I’m reading – and loving – Alfie Kohn’s Beyond Discipline: From Compliance to Community. In it Kohn beautifully articulates why most of what goes on in even ‘progressive’ school classrooms is designed to get students to comply to the teacher’s idea of what should be happening, which is orderly, conforming behavior.
He shares an exercise he does to start his workshops that I think could work well in an ALC Parent Interest Night. He asks, “What are your long-term goals for the students you work with? What would you like them to be – to be like – long after they’ve left you?” Then he captures their responses on a flipchart.
Typically what predominates are words describing psychological and social characteristics like ‘caring,’ ‘happy’ and ‘responsible’ over intellectual characteristics. And goals pertaining to intellectual development are more general, e.g., ‘curious’ and ‘creative,’ as opposed to specific content areas. He says,
In all the times I have done this activity in different parts of the country, no educator – or parent, for that matter – has ever said that his or her long-term goals for students is for them to know how to solve an equation with two variables, or remember the names of the explorers of the New World.
This simple exercise…exposes a yawning chasm between what we want and what we are doing, between how we would like students to turn out and how our classrooms and schools actually work.
I think it would be interesting to ask visiting parents “What are your long-term goals for your kids? What would you like them to be – to be like – after they’ve moved out of the house?”
It might not be obvious to all parents why an ALC school better prepares students for the desired outcomes revealed by doing this exercise. Some parents might argue that a traditional academic path is the best way to happiness. For example, they could make the case that their kids will learn what they need to learn to get them into a good college, which will get them a good job, which is going to make them happy. Or that their kids will learn to do things they want to do in order to accomplish a goal that is important to them.
At the very least, these arguments reveal deeper assumptions these folks have about how the world works and what kind of future they are imagining for their kids that could lead to a very interesting conversation.