Below are key elements of school district mission statements from 14 districts in the NY Metropolitan area.
It is the mission of the (Name of school) to develop:
active, life-long learners
curious, compassionate learners
students responsible for their own learning
independent learners able to work collaboratively to solve problems
creative and critical thinkers
develop students’ individual strengths, skills, and talents
engaging, challenging and personalized learning environments
connections to the global community integrity as a core value
appreciation of self-worth and individual differences
These wonderful concepts to which these school districts have seemingly dedicated themselves, are not in evidence in the reality of what goes on in their school buildings on a day to day basis.
It’s as if there are two realities. One reality is what we think and say to each others as educators, and the other is what we actually do.
It’s as if by enshrining our highest aspirations in the mission statement, we have done something meaningful. It’s as if we hung a sign in front of our house saying we believe in helping our fellow man and then proceeded to do nothing more than sit in front of the TV, shaking our heads in disbelief at the suffering we see.
Here are a few of the key 21st Century Skills that we talk so often about:
Initiative & Self Direction
Flexibility & Adaptability
Leadership & Responsibility
Productivity & Accountability
If you were hiring someone to work for your business wouldn’t you want them to show Initiative? Wouldn’t you want them to be Self-Directed?
Where in our schools do students get to practice Self-Direction? Every minute of their day is scripted, supervised, and monitored. When do we give them Responsibility? Not phony responsibilities like remembering to bring in their pencils or doing their homework; but real responsibility; with real relevance in the context of the real world. How about opportunities to practice real Leadership?
As a general rule, we continue to emphasize working alone and following directions. By our actions we make students feel like they cannot handle real responsibility. We don’t develop their leadership; but do the opposite; we dis-empower them. They have little say in their education. We tell them what classes they have to take, what teachers they will have, what times of day they will eat lunch, what they will have for lunch, what textbooks they will use, how much homework they will have, etc.
We do this knowing full well that these are not the attributes to which we aspire in our mission statements. We do this knowing that these are not the skills that will be key to their success as citizens of this country, nor the world.
We can do better than this. Glancing at the mission statements above, it would seem we know better.
So what is it going to take to have us start embodying our beliefs?
What will it take to get us to stop living in the illusion that our words, our insights, and our good intentions are enough?
When will we recognize the inconvenient truth that without commitment and effective action, we are simply pissing in the wind?