A few years ago I wrote a fourteen-part series of articles for Meridian on the subject of education. (Links to those articles are listed in the author’s note at the end of this article.) My motivation at the time was concern for grandchildren who were reaching the age to attend public schools.
Early in the series, retired educator and reform advocate Lynn Stoddard emailed me and began telling me about his work. Part nine of the series, called Reform from the Bottom Up, summarizes his philosophy of educating for human greatness, rather than to teach a “standardized curriculum.” I highly recommend that you read or review that article.
In the years since, Lynn Stoddard has headed a relentless grassroots movement for education reform. He has gathered around him an active and diverse group of concerned educators and parents who collaborated in the expansion and release of his new book, Educating for Human Greatness, which I will be telling you more about. With the help of Lynn and his group, I would like to launch a new education series that addresses, among other things, the following questions:
Where does the prime responsibility for the education of children rightly fall?
What should be the goals and purposes of education?
Who should determine the curriculum that will be taught to your children?
What can you, as a concerned parent do to improve your children’s education at home and at school, and what are your options?
Although reform of the public schools is not likely to happen quickly, I believe Brother Stoddard’s ideas can be immediately applied in our homes. They are an extension of gospel instruction, totally congruent with gospel principles. We can begin implementing his guidelines and major suggestions today with our children and grandchildren – and have the time of our lives doing so!
Instead of Standardizing Students, Why Not Develop Their Unique Talents, Gifts, Interests and Abilities?
Why is this focus so crucial right now? Brother Stoddard answers that question by summarizing below the current educational dilemma we find ourselves in. He is trumpeting a call to action in favor of high standards for nurturing positive human individuality, instead of “uniformity” in education. He recently proclaimed:
A huge mistake is about to be made under the banner, “National Standards.” The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center ) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) are unveiling a plan to develop common English-language Arts and Mathematics standards across the nation. They call it the “Common Core State Standards Initiative.” The plan is for subject matter specialists to decide what all students should know and be able to do at each grade level. It is a call to develop student uniformity at a higher level. Achievement tests will be administered to track and compare progress across the states.
Standards for uniformity? Is this an oxymoron? Is it possible to have high standards for doing the wrong things? It makes sense for factories that produce products to have standards for uniformity, but what about schools? Should they be operated like factories, with quality controls (achievement tests) to make sure each “product” is the same?
Why do so many people believe it is the main business of schools to develop human uniformity? The current push for uniformity shows that large numbers of people have developed a false belief about what education is for. They are exhibiting what George Odiorne calls, “the activity trap.” In 1974 he said, “Most people get caught in the (curriculum) trap. They get so enmeshed in (curriculum) they lose sight of why they are doing it and the (curriculum) becomes a false goal, and end in itself.”
This may be the reason our society holds uniform student achievement in curriculum as the main goal and purpose of schooling. Evidence for this is the courses students are required to take (such as algebra) for graduation from high school and grade-point averages in the required curriculum. Achievement in curriculum is what policymakers try to assess. By so doing it dictates to teachers, with false goals, the methods they use. Standardized tests force teachers to ignore the vast differences in students and try to make them all alike in the knowledge and skills that are assessed. Victor Weisskopf said “People cannot learn by having information pressed into their brains.
Knowledge has to be sucked into the brain, not pushed in.
If “national standards for student uniformity” get installed in schools across the nation, it will force teachers to press information into the brains of students as fast as possible.
They will not be able to wait for the “urge to know” to develop in each child. They will “teach” the prescribed curriculum in a direct manner and accept the illusion that significant learning has occurred. In reality the knowledge will only be shallow and temporary as it has always been in a standardized, test-based school system.
Lynn Stoddard bases his work on one Crystal-Clear Purpose for Education: To develop great human beings to be contributors (not burdens) to society.
He teaches 7 Dimensions of Human Greatness:
1. Identity: Help students learn who they are as individuals with unlimited potential, develop their unique talents and gifts to realize self-worth, and develop a strong desire to be contributors to family, school and community.
2. Inquiry: Stimulate curiosity; awaken a sense of wonder and appreciation for nature and humankind. Help students develop the power to ask important questions.
3. Interaction: Promote courtesy, caring, communication and cooperation.
4. Initiative: Foster self-directed learning, will power and self-evaluation.
5. Imagination: Nurture creativity in all of its many forms.
6. Intuition: Help students learn how to feel and recognize truth with their hearts as well as with their minds – develop spirituality and humility.
7. Integrity: Develop honesty, character, morality and responsibility for self.
Let’s focus for a minute on Inquiry. In his book, Education for Human Greatness, Lynn says this:
“There is a big difference between knowledge acquired from personal searching – finding answers to one’s own questions – and unsolicited information. When Plato wrote that “knowledge acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind,” he was revealing a truth that scientists are only now beginning to understand. It is the reason why traditional education often fails to make as much of a difference as education that is based on personal inquiry …
“Whenever the brain catches a piece of information through active, aggressive fishing (Inquiry), it is hauled inside and processed to become permanent personal knowledge. On the other hand, if information is imposed, rather than sought, it is plastered on the outside of the sphere where it soon is sloughed off and forgotten. Imposed learning is shallow and temporary, while learning gained from personal inquiry is deep and enduring.”
Victor Weisskopf, a prominent professor of physics, put it this way:
People cannot learn by having information pressed into their brains.
Knowledge has to be sucked into the brain, not pushed in.
First, one must create a state of mind that craves knowledge, interest and wonder.
You can teach only by creating an urge to know.
Since we know that as children of God we are born with the urge to know, it is not so much creating that urge as protecting it. And that is the grand result of implementing these principles.
Focus on What We Want
The focus of my articles will be what we can and should be fighting FOR, not against. For example, some of the results Lynn Stoddard has seen when true, time-honored principles of education are implemented are:
Learning becomes interesting, challenging and exciting again.
Parents become meaningfully involved as partners to help children develop as individuals.
Self-chosen, home study replaces teacher-assigned homework.
Individual achievement and knowledge soar as students investigate their own interests and develop their own talents.
Cooperation and collaboration replace most competition.
Portfolios and presentations replace all but teacher and student-made assessments.
Hands-on investigations replace busywork sheets.
Teachers nurture curiosity, creativity and problem-solving.
Students fall in love with reading and increase in their zest for truth and knowledge.
Clearly the “No Child Left Behind” program and now the standardized government-mandated school curriculum currently being promoted do not produce these same results.
Education is An Important Part of Mortality
In D&C 130:18-19 we read, “Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.”
How is this knowledge and intelligence to be obtained? It flies in the face of God’s plan of agency that knowledge should be attained by coercion or mandate of government.
We are each born with certain tendencies and certain curiosities. My younger brother was taking things apart to see how they worked from the time he was two. He has a mechanical and electronic brain! I was making up stories and poems and wanting to explore the world of words from my earliest childhood.
Nothing could make me more miserable that to have to learn about the things my brother loves.
I have five sons that each have their own set of gifts and talents – no two are even remotely alike.
Take a look at your children and you will see how different they are. Celebrating and encouraging those differences is at the basis of optimal education for our children.
God’s whole plan is based on individuality, not uniformity. He gave each of us a unique set of gifts and talents and a specific mission that flows from them. He desires that we listen to our hearts and develop in the areas we are most suited for in order to fill our place in His plan. His is no cookie-cutter universe, but a grand celebration of diversity. No two snowflakes are identical and no two people are born with exactly the same interests or talents.
John 8:32 tells us, “And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” Free in what sense? Most of all free to become our best and highest and most unique individual selves. Free to learn what we most desire to learn. Free to develop the talents and abilities and skills that give us the greatest satisfaction and joy and fit us best to serve our fellow men.
Watch for Upcoming Segments in This Education Series
I’ve simply never read more inspiring ideas about learning and education that I’m finding in Lynn Stoddard’s work. Join me in this series and we will have a wonderful time learning what real learning is all about!
Author’s note: The titles for my first education series were:
1. Education as the Early Prophets Saw It
2. The Rise and Demise of Church Academies
3. The Role of Religion in the Founding Fathers’ Thinking (by Cleon Skousen and Darla Isackson)
4. Public Schools vs. The Fundamental Purposes of Education
5. Can Parents Counterbalance the Negative Influences in Public Schools?
6. Back to School: Readers Open Talk about Public Education and Tough Choices
7. Charter Schools
8. Creative Combining of Options: Could Dual Enrollment be Your Solution?
9. Education Reform from the Bottom Up
10. Saints Seek Solutions to the Education Dilemma
11. Mom Schools and Co-ops
12. To Homeschool or Not to Homeschool
13. The ABC’s of Homeschooling
14. Joyce Kinmont, Homeschooling Pioneer
These articles are also available on my web site: www.darlaisackson.com. Click contact, e-mail me your request, and I will send them to you.