Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Legacy of Education: A "Cherishing" School Culture

For the past two years, I've worked half-time for Wellsprings Friends School, an alternative high school in Eugene. My contract ended in June so tomorrow I'll be missing the first "morning circle" that marks the beginning of the new school year.

In light of my experience at the school, I've been thinking about the legacy of education in our lives. And, in my reading of Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot's The Third Chapter this summer, I found the best way to describe the Wellsprings approach to educating young people: a "cherishing" school culture.

In the conclusion to Lawrence-Lightfoot's book, she quotes Mary Catherine Bateson on the need for cherishing to be fully open to learning throughout one's life:

"One of the things we know about the human capacity to keep on learning, to remain young at heart and willing to learn, is that it needs to be supported by cherishing. We needed to be cherished as infants, and as adults we need to cherish our children. But if we want a society of people willing and open and ready to learn, it has to be a kinder, gentler society, because we need a lot of mutual support to face change, to give up things we've always believed in."

The author believes that "our contemporary preoccupation with testing" in schools leads to "a narrowing and standardization of learning that neglects the building of the 'edifice' of life. And I believe that the parts of the school curriculum -- the arts and humanities, sports, and community service in particular -- that are the first to be eliminated when schools are facing budget cuts, may be the very arenas that support approaches to learning that will emerge as important to sustaining development across the life span."

Lawrence-Lightfoot calls for a "shift to a more embracing, generous, complex curriculum, and a more 'cherishing' school culture (that) will require changes in societal expectations, cultural priorities, and educational policies. In turn, it will require that teachers in our schools see themselves as lifelong learners, modeling for their students a curiosity about life and a fearless pursuit of knowledge; this, in turn, will nourish the imagination, questioning, storytelling, intellectual discipline, and adventurousness of the students in their classrooms."

In my view, Wellsprings Friends School models just such a "cherishing school culture." Its teachers show their love for their students and demonstrate their love of learning each day.

My hope is that the radical changes needed in our education system (and coming eventually) will leave a legacy of cherishing for future generations of lifelong learners.

Legacy of Education: A "Cherishing" School CultureSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

1 comment:

Gunnar Berg said...

Lorna started her final(?)year of teaching 3rd grade yesterday. I qualify "final" because this is the third year she has begun her final year, then reneged when the time came to pull the plug. Last year was a difficult group, which she knew going in, and she took it as a challenge. A hard challenge. She was frustrated and discouraged by year's end - then last week she saw the results of their tests and the huge jumps in progress they had made. She came home walking on air, and "I'm going to quit!" has morphed into "If I quit."

My daughter has chosen to travel the same path, although it has taken her to the other side of the world. Looking back, I should have too.