Continuous Improvement will help students grow | September 28, 2007 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

Opinion - September 28, 2007

Continuous Improvement will help students grow

Children who can control their own education make better, more engaged students

by Connie Allen

I've enjoyed reading the discussion in recent weeks concerning the implementation of the Continuous Improvement educational approach in the Mountain View Whisman schools. It benefits children when we discuss their developmental needs and education.

One of the primary concerns of the editorial that sparked the discussion ("School's new paradigm could come with a price," Aug. 24) was the belief that CI is a relatively experimental technique. Even though CI is a new program, the idea of giving children power and control over their education has been implemented in schools and families for decades across our nation and around the world. It is the way children learned before our current system of compulsory education.

When you view CI through a wider lens, you discover thousands of schools that give children power and choice in their education. Some, like Sudbury Valley School near Boston, are at the most progressive end of democratic education, giving children complete control and choice over their education.

Sudbury Valley has affiliates in 30 locations around the world, including one in Santa Clara, the Cedarwood Sudbury School. Peninsula School, another local school in Menlo Park begun in 1925 by Josephine Duveneck, provides a child-centered education community for the development of the whole child.

These schools have dramatic results. Students are passionate about their learning and their projects. Children of all ages treat one another and staff with honesty and respect. Children are eager to go to school. Creativity, problem solving and a natural love of learning flourish. Graduates start their own businesses and attend colleges of their choice.

Many people believe children cannot be trusted to know what is best for them. They believe the only way for a child to learn and grow is by adults teaching and telling them the important facts and lessons of life. As a family and education consultant, I've found that when you give children opportunities to make choices for themselves, they develop the essential life skills to be self-reliant and to create joyous, fulfilled lives.

When viewed from this perspective, CI doesn't seem so extreme. Any program that gives young people more power, choice and autonomy over their own lives is a positive approach. Children are far more worthy of our trust than we commonly believe is possible.

Our current model of education began in the late 1800s, based on the Prussian model whose purpose was to train children to be compliant, unthinking factory workers. Most people agree children today need to be innovative, creative thinkers and problem-solvers who relate well with others.

The biggest danger I see in CI is to use "child choice" as a motivational tool to more effectively manipulate children to do what we want them to do — namely, be better test-takers.

Using a child's natural desire to succeed and please adults as a means to better control him insults his humanity and undermines any authentic connection we have with him.

I wish the Mountain View Whisman School District much success as they develop new understanding and skills in bringing out the innate potential in children. May they use their ability to look beneath the surface of their actions for guidance and to let their heart and deep regard for children be their guide.

Connie Allen is a family and education consultant and the founder of Joy with Children Consulting. She lives on Dorchester Drive.


Posted by Former Sudbury student, a resident of another community
on Oct 12, 2007 at 2:48 pm

Ms. Allen makes some fine points. For instance, people do have a tendency to underestimate the trustworthiness of children which is a shame because they are far more deserving of it than most people realize. Parents are biologically hardwired to be concerned about their children. The public school system only wants children as a way to get money. Learning has not simply been pushed onto the back burner in schools, it has been pushed off the stove completely. Testing is not learning.

A Sudbury education, in essence, is a return to the basic principle of learning. The idea for such a philosophy is that all people are naturally curious. You would have to be quite daring to try arguing that learning terminates at age eighteen because it most certainly does not. It is saddening that so many children leave school not even having an idea of what to do with their lives. When I left school at eighteen I left with the skills to get a job as a computer programmer. The transition from childhood to adulthood by holding down a full time job is a lot more rewarding, I believe, than spending the next few years in college only to leave wondering what to should do next. This tragically being the case for so many people.

I as well hope that the Mountain View Whisman School District has success in CI, as it does benefit children when we discuss their developmental needs and education. It is important that we understand that everyone's brain develops differently, and that everyone learns at different speeds. Thus, a one size fits all program cannot work and has a lot to do with why the current public school system no longer works.