Everyone interested in the future of America knows we must improve our educational system so we can remain competitive in a global economy. Improving our educational system means changing the way, time, location and seasons children are taught. Dr. Milton Chen makes these persuasive arguments in his book Education Nation, Six Leading Edges of Innovation in our Schools, a must read for teachers, parents, students, politicians and employers who hire students for the summer.
With three decades of experience in education, Chen is qualified to write this intellectually, thought provoking book. He is a senior fellow and executive director emeritus of the George Lucas Educational Foundation. He was the founding director of the KQED Center for Education in San Francisco. He managed the station’s programming, web content and outreach services for schools and families. He has worked on Sesame Street programs and was an associate professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
The Introduction to Education Nation starts with this dynamic challenging statement: Imagine an “Education Nation,” a learning society where the education of children and adults is the highest national priority, on par with a strong economy, high employment and national security.Where resources from public and private sources fund a “ladder of learning” for learners of all ages…Where learners take courses through the formal institutions of high-quality schools and universities and take advantage of informal experiences offered through museums, libraries, churches, youth groups and parks as well as via the media.
This message, unfortunately lost on Conservatives, is a mind grabber and a terrific way to begin a book. Chen believes that “education should be on the cutting edge of society, technology and culture rather than trailing other sectors.He emphasizes this message repeatedly in the book. In discussing his first edge, The Thinking Edge, he challenges the nation to become smarter about learning and changing the way we think about the way we educate students in our classrooms. He cites innovative examples of new teaching techniques and suggests that we teach subjects to students that are relative to their existence.
His second edge is The Curriculum Edge. This edge recognizes the growing trend of transforming and reorganizing the most fundamental educational activities: what students are taught and how to assess their learning. Chen makes the point that the edge recognizes that today’s curriculum has not kept pace with the rapid pace of change in every curriculum. Chen looks at places in the country that are redefining the curriculum to provide projects and experiences that are relevant to students’ lives, their communities and to the larger world. A lot of emphasis is placed on the results of project-based learning. He also discusses assessments and he points out that other nations have change their curriculum and improved the capabilities of their teachers. He writes, “They recognize that improving assessments improves everything that happens in classrooms.” He suggests that the United States would do well to set its sights on this critical wedge into system reform.
In discussing TheTechnology Edge, he discusses how technology makes these approaches to curriculum and assessment possible. He says, “They rely on schools and districts, teachers and students organizing, analyzing, presenting and producing information from many sources. That’s what technology was meant to do.”
Chen has a section in Technology Edge on assistive technology. He writes, “The fast-changing field of assistive technology is one of the most exciting in education today. Still, many educators, policymakers, parents and funders, remain unaware of its contributions, and its role is often left out of discussions of “digital equity.”
Chen makes the point that advances in assistive technology are advances for all of us. He writes, “The technology tools developed to help students with motor, sensory, and mental issues are proving valuable to everyone.”
I wished Chen had given us numbers on the numbers of teenagers with disabilities dropping out of high school and ex plain why and then explain how to persuade them to return.
Chen asks, “Why don’t we build an educational intranet?” He explains why America should build one and uses the example of the success Scotland has had with one.
The Technology Edge explains how teaching and learning are undergoing a wholesale transformation through new media and technology in how curriculum is designed, delivered and how groups of learners and instructors communicate and share knowledge.
The message in TheTime/Place Edge is learning can happen anytime and anywhere, especially in places beyond the classroom and within their communities. Chen cites museums, parks, wetlands and a zoo as out of classrooms classrooms. I have always liked parks, museums, and so forth as classrooms.
Chen’s fifth edge involves The Co-Teaching Edge. He discusses how teams of teachers, experts and parents work as co-educators to teach and support students. He emphasizes adults must acknowledge a new role for today’s students, as digital learners who are learning in new ways. Chen praises teachers as the most important factor in education. He states, “Research supports what parents have long known: high-quality teachers are the keys to a student’s success.”
The Youth Edge is Chen’s sixth edge. The beneficiaries are digital learners carrying change in their pockets. These learners were born digital and are digital natives who have only used PCs and MP3 players and whose fingers have never touched a typewriter or an audio tape recorder. These natives are marching our schools today. They are carrying the reform we seek with them. They are using the Internet, computers, cell phones, smartphones, video games and other tools to learn and socialize in ways that were not possible in previous generations.
Chen concludes this chapter with these thoughts:
“In a new Education Nation, perhaps schools… will call themselves learning centers. Teachers might call themselves learning mentors. And even the label of student might be retired in favor of team member or scholar. Already some schools are adopting this new vocabulary….When school systems finally redefine the word student; we can gain confidence that an Education Nation is coming into being.
Education Nation is a blue print for vastly improving education in this country. It reminds us that education is an investment and not just a cost. I urge everyone to read it. The publisher is Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint, San Francisco, CA. It is 253 pages and sells for $24.95.