The Heart of Our Democracy

FreedomEducation is the focus of my professional life. My ideas about education – what it is and what is should be – have evolved.  Formal education, as in public schools, colleges, and graduate schools, is under constant revision in our democracy. Ideas change as the society-wide discussion continues.

Our country knows that an education is at the heart of a democracy.  Without informed citizens, a democracy cannot out last tyrannical and opportunistic forces. Education develops our best nature while ignorance breeds the opposite.

In its simplest form, education is a framework for learning. Children learn to attend. From the self-directed learning of childhood, the classroom and teacher focus their attention to particular facts and phenomena.  Children are taught to use tools for discovery, primarily mathematics and reading.

In the early days of education we were satisfied that kids would grow into adults who could read well enough to understand voting instructions and could sign their name in cursive. Later, we became more ambitious. Courses of study made it possible for average citizens to attain higher levels of performance for career tracks that moved them from blue collar to white collar work, or to scholarly levels of study.

Education became a means of social and economic equality in America.

Education in our public schools today is still very goal oriented but may have lost track of the original idea: that educated adults help preserve a democratic society. With the advent of the Internet, increasingly finer discernment is required of students in complex learning environments, and a complex, interconnected global community.

Social media offers students sophisticated tools for communication – perhaps beyond their intellectual and emotional development. Technology is driving society—proven to be an upside down relationship.

The role of the teacher has returned to guide and the classroom to a framework for learning. Students explore their own interests using online tools that transform learning. Teachers and curriculum need transforming, too, to meet students in the new learning reality. How will technology aid or hamper our democracy?

What do you think?

Resources for Exploring This Topic

Alive Enough? Reflecting on Our Technology – an interview with Dr. Sherry Turkle, Professor of Social Science of Science and Technology at M.I.T.

How Technology Is Changing the Way Children Think and Focus – Psychology Today Online, article by Dr. Jim Taylor, December, 2012.

The Science of Attention – interview with Dr. Adele Diamond, Professor of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of British Columbia.

NEA Policy Statement on Digital Learningdiscusses the recognition of the new learning environment and changing role of teachers but cautions that education leaders need direct the uses of the technology as opposed to private owners of new technologies.

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