Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Preparing Students to Be Part of a Community, Not Neccesarily Leaders of One

Many schools talk about preparing students to be leaders of their communities in the 21st century. While this is a noble goal and undoubtedly the schools means well in articulating this vision, it does not take into account the realities of the student population at even the best schools nor the fact that most of our alumni will not be leaders of their communities, but rather leaders of their families and participants in their community.  In fact, we are not trying to create leaders in everyone, we are simply trying to imbue in our students the skills necessary to successfully navigate a growing and increasingly complex global world.  Being successful is not synonymous with being a leader.  In fact, part of guaranteeing the success of any given society is that we as educators prepare our students for a variety of different roles they will play in society working together to make that society continue, expand, and flourish.

We need to stop educating our students under the false premise that they will all be the same and that they start out coming into our school the same.  Each child is endowed with his/her own skill sets and abilities.  Treating our students as one lump sum simply dumbs down the school experience for some and creates unattainable goals for others.  It ignores the average student completely.

I have written before about how specialization is the key to success, but this is also true when it comes to teaching.  We would not go to a general practitioner for neurosurgery.  Nor would we go to a hair stylist for help studying for the SAT's.  Why would we expect our students pre-professional lives to all be capable of the same results when they walk in our front door the first day?  Why would shape their requirements the same?  How will this truly prepare our students for the their lives post school?

I would prefer to stipulate that we are training and preparing our students to be thinkers, to be creative solvers who strive to work hard, who endeavor to challenge themselves and others, who are tolerant of each others differences, and who are capable of embracing those differences and harnessing them to cooperatively work towards a better future.

I think it is important to differentiate leadership from individualism.  Individualism is certainly a moral tenant we want our students to subscribe to.  Independent thinking, self reliance, and self confidence are definitely key for every student.  But, this does not mean every student will be a community leader.  It also does not mean I am subscribing to the idea that individualism should be compromised by the necessity of teaching our students cooperative learning skills, such as cooperation, when and how to compromise, sharing and brainstorming as a team, and role taking.  Instead, the merits of individualism and community need to be stressed and the limits need to be created.

Part of teaching students to effectively live within their communities and maximize their potential is to help them navigate what role(s) they should be being play in their lives that would enable them to give the most significant contribution to society based on their abilities and interests.  While I never let one student dominate a group discussion or alway play the role of "leader" in a group project, instead making them rotate, I believe effectively teaching our students team membership and responsibility entails more than simply teaching them to be "leaders," since after all, it is our best leaders who know when not to lead, but rather follow.