Education for a Democratic Society

Michael Peterson, Kim Beloin, & Rich Gibson

c/o 217 Education
Wayne State University
Detroit, Michigan 48202

Renaissance Community Press

Change grows from a vision of the future. Where there is no vision, there is no change.

In the summer of 1997, several educators from Detroit, Michigan and rural Wisconsin gathered to develop a research project that would investigate the interaction of several components of effective schooling for students. We were particularly interested in thinking about the connection of authentic teaching practices with strategies to include children with "special needs" in regular classes. Some of us brought long experience as teachers and principals in elementary and secondary schools. For some of us our perspectives were shaped through involvement in inclusive education for students with disabilities.

Out of our efforts, we developed a framework for school reform, which we call "whole schooling". The framework particularly merges efforts to de-track schools and support inclusion of all students in regular education classes, restructuring of the use of supporting resources available through Title I and special education, curriculum reforms, and efforts to engage parents and the larger community. This framework has been adopted by numerous schools in both Wisconsin and Michigan who have come together to form the Whole Schooling Consortium. Below, you will find the FIVE PRINCIPLES of Whole Schooling which we will discuss in detail in this paper.

The FIVE PRINCIPLES of Whole Schooling

1. Empower citizens in a democracy: The goal of education is to help students learn to function as effective citizens in a democracy.

2. Include all. All children learn together across culture, ethnicity, language, ability, gender & age.

3. Teach and adapt for diversity. Teachers design instruction for diverse learners that engages them in active learning in meaningful, real-world activities; develop accommodations and adaptations for learners with diverse needs, interests, and abilities.

4. Build community & support learning. The school uses specialized school and community resources (special education, title I, gifted education) to build support for students, parents, and teachers. All work together to build community and mutual support within the classroom and school; provide proactive supports for students with behavioral challenges.

5. Partner with families and the community. Educators build genuine collaboration within the school and with families and the community; engage the school in strengthening the community; and provide guidance to engage students, parents, teachers, and others in decision-making and direction of learning & school activities.

EMPOWER CITIZENS IN A DEMOCRACY: The goal of education is to help students learn to function as effective citizens in a democracy.

Whole Schools see the core goal of schooling as educating students to function as effective citizens in a democracy (John Goodlad, 1993). In such schools, a study of the local community centers studies and provides a concrete laboratory for reflection, analysis, skill building, and contribution. Students learn through community and classroom experiences, mentorship, and guidance to develop ideas, obtain tools, and foster skills to improve their own lives and contribute to creating a more just, equitable society (Banks, 1990; Kozol, 1992).

In schools that operate in poor communities, students are impacted directly and severely by social injustice that exists in our country. In this context, it is particularly important that schools attend to this mission of helping to empower students as citizens. This is easier said than done. If schools are committed to helping students understand their own social situation and contribute to dealing with issues of social injustice, they will further engage students in active processes of inquiry and analysis. With such a goal in mind, Whole Schools commit efforts to helping students question, understand, test the reality of the social world which we inhabit, to work towards change, to seek justice, create caring, and to develop skills to be an effective citizen, parent, and worker in a democratic society. If creating such true democratic citizens is a real goal of schools, inclusion fits naturally and necessarily as an integral part of the school mission. Inclusive education provides a forum in which students can live out and struggle with creating a true democracy and support for equality in their own classrooms (Apple, 1995).

INCLUDE ALL: All children learn together across culture, ethnicity, language, ability, gender & age.

Whether in rural, suburban. or urban areas, people are typically separated from those in different socio-economic classes. In cities poor people tend to live in identified neighborhoods where they are clustered together. In rural areas whole communities are poor and typically separated from more wealthy communities. In these communities, the typical response within schools to students with "special" needs is even further segregation. In many cities, schools operate segregated systems of special education with separate schools and classrooms or students with disabilities. Pull-out rooms for Chapter One students, compensatory education, bilingual education, and special education abound.

In Whole Schools, educators, students, and parents understand that inclusion for all students is a fundamental leverage point that will move a renewing school to success or failure. Schools to be successful must break the paradigm of deficit thinking and strategies of removal. Consequently, in effective Whole Schools, educators and the community commit to a goal of separating no one, of understanding and celebrating diversity across culture, ethnicity, ability, age, sexuality, and gender. Students with disabilities come out of their separate classes and back from separate schools to learn in regular classes. We un-track the school-- no more basic classes and college prep. Schools develop ways to teach, support, and accommodate where low ability kids, "Title I" kids (Anderson & Pellicer, 1990; Ogle, Pink, & Jones, 1990). gifted kids (Sapon-Shevin, 1994). and kids learning English as a second language interact and work together (Carasquillo and Rodriguez, 1996; Cummins, 1979; Cole, 1995; Faltis, 1997). Members of each group learn with and from one another so that each student's individual needs are met (Kozol, 1991; Miller-Lachman and Taylor, 1995; Oakes, 1995; Wheelock, 1992). Increasingly Whole Schools use multi-age classrooms and cross-age mentoring and tutoring strategies to reduce separation even by age (Chase and Doan, 1995).

TEACH AND ADAPT FOR DIVERSITY: Teachers design instruction for diverse learners that engages them in active learning in meaningful, real-world activities; develop accommodations and adaptations for learners with diverse needs, interests, and abilities.

Within the last ten years, enormous amounts of research and educational innovation have occurred in every field of education (e.g., language arts, science, math, social studies) which move beyond the traditional, rote learning of the factory school to learning that actively engages students in the teaching-learning process. In Whole Schools teachers use known best practices in learning that engage students in complex, real-world activities, reflecting on their learning, functioning as a community of learners. According to the review conducted by Peterson, LeRoy, Field, and Wood (1992), in the most effective schools "students . . . learn to perform meaningful activities in areas important to their daily lives, and perform applications related to skill areas of math, science, language and other basic skills (content of learning)." Students may study conditions in their own community and work to develop and even implement action strategies that lead to solutions. Students may engage in Internet-based communications with scientists (and other students) throughout the world where they study phenomena and gather local data that is transmitted to scientists across the Internet (e.g., the Jason Project). Moving away from the traditional reliance on lecture and worksheets, students in Whole Schools engage in active learning strategies, i.e., cooperative learning; literacy circles; and problem-based projects in which students pose questions, gather information and analyze that information in collaborative groups. In such instructional settings, teachers attend to the learning styles and the multiple intelligences possessed by a diverse and heterogeneous student population.

Strategies for designing and implementing instruction for diversity include the following:

Education for the whole person -- help students develop cognitive, emotional, physical skills aimed at their total life -- family, civic involvement, work.

Multiple intelligences -- use Gardner's model to design lessons that draw on all the intelligences together -- linguistic, logico-mathematic, spatial, physical, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal.

Active and authentic learning-- engage students in learning that centers in real issues, problems, activities in the neighborhood, community, world.

Collaborative and individual learning -- support both social opportunities for team and cooperative learning and individual learning and achievement.

Integration of theory and practice -- give students the opportunity to understand the interaction of theory and practice in real community settings and situations; use this as a basis for reflection, inquiry, and dialogue.

Interdisciplinary, thematic instruction -- link typical educational disciplines of math, science, English, physical education, art around themes for learning; authentic curriculum becomes the organizer.

Connection to the community as a whole -- engage students and the school in the life of the total community, drawing from its resources and contributing to its fabric.

Such approaches to curriculum in schools provides the best of worlds for all students--learning of meaningful activities based on identification of individual needs and priorities in integrated and inclusive classes where students are encouraged to work together, support one another, and develop relationships. All students, including those with the most severe challenges, may be most effectively and naturally included and thrive in classrooms in which teachers utilize these effective teaching practices. Consequently, any effort to move towards inclusive schooling must center on designing instruction for a diverse student population. When teachers use a variety of teaching methods as a strategy for meeting the needs of a diverse population, academic success for all students improves. All students possess strengths that can be brought out by exposure to diverse instructional methods.

In Whole Schools, however, teachers have explicit strategies to adapt, modify, expand, and diversify curricula when individual students do not respond well to instruction as originally deigned. In some cases, adaptations may be for students with more limited learning abilities. In others, students may provide behavioral challenges that test the existing approaches to building a caring community of learners in classrooms. In yet others, the existing curriculum may not adequately challenge the intellectual abilities of students with special gifts. Teachers and school staff in Whole Schools learn how to accommodate students whose needs fall outside the typical design of instruction so that all learn together though their ability levels may vary. Strategies may include the following:

Adapting instruction -- making specific adaptations for how we teach and how a student learns: engaging students in projects rather than lecture and worksheets; modifying the amount or difficulty of work; providing additional supports and assistance, differentiated instruction, "tiered" assignments, heterogeneous interest groups, curriculum compacting (testing students on upcoming units to avoid teaching them what they already know) and alternative enrichments assignments (Armstrong, 1994; Willis, 1995).

Modifying expectations -- expecting less of some students; more of others depending upon their abilities, and grading accordingly.

Positive behavioral supports -- use community-building strategies that draw on the strengths of students, provide alternatives to students, provide supports (peer support, circles of support, family support), conflict resolution and peacemaker strategies. Move away from punishment, separation.

Team planning -- access a support team to get all the good ideas and help from students, families, and support teachers in the school.

Redesigning instruction -- as we design modifications, use this information to help improve the design of instruction.

BUILD COMMUNITY & SUPPORT LEARNING: The school uses specialized school and community resources (special education, title I, gifted education) to build support for students, parents, and teachers; build community and mutual support within the classroom and school; provide proactive supports for students with behavioral challenges.

Schools that include diverse students first design and structure their curriculum for diversity and then provide accommodations, adaptations, and enrichment activities based on the needs of individual students. To do so, schools intentionally build support strategies within buildings and classrooms re-aligning their use of resources associated with programs with targeted funding. The success of teaching very diverse students lies less in the characteristics of the student than in effective teaching and effective support strategies for teachers and students.

In Whole Schools, the strategies used to provide supports, accommodation, and enrichment for various categories of special students work together reinforcing one another and enriching the experiences of all students within a typical classroom setting. Efforts to build community within the classroom, celebrate and honor various cultural groups, and utilize proactive violence prevention strategies, work together.

Similarly, supports for student learning across these typical categorical programs may work in concert. Building-based student and teacher support teams may utilize funding from special education, Title I, gifted education, and at-risk funding to provide a rich set of supports for teachers and connections with community organizations. Peer support strategies including circle of friends, peer mediation, peer tutoring, and other related strategies can be used effectively across student needs. In-class consulting teachers, related services specialists, aides, and others may work as a team to support interactive teaching strategies in a particular classroom. Adaptations for students with limited-English speaking experience need to engage in a literacy rich environment in order to learn English which may work in concert with the needs of students whose language learning abilities are limited and similarly need literacy rich activities to promote their own learning. Both types of students may benefit from ESL consultants and speech/language teachers working in concert together.

In Whole Schools teachers are no longer overwhelmed or alone. They can rely on one another and a building team to provide them assistance. Teachers develop enhanced partnerships with students pulling on their abilities to support one another in a learning and problem solving process. In Whole Schools, support strategies include:

Building-based support teams that bring together school and community personnel to deal with needs of students and families.

Support teachers and aides who provide in-class supports who assist special students, co-plan and co-teaching, and aid teachers in the design of lessons that incorporate a range of abilities. Support teachers are funded by special education, Title I, bilingual education, and compensatory education and work as a collaborative support team, each person assigned to 3-4 teachers; some aides are assigned to classes.

Peer supports -- students helping students Peer buddies, formal peer mentoring programs, conflict resolution and "peacemaker" program, circles of support, support groups.

PARTNERING: Educators build genuine collaboration within the school and with families and the community; engage the school in strengthening the community; and provide guidance to engage students, parents, teachers, and others in decision-making and direction of learning & school activities.

Whole Schools engage in exemplary connections with families and communities. In these schools, family-centered approaches contribute innovations to the social fabric of a school. Whole Schools provide numerous opportunities for the involvement of parents in the life of the school (ranging from the classroom to policymaking) and see their mission as supporting parents and families. These schools are the most effectively involved in human service reforms that attempt to provide "wrap-around" services for families at-risk and provide integrated, interagency service delivery programs. School personnel and families and members of the community work together to build a better school that also builds a better community.

Whole schooling provides an opportunity to create a bond with parents and the community. Meaningful involvement on the part of parents and other community members can make childrens' educational experiences more dynamic and effective (Zaharis, 1993). Family and community involvement offers numerous benefits including increased student achievement, better student behavior, stronger family bonds, and an increase in acceptance of diverse students on the part of teachers (D'Alonzo, VanLeeuwen, & Giordano, 1997).

Such collaboration is related to implementation of effective inclusive education in which education offers schools and communities an opportunity to enrich the children with cooperation, problem-solving skills, and an opportunity to learn to respect individual differences. Through inclusive education, children can be taught to respect diversity among their peers, while providing a wonderful opportunity to build a foundation for adults to work cooperatively with one another to improve their community (O'Brien, Forest, Snow, Pierpoint, & Hasbury, 1989).

Finally, the school understands that it is a central community institution, at best the center of the life of the community. As the larger community is engaged in multiple efforts to build and strengthen itself, educators and students are involved integrally in such a process. This can take many forms. Most centrally, as the school uses the local community as its focal point for learning objectives and activities, students engage in studying the resources and needs of their community and engage in many learning projects that actually help to strengthen the community. For example, high school students may study transportation issues in their community linking the disciplines of social studies, mathematics, language as they interview people needing transportation, analyze costs of various transportation options, and actually present their findings at the city transportation advisory council. Elementary students may learn about different people from different cultures in their community visiting local cultural centers, interviewing each others' families.

Whole Schools also use their facilities to house and sponsor numerous community events and connections -- local meetings of various groups, events for children and families, linkage of school and human services. Such schools function as community centers where learning and education are a natural part of the total community.

Some practices for partnership with families and the community may include:

Community building involving the school -- involvement of teachers and students with activists, business people, faith representatives in identifying issues and linking resources to build and strengthen the community.

Parent and community school governance -- local parents and the community is engaged in collaborative planning and governance of the school with administration and teachers.

Service learning and community problem-solving -- school staff and the curriculum of the school are closely connected to the community so those students engage in learning about and contributing to the community as part of the school curriculum.

Full-service schools supporting families and students-- the school serves as a community center where families access human services at the school, where services and supports to families are integrated (e.g. "wrap-around services"), where the school is open at night and on week-ends for activities of various groups.


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