Posted by Dana Bennis on Oct 02, 2013 - 12:11 PM
Let me guess - you've heard (once, twice, or countless times) that the United States is falling behind other countries and that we better catch up in the global competition for education and innovation. While there are many good ideas out there and we'd be far better cooperating than competing, the U.S. has more than a few powerful schools, programs, and ideas to share as well -- and not just in terms of test scores, but in terms of supporting young people to find meaning in their lives and to help create a better world.
Those are two of the five goals of the Jefferson County Open School, a public K-12 school outside Denver, CO, where the practices of self-directed learning, a strong advisory program, engagement in the surrounding community, and frequent travel are the norm. Students graduate by not only meeting the state graduation requirements but also fulfilling seven "passages" - intensive projects that demonstrate the skills and qualities the school believes all students should have, such as global awareness, creativity, logical inquiry, and career awareness.
I got an email yesterday from Rick Posner, retired teacher and administrator at the Open School and author of Lives of Passion, School of Hope, which tells the story of the Open School and it's impact on hundreds of alumni over the 40 years since the school was founded in the early 1970s. The book was recently translated into Mandarin and has been received in the country with strong interest.
Here's his note, a telling story of how the tensions in the U.S. are not unique and how a different international narrative on education is possible - one founded not on competition and the global "race" but on global cooperation, shared learning, and mutual goals:
I just spent ten days in China talking about the Mandarin version of Lives of Passion, School of Hope and the Open School philosophy. I spoke with Chinese parents, teachers, students, principals, superintendents and professors. It was an incredibly validating experience to hear them tell their stories of confronting high stakes testing and standardization as they painfully begin to recognize the immense damage of a one-size-fits-all system. The Open School is a breath of fresh air to them. They are simply crazy about the book and the freedom of a self-directed program!
I am just now catching my breath from this experience. Suffice it to say that we should be proud of what we have accomplished over the past forty-two years in the public school system. The world is changing rapidly, and many antiquated ideas are hitting the wall. The Open School can take its rightful place as a bastion of creativity, innovation and freedom in a world that is in transition.
I'll have more as I begin to process this amazing experience in the weeks and months to come.
Thanks for all of your support. This has been a collective effort. I am honored to be one of the messengers.
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