LET THE DIALOGUE BEGIN: ANOTHER TAKE ON OUR PUBLIC PURPOSE

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Briefly: For a while it has been on my mind that independent schools here and there are up to some pretty exciting things and that for various reasons this information tends to remain within our sector of the education world. Earlier this summer I put pen to paper on this topic and submitted an essay to Education Weekproposing, from my humble seat, that independent schools might consider sharing what we’ve been learning and that public school educators might be interested in what we have to share.

This might be just a modest and slightly romantic proposal, or perhaps it’s an idea whose time has come; since our pathways began to diverge widely right around the start of the No Child Left Behind–standardized testing era, the things we have been free to do have been in some contrast with the constraints under which that public schools have been living. We have been free to experiment and try things out that even charter schools—subject to testing mandates—have not been able to attempt, and some of the work our more forward-thinking schools are doing is pretty exciting.

The piece went online today and will show up in print, with a slightly less strident title, in tomorrow’s edition of the paper. I’d like to think it will inspire some consideration, and that more of our schools will seek opportunities to share lessons of practice and program beyond our various usual channels of communication. I’d even like to think that folks in other areas of education will start asking us a few questions. 

I don’t think that we have all the answers or that our schools are “better” than others, but I do think we have both an opportunity and an obligation to express our public purpose by inserting ourselves more energetically into the national conversation about effective education—for all kids.

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  1. Thank you, Peter, for your call for private school educators to share examples of effective learning and transformative teaching in a broader dialogue with public school educators. Your have been instrumental in sharing great examples, and leading great thought, and your example will be important for many of us to follow.

    I just want to take a moment to affirm — without intending to imply you suggest otherwise, for you clearly communicate the idea’s importance — the equal importance of private school ed leaders’ openness to ideas, insights, and examples from the public sector. Too often, in my opinion, independent school ed leaders suffer from an overwrought understanding of their schools ‘independence,’ and allege to solve all of our profession’s problems on their own, at a remove from the vital collaboration of other independent schools and, crucially, without any meaningful interaction with education leaders from the public sector.

    As a private school administrator, I have been inspired and changed through membership in EdLeader21, the national PLC for public and private ed leaders committed to 21st century learning. Apologies for the plug, but it’s sincere and to the point: active participation in EdLeader21’s workgroups, conferences, and advisory work has provided the extraordinary opportunity to learn about shining examples of transformative learning and leading from those public schools and districts we don’t often hear about in the national discourse on the ‘failures’ of public education. So, too, I’ve had the opportunity, on behalf of my school, to share examples of great independent school practices with our colleagues from public schools and districts. And together, we’ve had the opportunity to design, to refine, and to promote a collective vision of authentic learning and leadership to support each other, and like-minded ed leaders in all our schools.

    As a public school parent, I’ve also had the experience of discovery at home that great things happen in many public schools despite restrictive national policy, calcified conventions, and reductive representations in the national media that inform our collective ‘understanding’ of the promise, vitality, and importance of American public education. Weirdly — and I say ‘weirdly’ because I wouldn’t have seen this coming on the basis of misunderstandings I’d developed over many years — the three high schools I’ve visited in recent years that most inspired me by their examples of student-centered learning, artful facilitation, and coherent and credible ‘vision’ . . . were all public high schools. I don’t intend that as a slight against great independent school’s I’ve visited — or, more importantly, against those I haven’t visited — but just as a representation of my experience and impressions of shining examples of great public schools. My son, lucky guy, gets to attend one of them.

    Thank you for your important challenge; I hope and trust that many independent school leaders will honor your call to participate in a broader dialogue between public and private education leaders. Surely the country’s students, in all our schools, will be the ultimate beneficiaries.

    Chris Thinnes | CurtisCFEE

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