Understanding needs experience

I have just finished the first draft of another book, tentatively entitled “Truths About Education,” that addresses my views of education that began in our North Country. The book has three interrelated parts. The first centers around my experiences growing up on a nearly self-sufficient farm that was carved from the Adirondack hardwood forest during the early 1800s, 10 miles from the nearest village.

Any time I refer to the place where I got my start, I call it a nearly self-sufficient farm. I refer to it that way even though I lived in an era of rural electrification; our farm did not have electricity, nor a telephone. We raised, or acquired by hunting and fishing, nearly everything we ate.

The second part centers on my professional experiences that evolved from life on that farm.

The third part contains the application of my self-developed principles and those of others that define education for the 21st century as I see it, drawn from the first two parts.

Sid Couchey, a dear friend and accomplished cartoonist, on the occasion of my retirement presented me with a near-life-size portrait that captured the spirit of my mission to change/improve public education in this country.

His notation in the lower right hand corner captures my spirit of change. He said I planned to travel — from one project to another. However, that does not reveal the whole story.

All the projects discussed in this new book exhibit themes that are extensions of my everyday past experiences, that regardless of circumstances or location are shared elements of environments worldwide. Firsthand, in-depth, concrete and direct experiences, upon which subsequent learning is based, are vital to becoming a competent and compassionate human being. Educational experiences that lead to an in-depth understanding of the local environment are a missing link in today’s public school curriculum.

Sid’s cartoon predicted activities built on common themes that for me spanned a variety of experiences beyond education, including primary health care, leadership training in industry, medical education, business interests and legal activities.

My varied farm activities demonstrated the absolute requirement for direct and purposeful experiences in learning, regardless of residential location. This is a recurring theme throughout my becoming a school reformer.

I acquired early in my experiences what has become an explanation for many problems in education and an integral part of a strategy for change. We each have a set of beliefs, assumptions and personal orientations that guide our decision making as we cope with life, regardless of our chosen field of pursuit. Change those beliefs, assumptions and personal orientations and a whole different set of conclusions will emerge.

This begs the question: “What are the beliefs, assumptions and personal orientations that justify the current organization and practices of public schools?

“Have they been validated in personal experiences and are they shared and supported by scholars who have studied such matters in depth?” After more than 65 years as a professional educator, my answer is NO!

I believe there are four interrelated sets of beliefs, assumptions and personal orientations that define what is happening or not happening in schools and the changes needed in education, about which there is no shared agreement.

I take the position that unless the beliefs, assumptions and personal orientations are updated to reflect what is known and validated about the following four topics, changes in education will continue to be stagnated, positive communication will remain an unfulfilled goal, and antisocial behavior will continue unresolved.

We all need to update and apply what is known and validated about the following: 1) individual human development and behavior, including learning; 2) the nature of communication, group processes, including group/team development; 3) the nature of knowledge and what it means to know in all realms of meaning; and 4) what general systems theory has to offer in education, including systems design as a process of learning and systems analysis as a strategy for assessing and evaluating learning outcomes.

Attempting to change the current sets of beliefs, assumptions and personal orientations held by conventional educators and the public at large has led me to be involved in numerous proposed systemic solutions described in this new book.

Let me know if you would like to join in critiquing this latest draft. If interested, please contact me at www.remakingourschools49@gmail.com.

Robert L. Arnold lives in Willsboro and is a professor emeritus of education at SUNY Plattsburgh.