Ask Reading Kingdom: What would an ideal education look like if you could redesign it from scratch?


Daniel (Elementary Principal) asks:

What would an ideal education look like if you could redesign it from scratch?  Ignoring funding constraints, political constraints, and the state of the current systems, how could you best educate a child starting from age ?

Dr. Marion Blank answers:

That is an exciting but huge question. An answer would, at a minimum, require a book—and so it does not lend itself to this format. At the same time, it is the sort of question that allows one, indeed calls for one, to dream. The temptations of doing so are just too great to resist. So, I will take this opportunity to put forth some key components that would be central to that dream.

The question is one that has been addressed by many key thinkers in the past.  In our “present-focused” society,  we tend to overlook some of the fabulous thoughts that have been proposed. For example, when Sigmund Freud was asked to define the good life, his response was “Love and work.”  It’s hard to do better than that.  If we truly put those ideas to work, the implications are profound.

Across the ages, there have been major differences in which of these factors holds sway. In the Victorian era,  for example, the thrust was clearly on “work.”  A common saying at the time was “Children should be seen and not heard.” It was considered almost sinful if children enjoyed themselves.  The values at the time prescribed that every facet of a child’s life should be governed by his parents or guardians.  It was a recipe for misery and over time, a “correction” appeared as the child-centered culture began to emerge.  The status quo was dramatically altered and in the end, as commonly occurs, the pendulum swung in the extreme opposite direction.  Very different mottos came to the fore, as can be seen in the saying “drill is kill.” This approach led to the elimination of a range of activities in schools. For example, the teaching of handwriting essentially disappeared since it typically contained a major drill component.  Anything that might be demanding of the child and lacking “fun,” was to be eliminated.

The specifics of what occurred are not central. What is central is the failure of the different ages to attain a balance between “love and work.” As Freud’s comment indicates, each component is critical and needs to be present throughout the child’s life.  But they must be in balance—steadily affecting one another and interacting with one another so that the child becomes a complete, fulfilled human being.

Currently we are witnessing a force of tsunami proportions in this realm. The 24-7 availability of high tech devices is clearly something that children adore.  Their involvement is so intense that the  behavior seems more characteristic of addiction rather than love.  One of its many consequences is that the steady, self-directed high tech diet leads children to feel that no one has the right to intrude on what appeals to them and on what they want to do.  The high tech world is an amazing advance. But like all forces, it must remain in balance so that other essential components can emerge as well.

My dream would then be to apply this idea to each period of development. The end result might yield a model for an “ideal education.” Now that I have this in mind, maybe I will get to that book after all.

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