Headlines abound decrying and debating what is happening inside of our schools.  Today’s schools are complex organizations that in many ways reflect the larger complex society in which children live and learn.  We must search beneath and behind the headlines to discover what is taking place.  On a broader scale, the issue of public education is at a crossroads.  The choice to support and constructively build on this vitally important American institution—the public school—or to denigrate and systematically replace it is a question that we now face.

 

Considered the father of American education, Horace Mann stated in the 1800s “the public school is the greatest discovery made by man.”  Describing Mann, historian Ellwood P. Cubberley states,   “No one did more than he to establish in the minds of the American people the conception that education should be universal, non-sectarian, free, and that its aims should be social efficiency, civic virtue, and character…”

 

The four pillars of the National Honor Society—scholarship, leadership, service, and character define not only what is essential to those who achieve at the highest levels, it speaks to a larger audience.  It defines the aspiration for all students in our school system.  I would add that the best of what we see in public schools affords children of all backgrounds opportunities to explore learning in an authentic and purposeful way.

 

Learning from our rich and diverse marine environment on the east end of Long Island, our local heritage in agriculture, and designing a process of education that prepares students to inherit the roles and responsibilities as citizens is a calling for all to answer.  Locally run Boards of Education where a community addresses concerns specific to that community is a major tenet of a thriving democracy.

 

While some look fondly upon the one room schoolhouse of the 19th century, others paint a bleak picture of how well our kids are prepared in today’s schools.  Acknowledging the need to change and improve with contemporary society does not necessitate a wholesale abandonment of our core values, our essential mission, and the overarching covenant that we must uphold to preserve the public school.  We can preserve the past and look to the future each and everyday in our public schools.

 

I put forward my view regarding public schools in an address to staff at the start of this school year entitled, What’s worth Fighting for? I argue that much of what we presently do in our schools is something worth fighting for.  I see many situations where students and teachers explore math, science, art, music, and history through real life situations.  The story of our learning community is multifaceted and ever changing.  It is more than a number.  It is experienced in classrooms, extra-curricular activities, inside and outside of a traditional classroom.  It is at the heart of our vision for our students and our communities.

 

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