(After attending the form on truancy sponsored by Justice Davis, several thoughts about the current status of public education were directly and indirectly raised.)
For West Virginia public schools in the 21st century to meet the needs of future productive citizens in a democratic society, reform is no longer an effective strategy. There must be a schooling transformation. A transformation in the way schools are funded, how they exist, and the manner in which they operate, how they empower the stake holders, how they engage and support learners and teachers in the education processes and how they develop and sustain “life-long-learning”.
The fact that schools fail on a regular basis has never been acceptable and now, more than ever, we are seeing the short and long term effects of these lapses. There are so many “red flags” appearing daily within our society about schooling ineffectiveness that it is no longer just a “school problem.” Politicians in the past liked to “beat up on” the schooling community with reform rhetoric to garner votes but the realities of schooling failures are now apparent to everyone.
Schools are in need of transformative leadership within the local, state and federal education communities throughout regular and higher education venues. Effective schooling is no longer “their” problem; it is “our” problem. Society can continue to “re-correct” the same “problems” over and over with the same basic strategies and the same failing results or new ideas can be implemented to harvest new learning and more effective outcomes.
Students and teachers need to be “re-connected” to relevant, engaging and emotionally responsive learning practices: practices that value “how” students and teachers are smart, celebrating the “element” of individual “groove” rather than forcing a disconnected curricular agenda void of stakeholder ownership and developmental idiosyncrasies. People searching for such schooling strategies have found them within the Arts… for over 5000 years.
The Arts celebrate the individual through collaborative efforts (plays, concerts, shows, etc.) at every developmental level. Arts-Based Learning brings one’s “groove” into the schooling process at every level and every subject. Students and teachers interact as collaborators of learning, bringing engaging and relevant experiences into every instructional arena. Students can not only show (assessment) how smart they are, but how they are smart. Pencil and paper assessments become the exception rather than the norm because they are not relevant to developmental outcomes. Learning becomes personalized and engaging for students and teachers.
The school “system” needs to support personalized schooling through Arts-Based Learning in every manner at every level. A teacher cannot hope to sustain an Arts-Based classroom without the support of colleagues, administrators, parents and community resources and philanthropy. A shared ownership of the processes and outcomes of an effective schooling system by all the stakeholders in a community must be integrated throughout the publically funded educational journey. Arts-Based Learning doesn’t require a major “re-tooling” of schools with millions of dollars of new technology but begins by encouraging, supporting and sustaining new ways of thinking about how schools approach the learning that is important for students to master. We already know how to implement schooling initiatives, the only question remaining is why we haven’t yet initiated policies and practices that are effective in teaching all the children in our 21st century American society.
Bob Dunkerley is the President and CEO of Helianthus LLC, a West Virginia-based education consulting firm (www.helianthusonline.com) specializing in Strategic Research and External Reviews, Arts-Based Learning (school transformation models) and Arts-Based Initiatives (corporate HR professional development) as well as Arts Advocacy. Dunkerley retired from a 34 year career in West Virginia Public Schools and resides in Elkins with his wife, Karen. (Additional bio info available at: http://www.linkedin.com/in/bobdunkerley )