavior we expect of our students. We must be above reproach as institutions, careful not to overlook any sensibility; careful to treat all our employees with equal understanding; and careful to treat all our students as we want them to treat each other.
We must begin to teach kids moral behavior by behaving extremely morally in our schools. We should convert our schools from benign dictatorships to democracies not settling merely for consensus but for participation.
We must teach kids things that are important and relevant... and kids who are successful at tasks will feel strong enough to learn the hardest lessons.
We must ask kids to do things which are hard, and we must reward them when they succeed—even as we allow them to fail. We are quick today to reward everything and slow to criticize because it’s become politically insensitive to criticize a child’s work—for fear of lowering self esteem or hurting feelings.
I feel strongly about teaching the moral lessons we need to live now and into the next century, because these lessons mirror the children we will be teaching. The classrooms will look different, and our students and faculty will bring different expectations, preparations, and preconceptions. We’ll still need to teach calculus and chemistry and composition—and more than ever we need to teach these subjects well. But in order to teach effectively in today’s and tomorrow’s classrooms, we need to create the climate of truth and learning, the climate of equality and respect. I believe it can be done.
Pamela Jones Clarke ’62 has served as Head of five independent schools. She is currently interim Head at Kimball Union Academy.