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My Turn: 19th-century education model not what 21st-century students need

Last modified: 10/1/2014 12:29:23 AM
New Hampshire’s political and educational leaders are debating the role of the Common Core standards and the Smarter Balanced assessments. Manchester has requested a waiver from testing because Superintendent Debra Livingston and her teachers know that standardized testing actually hurts children; it does more harm than good to their emotional, psychological and physical well-being.

In the 21st century, can’t we do better? Can’t we come up with a new vision of a system of education that actually empowers the full and unique potentials of each child – the whole child?

This is what is very wrong about the U.S. Department of Education’s policies on standards and testing. It is not the model or prism of thinking that will allow the United States or New Hampshire to flourish in the 21st century and beyond. Sadly, the state Department of Education is not doing enough for its school districts.

Consider that if New Hampshire did not apply for a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education in June 2013, 75 percent of schools would have been labeled “failing” in 2014 despite having made personalized learning statewide policy back in 2009.

Additionally, per-pupil spending in New Hampshire is at the top when compared nationally. We can only conclude that given innovative policies such as personalized learning along with substantial per pupil expenditures, the state DOE is ineffective when implementing policies.

New Hampshire could be in the forefront nationally when attempting to disrupt this outdated model. School districts in California were granted a waiver by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, why not Manchester?

As Congress debates the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, numerous educational leaders have taken both sides of the standardized testing issue, and now with a whole new set of standards known as the Common Core, the debate has been heightened; this is as it should be since our children’s future well-being is at stake.

I hope to place an exclamation point on those voices locally and around the country that are against such outdated practices.


Experienced educators and concerned parents already know that our model of education and required curricula foci does not support the whole child.

Compare this view with one of the most dynamic and visionary school leaders in Maryland, Joshua Starr, who is attempting to be a model disrupter by sponsoring the Gallup organization’s survey of students’ dreams. The thinking is that if educators can know and understand young people’s dreams for their futures, then the curriculum and instruction provided through schooling can be designed to support their manifestation.

Now that is 21st-century thinking. This is a 21st-century schooling model because it teaches young people to learn how to inquire inward, into their deepest selves, to find out what is important to them and their futures, and then to connect their knowledge more deeply.

Substantive academic studies demonstrate that when standards guide the pedagogy, students cannot and do not transfer this learning to other areas of their life, and even to other academic subjects, thus risking the potential for future success.

Most directly and importantly, numerous research studies demonstrate that the most important protective factor and key indicator of a positive life course trajectory for children is self-knowledge, not how well one performs on a test.

Standardized testing reflects a 19th-century education model in that it rests upon the psychological assumption that cold cognition, or thoughts and information, should be rationally processed.

A 21st-century education model is built upon hot cognition, where intrinsic motivation, emotions, interests, life purpose in service to others, self-direction and self-regulation, personal choice and individually designed futures are the priority when designing and evaluating curriculum and instruction, not simply facts and information.

The field of psychology has evolved dramatically but these models have not influenced educational schooling best practices.

The inner self

Doesn’t it make sense to create a system that is learning based, giving priority to the student’s individual needs instead of the standardized scale of learning? Shouldn’t we be imparting competencies that develop the strengths of each person and dedicate resources to make certain that students are learning in accordance with who they are, their sense of their own purpose and dreams for their lives? All this and more is possible, yet the current paradigm of education does not allow for us to create new methods that place students and their potential at the center of schooling.

What is often missing when standardized tests are the measure of educational effectiveness is the ability to take a deeper look at the inner self of the learner, to know who they are and want to become. Therefore, the focus of modern education should be on each student’s needs across all domains: social, emotional, physical, psychological and academic.

A true modern education teaches students understanding of their own hopes and dreams in life, to enable them academically, professionally and socially to become the types of people they aspire to be with all the self-attributions they have and would like to develop.

We need to envision a transformed system of education that can support learners in gaining self-knowledge for personal and professional potential so they can demonstrate real competencies to succeed in life, rather than curricula based upon standardized knowledge and Common Core academic standards, a primary focus in education today.

New Hampshire policy makers have not done their homework to research 21st-century best practices; therefore, our communities and society will remain stuck in the 19th century, producing people who are not well and not flourishing to the level of their God-given potentials. We can do better.

Parents, let’s demand more from our educational leaders so that our children are happier, healthier and more able to flourish from their schooling experiences.

(Henry G. Brzycki is president of the Brzycki Group and the Center for the Self in Schools, a human development and learning organization based in State College, Pa. He can be contacted at henry@brzyckigroup.com.)


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