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At the Center of All Possibilities

Transforming Education for Our Children’s Future

by Doug Selwyn (Volume editor)
©2022 Textbook XVI, 210 Pages
Series: Counterpoints, Volume 532

Summary

At the Center of All Possibilities is built around a few fundamental questions: How can we best educate our children so that they have the skills, confidence, and knowledge to live lives of joy, fulfillment, and service to themselves, their communities, and the planet? What do our students need to know, what dispositions do they need to develop, and what social and emotional learning and support do they need so that they are able to respond to both the challenges and possibilities of a future they can't yet imagine? And how can we transform our current educational system into the system that will answer these questions? 
Doug Selwyn invited twenty educators and activists to respond to these fundamental questions in short essays or interviews. There has been no attempt to align them into a neat package: there are many points of view that we need to consider in our own unique circumstances, and there is value in gathering a range of thought and experience when considering how best to plan, and then to act. Moreover, the book urges us to begin planning and acting now for the education we want, rather than to put it off because of the crisis of the moment. One of the central responsibilities of a society to provide the best education we can to the next generation so that they can lead their best lives, and these are our children. We owe them the very best education we can offer so that all of them can realize themselves at the center of all possibilities.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Advance Praise
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editor
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Section One: Schooling Within a Larger Societal Context
  • Chapter One: (De)-Graded by Inequality (Richard Wilkinson)
  • Chapter Two: Teaching Knowledge and Action to Promote Health Improvement (Stephen Bezruchka)
  • Section Two: The Purpose of Education and the Roles that Schools Play
  • Chapter Three: The Purpose of Education: A Brief History (Doug Selwyn)
  • Chapter Four: Beyond Education as Usual: Public Education in a Post-Covid World (Sandra Mathison and E. Wayne Ross)
  • Section Three: Learning from Teaching During Covid
  • Chapter Five: Love in the Time of Covid (Jo Cripps)
  • Chapter Six: The Remote Suburbs (Peter Suruda)
  • Section Four: What Our Children Need to Learn
  • Chapter Seven: Risk, Inquiry, and Learning (Don Fels)
  • Chapter Eight: Social Studies, Intersectionality, and the Re Humanizing of Education: A Conversation with Jerry Price
  • Chapter Nine: Contextualizing Student Needs Post Pandemic (Alberto “Beto” Gutierrez)
  • Chapter Ten: Dear Educators: An Open Letter about How You Teach about Native Peoples (Jean Mendoza and Debbie Reese)
  • Chapter Eleven: Black Lives Matter at School: A Conversation with Jesse Hagopian
  • Chapter Twelve: Evolving Higher Education for a New Consciousness (Yves Salomon-Fernández)
  • Section Five: Who Shall Teach Them?
  • Chapter Thirteen: Disposed to Democracy (Jan Maher)
  • Chapter Fourteen: Finding Our Paths to Social Justice Education (Alyssa Arnell, Leo Hwang, and Linda McCarthy)
  • Chapter Fifteen: Transforming the Teacher Corps: A Conversation with Wayne Au
  • Section Six: Thinking about Freedom Schools
  • Chapter Sixteen: Freedom Schools (Caroline Whitcomb)
  • Section Seven: But What about Assessment?
  • Chapter Seventeen: Assessing What Matters: A Conversation with Jack Schneider
  • Section Eight: Learning Through Activism
  • Chapter Eighteen: School Strike for Climate: Save the World by Changing the Rules (Greta Thunberg)
  • Chapter Nineteen: We Are Suing the U.S. Government: A Conversation with Aji Piper
  • Chapter Twenty: Aji Piper’s Testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on the Climate Crisis (Excerpts) (April 4, 2019)
  • Final Thoughts (for Now)
  • Contributors
  • Series Index

←xii | xiii→

Acknowledgments

I want to first give thanks to those who have helped us to stay healthy, or to recover our health, who have comforted our loved ones when they (and we) were in quarantine, who have kept our stores open and our lights on, served as first responders, who have grown our food, and taken care of us in so many ways, often at personal risk. If Covid can offer us anything at all that is of value it is an awareness of who actually keeps our society running, who are truly essential to our functioning community. We honored them with our words, and with signs in our yards. Here is hoping we will honor them with a living wage, safe and adequate working conditions, health insurance and access to medical care, and the respect they deserve in all ways once the pandemic is past.

Because of the intensity of Covid, and the overwhelm that was teaching while holding family together, several of those who started out to write chapters had to bow out, and while I am sorry that their wisdom, experience and points of view are not part of the book, their willingness to engage with the questions means that they are still part of the conversation that will lead to transforming education.

And for those who were able to do everything else they have done this past year and who were somehow still able to share their thoughts in these pages, I am deeply grateful to you. I have learned from your work and am confident that others will as well. Thank you:←xiii | xiv→

Richard Wilkinson, Stephen Bezruchka, Sandra Mathison, E. Wayne Ross, Jo Cripps, Peter Suruda, Don Fels, Jan Maher, Beto Gutierrez, Jerry Price, Debbie Reese, Jean Mendoza, Yves Salomon-Fernández, Jesse Hagopian, Wayne Au, Alyssa Arnell, Leo Hwang, Linda McCarthy, Jack Schneider, Aji Piper, Greta Thunberg, Caroline Whitcomb. And thank you to Lang Walsh, Rebecca Timson, and Helen Britto.

Thank you to the good folks at Peter Lang: Shirley Steinberg, series editor, Patty Mulrane, who I think may work most all of the jobs there at once, Dani Green, who has taken the editing baton mid race, Jackie Pavlovic, Naviya Palani, the production team and all others involved in making this book happen.

And finally, love and thanks to Jan Maher, who over the course of these past 40 years together has made clear that I am not the only one who is brave and foolish. Thank goodness.

←xiv | 1→

Introduction

A report from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) came out in August 2021 stating with absolute certainty that climate change is happening at a more rapid pace than anticipated, and that humans are at the center of that change (IPCC, 2021). The report warned that “widespread devastation and extreme weather are likely to become inevitable within the next two decades thanks to human behavior causing rising temperatures.” Only rapid and drastic reductions in greenhouse gases in this decade can prevent such climate breakdown. The report found that human activity was unequivocally the cause of rapid changes to the climate, including sea level rises, melting polar ice and glaciers, heatwaves, floods, and droughts. Michael E. Mann, a lead author of the IPCC’s 2001 report said, “Bottom line is that we have zero years left to avoid dangerous climate change, because it’s here.” And Dave Reay, the director of the Edinburgh Climate Change Institute, said world leaders “must have the findings of this report seared into their minds” at the November conference and take urgent action. “This is not just another scientific report,” Reay said. “This is hell and highwater writ large.”

Despite these warnings, it seems that our most significant response to climate change is to develop new vocabulary to describe our changing climate, including “a bomb cyclone, ” which we are experiencing at this very moment here in Massachusetts. Other new descriptors include heat domes, atmospheric rivers, tornadic waterspouts, and bombogenesis. Once in a generation storms are happening ←1 | 2→with some regularity, leaders from around the world meet together to wring their hands, and little or nothing changes.

When youth activist Greta Thunberg was approached for her reaction/response to the report she replied there is nothing new here, it’s “merely confirming what we already know.” When Ms. Thunberg started her school strikes in 2018, attempting to convince the Swedish Parliament to take action to save the planet, people would ask her why she was striking.

Some people say that I should be in school instead. Some people say that I should study to become a climate scientist so that I can “solve the climate crisis.” But the climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions. All we have to do is to wake up and change. And why should I be studying for a future that soon will be no more when no one is doing anything whatsoever to save that future? And what is the point of learning facts in the school system when the most important facts given by the finest science of that same school system clearly means nothing to our politicians and our society. (Thunberg, 2018)

Greta Thunberg asks a fundamental question that informs this book. What is the purpose of school if what we know does not lead to action, if education does not lead to living healthier and more sustainable lives? How effective is our educational system if it leaves adults unwilling or unable to act in the face of imminent danger, be it climate change, a lethal virus (with large numbers refusing to take vaccines that would protect them and/or others), gullible enough to believe that Hillary Clinton and other liberals were running a child sex ring out of a non-existent basement in an obscure pizza parlor, or to believe a candidate who lost an election by more than seven million votes, and lost the electoral college by a substantial margin somehow won the election. The rhetoric linking the success or failure of our schools based on test scores widely misses the mark. If the purpose of education is to help the next generation learn what they need to learn to maintain and improve their lives and the lives of those in their community, then our educational system is failing miserably, and has been failing for many years.

Which leads to the over-arching questions that are at the heart of this book. How do we educate our young people so that they know what they need to know and learn what they need to learn so that they are able to live healthy and sustainable lives, and to pass on a healthy and thriving society (and planet) to their children and grandchildren? What do we value most, that we hope they will carry with them and how do we help them to learn it? What role might schools play in this process and how do we transform our current system into one that truly meets the needs of all of our children? And how do we gather the will, the urgency to act that will begin to turn this massive ship around? Large, fundamental changes are needed, and they won’t happen quickly, which is all the more reason for us to get started now.←2 | 3→

The presence of the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the disparities of our society, and the failures of our institutions, including our educational system. We learned that some families, communities, and towns were and are relatively well equipped to deal with the dangers and challenges brought by the pandemic while a higher percentage of communities of color and communities living in poverty experienced death and/or serious illness, economic devastation, struggles to maintain housing and food security, and educational challenges as schooling went remote. None of this was a surprise to anyone paying attention; Covid has simply made it more difficult to ignore or hide the disparities in our increasingly unequal society. A character in Louise Erdrich’s novel The Plague of Doves observes that “What happens when you let an unsatisfactory present go on long enough? It becomes your entire history.” We are very much in danger of having our increasing inequality become our entire history moving forward unless we act, unless we refuse to let this increasingly unsatisfactory present go on. The question is what, if anything are we willing to do about it, and what is (are) the most effective path(s) of action?

There is no agreement as to the answers to those questions, and I’ve seen very little active interest in considering them seriously, given the level and immediacy of the crises the schools are facing. Current educators, families and communities are too busy trying to survive to consider the fundamental changes those questions point to, and those in power, who run and profit from the system as it is, are in no hurry to bring drastic change that might threaten their positions of privilege. Thus, the push to get back to “normal,” to how things were before the pandemic sent us into quarantine.

But that’s not good enough. It will not move us closer to an equitable, just, sustainable society, and won’t help us to meet the true crises we are facing on virtually every level of our lives. We have to do better, and education has a critical role to play in bringing the fundamental change we need. That’s the subject of this book.

Biographical notes

Doug Selwyn (Volume editor)

Doug Selwyn taught for 14 years in the Seattle Public Schools and then moved to teacher education, in 2000, first at Antioch University in Seattle, and then for 10 years at SUNY Plattsburgh where he was a Professor of Education until he retired in 2017. He has written several books on education, his most recent, All Children Are All Our Children, published in 2019 with Peter Lang. He can be reached at dougselwyn@aol.com.

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