Thursday, August 02, 2007

Adultcentrism in Schools

Adultcentrism is an under-explored and underutilized word in education circles. For almost 100 years educators have puzzled over progressive education, student-centered education, learning communities, service learning and other methods designed to make education - as a process - more digestible to young people. There have been small leaps over a growing number of hurdles, but little headway has honestly been made. Sure, Dewey had his day, but in many ways (see: Morse v. Fredericks) it seems to be waning.

The service learning might be closest to addressing this issue head-on. There is a honest critique within that community that addresses what Youth On Board calls adultism. Adultism occurs anytime adult perspectives are favored over those of young people. While their's is an interesting analysis, I believe that it stills sells young people short, because essentially analyzing adultism still requires young people to call adults to task. This power paradigm simply cannot work in schools, because schools simply are not ready.

However, another word comes from the field of sociology. Adultcentrism describes that egocentric notion adults have that the world revolves around us. Basically, the term adultcentrism acknowledges the position of adults as both the central perspective and the central actor in society. Rather than allowing the adult to simply share their view, adultcentrism acknowledges the powerlessness and inability of young people to actually affect the systems of authority adults have created. (I wrote an article about it where you can read more.)

Adultcentrism is particularly important in any honest conversation about school transformation. All of the testing and standardization of the last seven years (and longer - sorry NY) has been for naught, as have dozens of years of school reform programs prior to the Clinton Administration. All of these discussions have been sorely absent students themselves, as adults sit around research labs and board rooms handing down decisions to drive the lives of young people without the input of young people themselves. And I'm not just talking about high school students, either.

Education leaders, teachers, school board members and reform advocates are in a sad state of affairs. For too long we've been calling for the same improvements, the same tasks, and the same accountabilities that we've always called for; increased standardization, decreased student motivation and increased teacher attrition rates are all we have to show in return. What is needed instead is a new way of viewing education: Instead of teachers holding students accountable for their learning, let's have students hold teachers accountable for their teaching. Rather than testing students until they get bloody noses or throw up, let's let students evaluate themselves and their own learning, and demonstrate that learning through application rather than rote memorization. Besides increased funding, let's have greater relationships, stronger engagement and more relevant daydreams - by educators working with students - not for them.

If education reform is to succeed, educators must take a hard look at who they are teaching for: themselves, their peers, or the actual people occupying the seats in front of them daily for hours on in. Only then can actual change occur.