What are our schools for?
From the attempts by founding fathers Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Rush to plan an educational system for their respective states to various subsequent periods of reform to our present time, the purpose of schools in America has been scrutinized and questioned. What role do schools play in a democratic society? Or maybe we should ask, how can a democratic society be sustained without an educated citizenry? What should that education include? What are the end goals for schooling in our country? What are schools for?
In 1979, John Goodlad—educator, researcher, author and a leader in educational “renewal” through the 1980s and 1990s–introduced a book titled What Schools Are For. The book, now considered a classic, offered a penetrating analysis of American education at that time and a call to re-examine the purposes of education. With shifts and changes occurring in practically every decade in the history of American schools and with many aspects of those reform movements having seeped down through the years to our schools today, we must ask where we stand now. Of all the purposes and functions that schools serve in our society, what do we regard as critically important? And how might the important purposes of school serve each student well while at the same time fulfilling the needs of a democratic society?
The 2018 NNER Annual Conference invites you into this crucial conversation to consider the question, what are our schools for? The conference will provide a dynamic venue for educators and public school constituents from various settings to share their ideas, their research, and their knowledge of best practices in relation to one of the four connecting strands described below.
1. Power of Partnerships – Collaborations within and beyond classroom walls provide increased support for student learning and multiple professional learning opportunities for teachers, administrators, future educators, and higher education faculty. From co-teaching to residency programs to school/university models, sharing teaching and learning spaces provides a unique opportunity for current and future professionals to collectively explore the purposes and practices of schooling.
2. Navigating through Mandates – The pressures of external mandates can seem overwhelming at times. Balancing the diverse needs of individual learners with requirements such as prescribed curriculum, teacher/school evaluation, and accreditation often require a great deal of thought, time and perseverance. However, navigating through mandates and impacting policy change is possible through professional involvement and advocacy.
3. Educating for Democracy – One of the primary missions of the NNER is to promote, as a primary role of schooling in the US, the development of students who have the dispositions and skills needed to fully engage as adults in a democratic society. Students must learn to act in a democratic way with other people. To accomplish that, teachers play a critical role in extending the ability of students to listen to others, show empathy, think critically, argue for positions, give reasons, and be open to compromise. To build an informed and participatory citizenry, conscientious efforts must be made within schools and within teacher preparation.
4. Strategies that Impact – Equal access to high quality education is foundational to exploring the purpose of schooling in our democratic society. We know strategies exist that have proven most beneficial for impacting student learning and teacher development. Examining, sharing, and reflecting upon such strategies will provide direct insight into challenges and successes related to ensuring all children equitable learning opportunities.