Reflecting on Education and Society

The author and her daughters in 2007.

I joined Casa di Mir’s board of directors in April of 2007 as Secretary, eager to serve a school that was working so well for my children. I had previously served on a non-profit board. I became Board President in 2010 and served until August 2016.

My initial motivations were my children: serving would let me peek into their world and even be part of it from a place where I could contribute. As time went by I became more interested in the topic of education and realized through reading and attending lectures, that education is not just an aspect of our lives pertinent mainly to children, young adults, and educators. As a determining factor of who we are and how we think, it is in fact pertinent to all of us. Our world is a collection of individuals most of whom went through an education system, whichever it was, that shaped their sense of who they are, their ability to cooperate with others, and their ability to be critical thinkers and to question constructively whether their environment can be improved.

Realizing that it is through our schools that we can best influence society, my motivation for serving on Casa’s Board changed from that of a mom wishing to support her kids’ environment to that of a citizen, attempting to make a difference. Though small, relatively speaking, it is important to ensure that a school of the quality of Casa Di Mir continues to educate the great citizens that I have seen graduate from here and thrive as young adults. I believe that Casa’s method of education can make a difference for our future society. The following information about education are points I’ve learned during my journey as Board member.

Conventional Education

The roots of today’s conventional education date back to the industrial era. Conventional schools are modeled on factories, as the birth of mass public schooling coincided with the “efficiency era” driven by industrialization. While they may be “efficient” in getting a lot of kids through a curriculum, they do have serious problems, because:

  • The approach assumes that one way fits all, but not all children are the same. Children who don’t conform to the standard who could be brilliant in their own way, feel incompetent or inept or bored
  • Societal needs have changed: nowadays we need individual initiative rather than blind obedience to the bells of a factory

Conventional education is based in part on the “Blank Slate Theory,” where the assumption is that children are empty vessels or blank slates ready to be filled (this is called the Lockean Model). The teacher is the dominant person in the classroom taking complete control and deciding what is right or wrong. Problems that I see with this are:

  • Children are not required and are in fact discouraged from taking their own initiative, often feeling at a loss when asked to solve a problem without a teacher giving specific instructions
  • Modern pedagogy, proven right by scientific research, indicates that active learning children do much better academically than passive learners

In conventional education, behaviorist methods are used to “fill the vessel.” To ensure that the material is memorized, children go through repetition and are externally rewarded or punished. Problems with this erroneous concept include:

  • Intrinsic joy of learning is ignored or even crushed, substituted by the joy of getting an external reward, or by the fear of being punished
  • Creativity is crushed – conforming to expectations is rewarded, thinking outside the box is not. Creativity can lead to “the wrong result”, which will lead to a low grade
  • Risk-taking is discouraged – mistakes are met with punishment often in the form of low grades which should be avoided at all costs
  • Often behaviorist methods create a negative environment where children dislike school due to fear of failure or pressure to get good grades. Studies have shown that students in happy or enjoyable environments learn more and better than those in difficult environments
  • Children who do not respond well to the established method of learning suffer a tremendous blow to their self-esteem. Brilliant people grow up thinking they are not very smart

Alternative Education

Constructivism is a theory of knowledge that argues that humans generate knowledge and meaning from an interaction between their experiences and their ideas. Pedagogies based on constructivism like the Montessori Method, suggest that the best way to learn is through a hands-on approach. Learners learn by experimentation and not by being told what will happen, and are left to make their own inferences, discoveries and conclusions.

Casa is uniquely well-equipped to educate the whole child. We often mention a long list of qualities fostered by our school which include high academics, love of learning, strong leadership skills. While these are all true and important, at the top of my list is Casa’s ability to foster critical thinking in children.

At Casa, children are allowed to experience conflict, explore aggression, and understand empathy in a guided but not repressive way. The peace table is not just a tool to solve disagreements between kids. It is a life impacting learning experience that provides each child with knowledge that I’ll argue trumps any other.

The children can ask and answer questions that in conventional settings aren’t even considered: “What is happening to me and what is happening to the children around me? Why do I feel anger, why do I feel hurt? What are these impulses I feel and how do I cope with them?”

This knowledge builds mindfulness and self-awareness from the inside – a child begins to know and understand her own feelings, impulses, and self-regulation mechanisms. She develops a skill that can be applied in life, helping in the understanding of the world. These are skills that turn children into critical thinkers, outstanding citizens, individuals with great ability to enjoy life and to impact their environment.

The author and her daughters in 2017.

I have observed that Casa Alumni are resilient, critical thinkers who are eager to explore and maintain their love of learning in the larger world they’ve stepped into.

I’m very proud of the work that my colleagues on the Board are doing to support our beloved school, and look forward to seeing our new Strategic Plan implemented. I am confident in our new Board President, Jen Jobart, and her leadership skills. I am also filled with gratitude toward the Casa Community for all that it has meant for me and my family: friendships, support, and a happy, nurturing sense of “home” for my children.

 

Contributed by Alex Velasquez, Casa di Mir board member and past board president.

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