There is a compelling need for more Internationally Minded and progressive 21st Century education choices for our children. For nearly a century, progressive educators, leaders in all sectors of our society, and futurists have been tolling the bell to awaken our nation to the need for a foundational paradigm shift in education. A continuum of progressive education thinkers have promoted a view of learning that prepares students to assume an active role in their education and their world, applying inquiry, critical thinking and understanding of knowledge through developed skills and with attitudes that embrace passion, caring and exclusivity. Among these early learner-centered advocates,  Rousseau, Pestalozzi, Fröbel, Dewey, Steiner, Montessori, Piaget, Bruner stand out.

In the last 60 or more years, their vision has echoed in the voices of thousands of classroom teachers, pedagogical and social researchers and advocates for learners; Herb Kohl, Betty Halpern, Libby Byers, John Holt, Jonathan Kozol, Ivan Illich, Paul Goodman, George Dennison, James Herndon, Charles E. Silberman, John Taylor Gatto, Neil Postman, Ira Glaser,  Asa Hilliard,  Cynthia Brown and their contemporaries.

The work of academia has continuously promoted alternatives to the “norm” of  “regular education” in the United States. A continued challenge to a least common denominator system of education, “one shoe fits all”, method of delivering memorized facts, drilled math algorithms and absence of critical thinking has emerged in the work of  educational researchers at our most prestigious universities.

US educators may recognize similar constructs in the works of Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins, founder of Understanding by Design and backwards planning thinking. Or you may recognize the thinking of Carol Tomlinson, Lynn Erickson, Linda Darling Hammond, Carol Dweck and many others who think and write about the now and future of learning.

FOR A START :     15,226,099 people have viewed this YouTube video by Sir Ken Robinson, posted seven years ago ! Watch it, and then ask yourself, “Why is it so difficult to change the paradigm of US public education? ”  What are we doing to children in the name of education, and why does this practice persist?

The foundational architecture of standardized public education in the US has so far proven unable to reinvent itself. No Child Left Behind and the new Common Core are superb examples of an approach to exact performance from an anachronistic nationalized educational system that is incapable of retooling itself to provide 21st Century education. The driving decisions are most often about the needs of adults rather than educational merit and outcomes for children.

Meanwhile the United States is being left behind in measures of global innovation within education, social welfare, commerce, entrepreneurship, invention and production. Quality of life is measured by numerous rulers, and our straightedge is coming up short.

In 2009, after nearly 25 years working within the public education paradigm, I left to work abroad in the IB International School sector. Driven to this decision by the inspiration I experienced at my first IBO workshop in Princeton in 1998, and the unrelenting dysfunction of public school systems, I left the US to deepen my understanding of the International Baccalaureate Programmes.  I found international communities of professionals and parents and foreign national families who recognized that national systems of education everywhere, were missing the heartbeat of the 21st Century, unprepared…uninformed… lacking in curiosity, courage or capacity to reinvent their national systems of education.

In that same context, schools that needed to find the means to prepare students who were already living in a global context and whose lives would be forever changed by that experience, coalesced in learning partnerships to ask the essential questions about what a 21st Century education might look like. Out of that need, one such collective, the International Baccalaureate  (IB) Organization rose into being. The IB programmes began with a focus on Secondary education, preparing students around the globe to succeed in graduate and post-graduate learning. The Middle Years Programme  (MYP) and Primary Programme followed.

It is said that necessity is the mother of invention, and in the US Public education sector, that is evermore true. Charter Schools, Home Schooling, Blended Learning, Forest Schools (more common in the EU), Exploration and Outward Bound models are proliferating. “STEM” and “STEAM” schools purport to teach core Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or throw in Art on top of it. New iterations of Project Based Learning (PBL) or (MST) Math, Science, Technology from the 90’s. Only a few of these schools accomplish such grandiose educational claims, in a flurry of piling on Acronym Letters. What these schools are recognizing, is that our general public schools are not preparing learners in even modest ways for the future. They are marketing Choice to desperate and distraught parents.

CHOICE in learning is at the heart of these initiatives. In the best of this new generation of PBL schools, emphasis on constructing understanding, rather than memorizing fact or participating in serial activities wins the day. Sustaining and building upon the natural curiosity of learners, rather than diminishing it through rote activities and monotony.

But there is something more possible than exposing students to an array of deeper immersion in focus content areas that prepare kids for life on mars. The International Baccalaureate Programmes focus on our shared responsibility for the planet we inhabit. Learning that is deeply connected across dimensions of knowledge, through Transdisciplinary and Interdisciplinary inquiry is at the heart of International Baccalaureate education.  A cohesive whole system approach to the learner has been developed in the IB philosophy and practice. The Learner Profile as an Interpersonal schema frames the development of students as learners and as a measure of the human community in which students learn. Through systematic development of attitudes and approaches to learning children are shaped and they shape their learning community. Planning for teaching embraces Key and Related Concepts within subject disciplines, and yet frames understanding through intersecting and inseparable connections between various kinds of knowing. The boldness of Global Engagement as a required link to our responsibility as learners and as a way to recognize the privilege that education bestows and the responsibility is demands is a core value of the IB.

A key Standard and Practice for IB Schools holds that All Teachers are Language Teachers.  A key pathway to intercultural understanding in the IB Programmes is the requirement that IB schools teach an additional language in each level of the Programme. In the Middle Years Programme, a third language is required. Why this emphasis? To learn a language is to learn the psyche and soul of a culture, it expands our point of view and nurtures open-mindedness. “The central hypothesis of the theory is that language acquisition occurs in only one way: by understanding messages.” ― Stephen D. Krashen   Dr. Krashen’s imperative for language acquisition is “Compelling and Comprehensible Input!” Whether learning a Mother Tongue, or an additional language, meaning in a socially immersed context is the basis for deep language learning and intercultural understanding.

Through the discovery of additional  languages, learners realize the very subtle, distinct and important differences in meaning and understanding of the world that are conveyed through language. It is noted in a January 14, 2013, thatt Inuit people have at least 53 documented distinct words to describe snow and Sami people over a 100o distinct words to describe. How could they not? There are about 6500 languages identified on our planet and about 7106 spoken languages.

The IB programmes continued to evolve with refinements, exacting standards, authentic assessments, through continuous inquiry about what learning in a global and 21st century context can look like. Its last major renovation of its educational continuum focused on its “Next Chapter, Middle Years Program” . The organization’s intentional self-analysis and self-critical examination of the efficacy of its educational paradigm gave rise to some fundamental changes in the structure, practice and accreditation standards for its member school educational programs.

Key featural changes, included emphases on the backwards planning methods for MYP units of inquiry, emphasis on interdisciplinary (inter-subject) study, integration of approaches to learning within disciplines and global engagement as a means of framing learning in a shared global context. Extension of Inquiry as the principal strategy for engagement, open-minded discovery and consideration of divergent viewpoints and the deepening of critical thinking. The IB programs frame inquiry with the use of Key and Related Concepts, enduring big ideas.

Educator and author Lynn Erickson explains Concept-Based teaching and learning in the context of the continued use of standardized teaching and testing that drives  rote and topical teaching. She speaks to the goals in the US Common Core Standards of raising both the outcome expectations for learners and the institutional expectations for teachers, schools and the failing  factory institutions, school districts, whose decisions are largely politically driven and reductionist in force.

Good learning environments for humans are highly flexible, learner-centered, highly differentiated teaching and learning contexts where interest and engagement are both “Compelling and Comprehensible”, and where concepts are connected in meaningful and challenging ways. Complex systems, patterns and understandings are realized by students in these kinds of school environments. IB Schools manifest these kind of learning environments and shape these kind of students.






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