The daily news worries and sometimes frightens us, and I believe that schools and educators must make 2018–19 a year in which concepts like RELEVANCE, REAL-WORLD, FACTS, and CRITICAL THINKING take center stage in every classroom.
The world is moving daily into what feels like a deepening crisis, and our schools and their leaders and teachers must engage with the immediate challenges of the day to prepare students for an uncertain future.
Urgent questions fill the air, and no sentient person of any age is not hoping for answers that embody principles of equity, justice, security, and peace. Your students care about these questions, and schools have a civic and even moral duty to approach them. And yet, are we too caught up in the exigencies of the day and traditional notions of school learning to find the courage to take them on?
How and where, for example, is your school addressing in its classrooms
Students must have real information and understand multiple perspectives on the real issues of our time along with the underpinnings of skill and basic content knowledge that we traditionally see as the chief fodder of K–12 education. And we know that the way to most deeply engage kids is with material that relates directly to their own experiences and concerns.
If you, like me, are a Baby Boomer you remember the immediacy of issues around nuclear war in our childhoods, and especially the palpable and painful fear we felt in the adults around us as the Cuban Missile Crisis unfolded. Don’t our students deserve the opportunity to gain understanding and expertise about the issues that truly imperil our planet again in 2018?
How can each of your departments or disciplinary teams, each of your divisions, and even your co-curricular programs begin to focus on what’s actually happening in the world as they design learning experiences based on your school’s own mission and values and designed for your very own students? If you are a school leader, how can you provide your faculty the time and other resources—including permission to be relevant, to respond to issues and questions that arise in those “teachable moments”—required to offer a program that is truly responsive to the challenges of our time?
It’s not crazy or educationally unsound for you as a school leader to allow and in fact encourage even those teachers deep in the content minutiae of a “college prep” curriculum to stop and address the real concerns of students about their communities and their world. If this is hard or if teachers feel unprepared to take on this kind of challenge, get your best minds together and figure out how to create supportive professional development in this area.
A year ago I wrote about what I called the New Relevance, which I described as making “the lens of experiential reality” essential to our approach to teaching and curriculum design, to “the way we teach everything.” To me this now seems more essential than ever.
Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)