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E.M. "Mac" Swengel, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Education
School of Education
United States International University
San Diego, California

  “Under One Roof”
THE BENIGN SCHOOL
by Edwin M. Swengel, Ph.D

10

In the third and final section, I introduce a concept that recently emerged as a mini-epiphany. I rather suddenly realized: The fully developed Benign School potentially can solve many, if not most, of the complex social problems of urban culture. This “sudden illumination” grew out of contemplating the implications of the popular African adage, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Over the past decade or so, this has become almost a mantra for educators, who seem to believe mouthing it will somehow achieve something mystically uplifting and problem solving. But I have yet to see or hear anyone spell out the specifics of how to achieve the implied village child raising advantages in urban settings.

Big City living has for millennia spawned suffering, insecurity, and misery for the unfortunate, along with providing comfort and relative levels of security and happiness for the fortunate. City living nurtures both the best and worst of what civilization offers. I propose that the Benign School concept, if implemented world-wide—at least in urbanizing cultures—will go far to creating a universal ethos of tolerance, warm respect, and pleasure in cultural diversity. I term this expanded educational concept “the villagization of urban society.” Its unique dynamics are discussed in both the second and final sections of this treatise.

I provide broadly based rationales—pedagogical, psychological, sociological, ecological, and philosophical—to support the practicality and practicability of this Benign School concept. It provides every kind of productive learning experience needed to assure that all students achieve high levels of the school’s goals for them: The 3 C’s plus R: Caring, Competence, Communication, and Responsibility. The final section of this treatise describes ways to organize and maintain the necessary pressure on school board members and other political figures to charter such a school and to support its further development.

The scientific way to test the validity of a theory is not by argument (nor by demanding evidence of its success even before it has even been tried!) but by doing enough extensive and extended consideration of its potential strengths and weaknesses to merit an adequate field test. Scientists first discuss and argue the merits of proposals for experiment. They settle their arguments by supporting experiments which have reasonable chances of success. Ultimate success of basic school restructuring may require extended study and experimentation to develop its full potential. Any pilot experimental school system deserves to be supported so long as it shows steady improvement over the existing one, with promise of continuing to improve by correcting weaknesses and solving unseen problems that arise.

A final note on brain-stretching. Grassroots campaigners face a daunting task in trying to brain-stretch those who hold most power in the school bureaucracy. That power is unevenly spread among several groups of stakeholders: the publicly-elected members of a school board, the central office administrators, the “expert consultants” they bring in to upgrade teachers, professors of education whose careers are based on preparing teachers to succeed in the traditional school system (which most professors seem to believe can be improved by continually tweaking each segment but who feel no need for a synergic integration of them), politicians who believe they can legislate school improvement, and other folk with myopic vision of what schools currently do and blurred vision of what they possibly could do if creatively restructured.

My own experience in trying to brain-stretch such persons in seats of power is instructive. When I first proposed it to three public school administrators—I briefly offered the simple, unadorned idea of having pupils tutor others needing help—it was shot down by one short sentence, from a revered elementary school principal. After a few short moments to consider my proposal, she sort of snorted. “Hmph! How would they get their own work done.” Not a question. A final judgment, silently supported by both the middle and high school principals. Who was I, at that time a farmer and part-time elementary school music teacher, to tell the Established Professionals how to improve their craft! Such arrogance! Such stupidity! Such ignorance! The high school principal somewhat condescendingly lectured me on how much the schools had improved and were steadily continuing to do so.

But to give credit where due, my wife (then teaching English in a rural high school) and I were invited to a dinner to meet these three educators by a renowned psychologist who also taught in the School of Education. He was much impressed with my proposal and felt certain his three principal friends would be interested in hearing it. The professor, however, made no attempt to re-open and continue consideration of peer tutoring after it was blasted by Madame Principal. But we sat for three more hours in the university faculty dining room describing and discussing a variety of students’ behavior, their negative attitudes, and other school problems—all of which I felt peer tutoring could in some measure ameliorate if not solve. But I dared not utter a further word, and no one solicited my opinion.
 

 
  (Continued)

Treatise - Parts:  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12 
 
 

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Copyright © 2010 by E.M Swengel