We believe that education needs to be redefined in light of the social, political, and environmental realities of the twenty-first century. Unfortunately, while life has changed a great deal in the past century, schools have changed very little. Most schools are based on a convent model, which separates learning from life experience, and/or on a factory model, which prepare workers for standardized tests and for a defined set of jobs. These models have historical roots which made sense in the past, but are inadequate today.
Various thinkers, including academics like Harvard's Howard Gardner (Five Minds for the Future; Frames of Mind: Multiple Intelligences) and businessmen like Daniel Pink (A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future; Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us), describe the need for new educational approaches which will prepare today's children to be citizens of the twenty-first century.
Three epochs in recent educational history:
Pink traces a brief history of schooling in three epochs. Epoch I was the Industrial Age, which began with public schools in the late nineteenth century and extended well into the twentieth, in which schools saw their goal as developing workers with physical strength, compliant attitudes, and a strong work ethic. Epoch II was the Information Age, which marks the last half of the twentieth century, in which schools developed workers who ranged from technicians to professionals, but who were marked by their knowledge of specific subjects. Epoch III, which we are just entering, requires students to prepare for something new: the Conceptual Age.
What is required for student success in this age?
While "knowledge workers" of the twentieth century needed specific left-brained skills that fit discrete jobs and professions, these specific skills are not enough to bring success in the ever-changing, high technology, globalized world we are entering today. Managing information, although important, is not enough. People need not only to develop their linear left brains, which enable them to manage information accurately, but also to develop their right brains. Right brains enable people to solve problems creatively, to assess information critically and globally, and to develop relationships with other people. Successful citizens of the future need, in short, to be balanced: to develop as full human beings with flexibility, creativity, critical thinking skills, and social skills to add to their traditional academic skills.
What causes learners to be motivated?
In Drive, Pink extends his argument to the question of motivation, arguing that while many people believe that external rewards are what motivate people, that people are actually rewarded by intrinsic interest and meaning. This research-based statement has a lot of implications about education. Try to envision an educational system which builds more strongly upon intrinsically interesting and meaningful projects than upon extrinsic rewards such as grades and test scores.
Gardner's list of "five minds" needed for success in future generations overlap with Pink's. They include 1) a disciplined mind, 2) a synthesizing mind, 3) a creative mind, 4) a respectful mind, and 5) an ethnical mind. Like Pink, and like the educators in Reggio-Emilia, Gardner argues that people have multiple kinds of intelligence, all of which can and should be developed to create an optimally educated person. These intelligences include not only linguistic and mathematical abilities, but also inter and intra personal skills, musical and visual abilities, kinesthetic skills, and awareness of the natural world. In Reggio-Emilia the list is even longer, and is often referred to as the "hundred languages of childhood." At both Harvard's Project Zero, the largest study on creativity ever done, and Reggio-Emilia's research lab, educational experiences are encouraged in as many domains as possible. It is only through experiencing these domains that the broad human skills which create creative, respectful, and ethical "minds" can be developed.
How are educational expectations changing?
Each educational epoch, as outlined above, has necessitated a higher level of education for more people than the epoch which preceded it. For example, the Industrial Age marked the first time when a majority of people attended school at all. Similarly, the Information Age was marked by a vast increase in people with college and professional degrees in proportion to past epochs. Extending this logic, the problem solving challenges of the twenty-first century will require a type of education for many students which was previously available only to a small elite. To give one example, in the past a small group of people, principally military leaders, philanthropists, and academics, lived "in the world" and negotiated different cultures and languages with skill and propriety. Today, all citizens are thrust into the world, through patterns of globalization which both enable travel and bring multicultural, multilingual people into everyone's neighborhood and workplace. A second example is the complexity of issues which citizens must understand to be active, informed citizens today. Informed citizenship requires many skills: the ability (and perseverance) to seek reliable information through and in spite of varied media sources, the critical thinking skills necessary to evaluate information, and the scientific and/or social scientific understanding required to make informed decisions.
Equally importantly, research on brain development and an increasingly informed professional class of parents have led to increased awareness about new dimensions in human potential. Many parents now want much more for their child than the ability to be a decent person or to get a job. They want school to prepare their children for life-long learning which includes music, art, science, wellness, technology, socially responsible values, and more, regardless of the profession a particular child eventually pursues.
How are schools responding to the pressure to produce well-educated and balanced citizens able to meet the demands of twenty-first century life? Oddly, many schools have reacted to the confusing pressures they face by narrowing their goals. Public schools, under scrutiny by politicians and the business community alike, have chosen to focus on basic academic subjects, such as reading and mathematics, and on specific, measurable results, such as test scores. We suggest that a broader tactic would be more appropriate.
Peregrine School is based on an academic and enrichment model, in which all of the traditional subjects as well as the arts are actively pursued, and in which conceptual knowledge (learning for understanding) is the central goal. In addition, Peregrine School attempts to create a community of families and educators committed to exploring new and exciting possibilities for education and wellness. This community has the goal of supporting each other in creative projects, in social service, and in environmental awareness, both at the local level and as participants in the world community.
Are the ideas behind Peregrine School new? Not at all. Excellent schools which create well-balanced students have existed for centuries, since Plato's academy. In the past century, many such schools have been inspired by the work of John Dewey. "Progressive education" is a term which Dewey used to describe a modernist movement in schooling, which began in response to twentieth century pressures which, in their own way, parallel the forces we now see at work in the twenty-first century. Dewey's lab school at the University of Chicago attempted to raise individuals who could maximize their potential, and to connect school and life, by doing projects such as raising gardens and building houses with children. Parallel educators such as Frances Parker, Maria Montessori, and the team of experts in Reggio Emilia, Italy, have built upon the developmental understandings of Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky to create schools which celebrate children as active agents engaged in broad learning experiences. In the San Francisco Bay Area and other places in the country, many "progressive" independent schools carry forth these principles. While many excellent private and public schools exist in the Sacramento Valley, the "progressive" tradition in education (not to be confused with progressive politics) is under-represented here. Peregrine School attempts to address this situation, by creating a progressive school in the "lab school" tradition, committed to exploratory learning, the development of the potential in each individual child, and the pursuit of a globally and environmentally responsible community.
What specific kinds of curricula (teaching plans) and pedagogies (methods of teaching) address the issues discussed above? This is a big question, to which we propose no glib answers. We propose to enter, with a community of like-minded compatriots, in an exciting and far-reaching exploration of how to educate children who will be capable and responsible citizens for an internationalized world. Some curricula and pedagogies fit our model better than others. At Peregrine School, the program will include but not be limited to the following:
A broad thematic approach to education which teaches traditional disciplines as perspectives on the world, each of which sheds a particular kind of light on a situation under study. Students will participate in project based learning which gives them experience with the process of each discipline in an active form. Projects place the learner, rather than the teacher, in the center of the learning process. For example, if students are studying the health of a local creek, they will learn the biology and chemistry involved in taking water samples and looking for problematic pollutants, while simultaneously learning the social factors which affect creeks, such as the requirements of regulatory agencies and property owners. If they decide to try to improve the condition of the creek, they might need to produce maps, charts, and diagrams of the creek for presentation, to hone their public speaking skills, and to do research on what is currently known about the creek. In short, all disciplines- language arts, math, science, and social studies- will be needed to understand the problem at hand. The advantages of pursuing disciplines through projects are two: 1) projects make education real and meaningful by linking learning to the real world, and 2) academic disciplines make sense when students see the ways they inform a situation.
Collaborative learning in small groups: Research on creativity at Project Zero (Gardner's project at Harvard) has determined that working in small groups made up of children and informed adults is a powerful way for children to learn. At Peregrine Elementary School, most projects will be pursued by groups of 3-6 children, guided by a teacher or sometimes a parent who is interested in/expert at the subject at hand. Some projects might last a few days, others an extended period of time. Every effort will be made to connect projects with real world endeavors. For example, children might become involved in a service-learning project to improve a local environment, in a farming project involving raising plants or animals, or in the creation of an artistic event, such as an art show or play. In the course of pursuing this project, groups of children will engage in academic skills, will write and draw about their work, and will present what they have learned to a relevant body, such as fellow students or a town meeting.
Teaching for understanding: The goal of education is to engage children as active learners, rather than simply to lead them through material prepared by adults. This is important and different than traditional education for several reasons. Research on brain development, as well as developmental psychology (Piaget, Vygotsky), are both based on the notion that children "construct" their own knowledge of the world by making sense of their experiences, by communicating with others, and by reflecting on what they have learned. Too often, children are asked to parrot ideas that they have been told without understanding their meaning. By contrast, in Teaching for Understanding (Wiske), which has been sometimes been called "constructivism" or "inquiry", children have the chance to inquire into a phenomenon or to debate an idea actively rather than merely to recite it to a teacher. Similarly, students are encouraged to think both convergently, to solve problems, and divergently, to invent novel solutions.
Learning from experts: Ours is a community rich in talented teachers, family members, and friends of the school. Our goal is to balance the security of consistent and caring teachers with the enrichment provided by exposure to specialists in subject areas, such as music, drama, dance, and science. It is also our goal to use the talents of our parent community well, by giving parents opportunities to share their "funds of knowledge" through special teaching events and field trips.
Encouraging the gifts and potentials of each child: At Peregrine School, developing the gifts and potentials of each child is a major goal. It is our profound belief that all children have unique gifts which will eventually help them become competent and fulfilled, and which can enable them to contribute to their community. Our goal is not to create a "one size fits all" education, nor to place children in competition with each other. Such practices discourage some children, who do not fit the "norm" or who do not "win" in competitions. Instead, Peregrine School's approach to teaching and learning is individual, emphasizing the development of each child's talents, as well as the balancing of strong and weak areas in each child's academic, physical, and social development.
Service learning will be encouraged, in a variety of forms. Whenever feasible, student projects will lead to presentations or action within a larger community. Service learning can occur at all levels. It can be as simple as serving one's own community by growing one's own food, or it can involve projects which improve some aspect of a broader community. As students get older, it can also involve social service or environmental projects in other countries. Service can also involve putting on an art show or performance for the benefit of the community.
Portfolio Assessment: Our most important evaluation strategy for students is individual portfolios, in which student work can be displayed and progress can be measured over time. The strength of portfolios is that each child's progress is measured against his/her own development. As students become older, they can participate more actively in determining their own learning goals and in displaying their learning through portfolios and through oral presentations. In assessment, as in all things, we seek balance. In addition to individual assessments, such as portfolios, we will also measure student progress against grade level standards and other developmental benchmarks, so that parents have a realistic idea of their child's progress.
Gardner, Howard (2008). Five Minds for the Future. Boston: Harvard Business Press.
Pink, Daniel (2005). A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. New York: Riverhead Books.
Pink, Daniel (2009). Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. New York: Riverhead Books.
Malaguzzi, Loris (1996) The Hundred Languages of Childhood. International Exhibition.
Wiske, Martha, Ed. (1997). Teaching for Understanding: Linking Research with Practice. San Francisco. Jossey-Bass Publishers.