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America’s schools are at a turning point.  Our children are being over-tested, our teachers are physically exhausted and emotionally demoralized, and our tax dollars are being diverted to replace our public schools with a privately managed, free-market system of education.

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Corky O'Callaghan

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The Moral Life of Schools

Nearly a quarter of a century ago, Philip Jackson, Robert Boostrom and David Hanson wrote a book called The Moral Life of Schools.  In it they made the following observation:  “To anyone who takes a close look at what goes on in classrooms it becomes quickly evident that our schools do much more than pass along requisite knowledge to the students attending them (or fail to do so, as the case may be).  They also influence the way those students look upon themselves and others.  They affect the way learning is valued and sought after and lay the foundations of lifelong habits of thought and action.  They shape opinion and develop taste, helping to form liking and aversions.  They contribute to the growth of character and, in some instances, they may even be a factor in its corruption.”

A Paradigm Shift

In Hawaii, educators are shifting their focus from producing good schools to finding ways for schools and communities to share ownership of public education.  For example, local environmental groups are working as full partners with Hawaii’s schools to jointly design curricula and teach students.  Working as full partners is a major paradigm shift in the traditional relationship between our public schools and their communities.

Stepping Forward

I had the good fortune of meeting Rich Harwood 25 years ago during my initial work with the Kettering Foundation.  Rich, who has a remarkable life story, has had a huge influence on my understanding of the healing power of public engagement, and he continues to inspire me to bring citizens together to make a difference for their communities.  Rich’s new book, Stepping Forward:  A Positive, Practical Path to Transform Our Communities and Our Lives, is must reading for anyone who loves our country.

Brexit and Sacred Cow Thinking

As a public school superintendent, Charlie Irish spent much of his career challenging the conventional thinking of his profession.  This past year, he and I co-authored Cleaning Up the Mess from Sacred Cows:  A Strategy to Take Back Our Public Schools.  In it, we identify “sacred cow” conventional beliefs that are severely weakening the relationship between the public and our public schools.  He recently wrote about how the Brexit saga in the United Kingdom exposes some of the sacred cow thinking that is putting that relationship in jeopardy.

Trying to follow the convoluted twists and turns of the Brexit matter becomes a mind-boggling effort for most of us.  Yet, I see a lesson in it.  It is simply that when confronted with complicated issues in a democracy, voting is the last thing to be done, not the first.  Consider how things might be different in the U.K. if what we are seeing now had been a pre-election discussion rather than post-election fight. It strikes me that, as a nation, the U.K. is being asked to define itself with a gun to its head.  Before we get too smug, however, let’s bring… Continue reading

North Royalton Joins Movement

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” These inspiring words from Margaret Mead rang true on September 18 in North Royalton where a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens decided to join a grassroots movement to discuss and help shape statewide education policy for their public schools.  This statewide movement is being led by the Ohio Public School Advocacy Network.

A Major Threat

The release of the most recent national poll of the public’s attitudes toward the public schools reveals a major threat facing public education.  This month, PDK International, a leading thought-leader for the educational profession, reported that broad discontent is leading half of our nation’s teachers to consider quitting their jobs.  This is a growing concern of mine, and it is one of the reasons why I wrote America’s Schools at a Turning Point:  And how we THE PEOPLE CAN help shape their future and Cleaning Up the Mess from Sacred Cows:  A Strategy to Take Back Our Public Schools.  The PDK report is illuminating and worth reading.

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