Manifesto 15

Manifesto 15 is a good starting point for talking broadly about why schools need to change, though I found its calls for specific, practical actions to be vague. What I find interesting and what I support about this document is its premise:

The full impacts for ourselves and our organizations will be realized when we develop the courage to learn from each others’ experiences, and accept the risk and responsibility in applying a futures orientation in our praxis.

Acting upon this insight would be a great thing, particularly if Manifesto 15 is able to get beyond the distractions of standard school reform tropes (Shall we teach kids to have more grit or STEM skills? Do we cut recess to allow for more test-taking drills?) and deal directly with the real structural issues that affect children’s education and families, namely lack of income, poor health care, bad food, inadequate shelter, a safe home and community to live and grow up in, and people who care about and for you. All these factors are conveniently labeled SES (socioeconomic status) by schools and promptly ignored as pressing school issues in favor of whatever the current tug of war is between the status quo and school reformers: today’s reformers view themselves as free-market advocates, in previous reform battles it was whole language versus phonics, sex education, or history standards, but never, as Holt, Illich, and others pointed out in the last century, do educators address the real lives of children, the contexts in which they live and learn, outside of school. We must consider all the ways children and adults learn throughout their lives and stop fantasizing that a democratic society can and should control and predict everyone’s learning.

I sign Manifesto 15 with hope it can spark a global dialog among a variety of educators about creating a mass of answers, not a massive answer, to move our thinking and practices about education to a more inclusive, communal approach to living and learning with children. For some children, this means using no school at all, for schooling is not the same as education; homeschoolers have much to share in this area. For other children, it will mean using school in various degrees; homeschoolers have much to share here too, as the growth of learning centers, distance learning programs, and educational travel opportunities geared towards homeschoolers indicates. So many school reforms have called parents and children to the table only to negotiate the terms of their surrender to the institutional needs of schooling (longer school days, more testing, less recess, less extra-curricular activities, higher fees, etc.). I hope Manifesto 15 will start a new discussion among global educators about the purpose of compulsory schooling in modern society.