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Natural Awakenings Austin

Transforming Education - How a Grassroots Movement is Changing the World

Dec 15, 2014 09:46PM

by Michael Carberry

Michael Carberry is the founder and director of the Whole Life Learning Center, in Austin. He is also a writer, speaker and educational consultant who is currently completing an M.A. in Holistic Education from the SelfDesign Graduate Institute. The following is an abridgment of Carberry’s October 2014 article on Alt Ed Austin, where he sums up his views on the current state of education and what truly meaningful reform looks like.

I believe in standardizing automobiles. I do not believe in standardizing human beings. Standardization is a great peril which threatens American culture. ~Albert Einstein

It seems like common sense today that a standardized education system can hinder the creativity of both teachers and students, ultimately damaging their ability to teach and truly learn. Students are often lost and disenchanted within this vast system. I propose that the highest aim of education ought to be supporting every student in discovering and cultivating the child’s unique gifts, while promoting a lifelong love of learning.

Rather than obsessing over grades and testing, we educators and leaders in the alternative schools movement shift the focus to guiding youth toward living more fulfilled, empowered and joyous lives while promoting wellness, ecological awareness and social justice. Author Ron Miller describes education as “the primary vehicle for cultural transformation,” which reiterates the importance of taking a hard look at traditional education systems while researching the myriad alternatives becoming available.

When choosing a school for your child, or deciding on an educational philosophy, you should ask: What is the purpose of education? What do I want for myself and my child? What kind of future do I want to contribute to?

It’s no secret: public schools as well as private schools are focusing on numbers and forgetting the students. In Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk, “How Schools Kill Creativity,” he makes the case that over the past century, our education system has emulated an industrial assembly line, instead of a more organic model that understands human unfolding and learning as a natural process that requires diverse environments and specialized attention to nourish optimal growth and well-being.

John Taylor Gatto, an advocate of education revolution, earned accolades while teaching for New York City public schools, but later criticized public schools in his book, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling. Gatto asserts that schools confuse students by presenting an incoherent array of information that the child needs to memorize in order to compete in school. Rather than teaching kids to be independent, confident individuals, he explains, schools are teaching emotional and intellectual dependence and indifference.

Despite these arguments for radical reform in public education, pervasive programs like No Child Left Behind stifle school districts throughout thecountry by attaching funding to test performance. The good news is that there is a growing movement of families and educators turning to an expanding array of alternatives. The increasing drop-out rates and the steep rise in the number of medicated students are examples of the fractured system they’re leaving behind.

Today, the education revolution is in full swing, and it’s not led by any one model to universally replace public schools. It’s a movement comprising homeschoolers, co-ops, independent schools, charter schools, families and educators choosing options that they’re aligned with. These options honor and support each child’s unique strengths and weaknesses; recognize the importance of social-emotional learning as a foundation for academics; and promote ecological awareness, social justice and global citizenship.

Austin is among the forefront of this education revolution. A progressive oasis, Austin has drawn a multitude of educational options for the many families moving here every day. Dozens of small, independent schools, such as the Whole Life Learning Center, have formed with holistic approaches to schooling.

In 2012, educators representing some of these schools came together to create the Education Transformation Alliance (ETA). The nonprofit ETA shares resources and organizes events to reach families and let them know about the great options available. Alt Ed Austin, a family consulting service and online resource, works closely with ETA and serves as a one-stop shop for parents interested in comparing educational options around Austin.

Ultimately, the education revolution is not about fixing the current system or discovering another system to replace it; it is about supporting creative, diverse options for families to choose from while making those options accessible, regardless of economic circumstances. Every child is unique and every family is different. Why should we continue to pump billions of dollars into homogenized, one-sizefits- all education for future generations? It’s time we recognize that in order to transform our world to a more just, sustainable and peaceful place, we need to start by transforming education.

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