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The Onus of Learning, Part 1: Educational Stakeholders

(The views reflected in this post are mine and mine alone)

Who is responsible for learning? Who is responsible for teaching? From a societal perspective, is there a single person or entity responsible for the educational foundation of our nation’s youth? Or does this macro perspective fail to take into consideration the individual nuances of an individual learner’s needs? Or does this micro perspective fail to take into account the educational foundation that society requires for an educated workforce?

I could go on, asking these questions that are both debatable and rhetorical. I could ask hundreds of thousands of people, and their answers will be weighed by their personal investments and role in modern education (student, parent, teacher, business owner, childless taxpayer who contributes to educational funding, an advocate of [pick-your-debatable-issue that concerns education and children], politician, none-of-the-above, all-of-the-above). These questions are not meant to have one-size-fits-all answers that apply to every scenario for every child in every district and state. If anything, I hope that you, the reader, can consider some of these perspectives, especially when they differ from yours.

Depending on the school calendar of your local district, the 2023-2024 school year will commence sometime in August or September, and over the next four weeks, my blog posts will celebrate the back-to-school season with a different focus than shiny new supplies or Pinterest-inspired classroom decor. I have no real answers to give, just questions, and hopefully the start of conversations that will lead to better understanding between educational stakeholders.

The term “educational stakeholder” is broad and it refers to anyone who has a stake in education. A student is there to learn. A teacher is there to teach. A leader is there to lead. A business leader is there to hire skilled graduates. A taxpayer is there to ensure that tax revenue is spent responsibly. A politician is there to ensure that laws further the educational opportunities for students. A parent is there to raise their children and (hopefully) reinforce learning at home. All of these educational stakeholders have skin in the game, figuratively speaking. They are there with the common goal of educating youth.

Yet, the devil is in the details and those macro/micro perspectives can shake educational policies into a tizzy of confusion for everyone. The politicization of education does more harm than good (in my opinion) and creates drama and discord in an environment that should be a haven for learning and growth for students. We could blame COVID for many of the problems we see today, but they were there long before schools masked up or gave virtual learning a serious go. As the former governor of Virginia could attest, parents do demand involvement in their children’s education and will vote to have their voices heard, but to what extent? Swinging too far in the other direction, Governor DeSantis in Florida passed legislation that allows any parent for any reason to object or restrict curriculum materials, even if they can’t adequately explain or define their objection (like referring to Amanda Gorman’s poem “The Hill We Climb” as lacking educational value when she is the youngest poet to ever read at a presidential inauguration). School board meetings are generally boring affairs (and they should be) focused on the business of their respective districts, but these days, too often there are people who use it as an opportunity to create chaos and soundbites. There are more dignified ways to get your point across than going viral for disruptive behavior at a school board meeting.

What I propose is that all educational stakeholders take a moment to reflect on the question: why is education important to you? Are your concerns limited to your personal involvement, like the success of your own children or are they broader, like educational success amongst all children in society, locally and beyond? If you are a student, what opportunities could your education present? Is your education a means to an end, like the prerequisite requirements for a career path, or is your motivation intrinsic? If you are a parent, how can you best support your learners from home? If you are a teacher, whether you’re a fresh-faced novice or a 25-year veteran, why did you become a teacher? What is your why? If you’re an educational leader, how can you best support your school community so everyone can perform to their best? If you’re a business owner, what skills are you looking for in prospective graduates and, if graduates lack those skills, what can you do to do bring new hires up to speed?

Considering the reality of many children throughout the United States, too many have fundamental gaps in their education. Although distance learning may work fine for adults, the social component and too much dependence on technology in early education will stunt developmental skills for early learners. It may sound trivial to an adult outside of education, but basic crafts like coloring, cutting paper, gluing things, and other manual manipulation build strength and dexterity in hands and those fine motor skills are necessary for countless tasks. For many elementary-aged students, too many children have gaps in their foundational reading and mathematics skills. So many skills in reading and mathematics are progressive, meaning skills build upon previously mastered skills, so a gap in a foundational skill, such as decoding basic vocabulary with prefixes and suffixes, will cause learners to struggle as the work increases in difficulty. For many middle and high schoolers, the students who have serious gaps in their learning are more likely to tune out or act out if they feel the work is beyond their capabilities. Although not every child will be starting the 2023-2024 school year with significant learning gaps, the majority will.

I believe emphatically that everyone involved in education, from students to educators to parents and beyond, ultimately wants children to learn the necessary skills to be successful in college and adult life. I do believe that all educational stakeholders are coming from a place of love and wanting what’s best for children. The problem is when disagreements cease to be productive, the toxicity of discord spills over to the students, and in-fighting between all educational stakeholders either creates extreme pendulum swings and illogical mandates that further hinder the growth of students. Regardless of where you stand, and what your opinions are about educational policy and pedagogy, everyone can at least admit that everyone involved is coming from a place of wanting what’s best. Most of the disagreements (not necessarily all, but most) come from how to fix the problem, not necessarily that there is a problem. Assuming positive intent keeps the conversation productive instead of derailing into rhetorical fallacies.

So who is responsible for learning and teaching? Who is responsible for closing gaps and paving the educational foundation of the next generation of learners? As educational stakeholders, should we consider education from the macro or micro perspective? Do any of these questions actually matter? Is there a solution for any of this?

I will explore these questions and more in the next few blog posts.


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