Yesterday, I posted a link to a report generated by the St. Louis Public Schools in 1942 examining the role of civics education in promoting democracy. While some of the ideas suggested would not be much of a surprise to many, there are some rather radical ideas, which would not survive the hyper-partisan nature of today’s political realm. Ideas like tolerance, “responsibility for the socially handicapped,” and conservation of resources would largely be derided as being leftist. At the same time, there was also a need for connection family values, individual participation in society, and a push for individual enterprise. Those are ideas largely promoted by conservatives. So what gives? Why have we evolved so far to the opposite corners of politics and society? Many answers can be offered.
In 1939, the St. Louis Public Schools Curriculum and Instruction Department issued a report to the community and to schools throughout the United States to outline what the future of education should look like. Ten recommendations were made early in the document to push the future of learning. Looking at these ideas almost 80 years later is really interesting to me, because we are saying some of the same things today! Listed below are the ten suggestions made by the committee to achieve a future driven school system (Bold text was made for emphasis by me):
- The public schools must in truth be not only the nutrient of democracy but also the instrument through which the promises of democracy are made real in the lives of all the people.
- The curriculum of these schools must include experiences of highest potentiality for the good life, constantly conditioned by choices at every step and level of life that capitalize upon the heritage of mankind in the ongoing process toward a better life.
- The schools must not only prepare the individual to live each succeeding stage of life more successfully but must also so educate him that the here and now of life is lived as richly as possible. An estate of childhood has an integrity just as distinct as that of adult life, and no stage of life should be unduly emphasized or neglected in the educational program.
- While facts, knowledge, and skills are and always will be essential in the education of children, they do not represent the major purposes for which the schools are maintained. It is only as the schools inculcate worthy attitudes and ideals, develop powers of critical analysis, initiative, and resourcefulness, and encourage habits of conduct that are socially desirable that they adequately serve our society.
- The highest teaching is really counseling and guidance, and the ultimate objectives of education are effective citizenship and good character. Either must be positive, not passive, in nature and pointed toward active participation in a society of neighbors.
- No school system is sufficient unto itself. As in St. Louis, there must be everywhere a vigorous, sometimes militant, lay demand for and support of good schools. No matter how devoted the professional staff of the schools may be, they alone can not make a great school system. No schools ever rise for long above the level of the people who maintain them. It is equally true that school systems tend to reflect in the long run the quality and statesmanship of their boards of education.
- The organization of a school system may either free or stifle the initiative and constructive genius of an otherwise great school staff such as is found in St. Louis. Divided administration may be the cloak that hides responsibility and prevents an efficient attack on the many-sided problems of the schools.
- Tradition has its values but often is the greatest foe of progress. Flexibility and adaptability must be preserved in the midst of the necessity for continuity. It is tragic to find an educational program divided against itself; informal at one level, formal at another; emphasizing the development of the child as paramount at one level and the sanctity of subject matter at another.
- The exigencies of existing conditions may condition school finance and support at a particular time, but the long-term considerations must never be forgotten. Enthusiasm for the next step must never blind us to the long view. The destiny of any city, and of the nation itself, is intimately related to the public schools.
- Finally, if the schools are to be the means through which we learn to live free, democratic lives, these schools themselves must be centers of democracy.
“St. Louis must look forward to a program for the future. With a splendid tradition of concern for the curriculum and instruction, the end product of all educational provisions, the city can do no less than face the full challenge of new and expanding needs. A general education, dedicated to the preservation and improvement of democratic life in all its aspects and complexities, is indicated—a general education reaching from the nursery school through the junior college. This program, oriented to actual problems which the people of St. Louis and the nation face, must be continuous and unified with no major breaks or hurdles.
All youth, whatever their abilities may be, must find opportunities in this program to develop social understanding and sensitivity, to cultivate individual interests and aptitudes, and to make for themselves places of respectability and responsibility in the school community. In building the program, the school must become more and more a civic center, coordinating the various educative agencies of the community in a program of community education. The school must become increasingly an agency through which the adults and children of the community organize, plan, and carry forward attacks upon actual problems of living. ”
How interesting is it that before we have ideas like action civics, Project Lead the Way, growth mindset, the innovator’s mindset, and personalized learning…they appear right here.
I would love to hear your thoughts about these ideas from 1939. Are they attainable? If not, why? Are they “the fixes we need” in the year 2017 and beyond?