We established our academic programming upon five important ideas that begin with a belief in a strong academic focus and conclude with the goal of providing our students with an environment of love, kindness and support.
First, we believe the focus in elementary and middle school should be academic. This emphasis is in contrast to envisioning school as an agent of social change, or a means to political or economic beliefs. It is also in contrast to movements that place emotional, psychological or socialization issues ahead of academic concerns. Our position found strong support from the research efforts at the Brookings Institution: “Foremost is insuring that students learn what is considered – by this and other cultures and in this and past generations – to be the essence of an educated person: the ability to read and write well, a firm grasp of mathematics, and extensive knowledge of literature, science and history.” Similarly the writings of Diane Ravitch (educational historian and policy analyst, and research professor at New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development) clearly supported our views.
Second, we held the belief that learning is a basic human need and hence an invigorating and exciting process. We found support for our view from the work of Jerome Bruner, cognitive psychologist and eminent learning theorist of the past 60 years. He wrote in his classic work The Process of Education that every subject discipline has an essential structure. This structure is formed by the habits of mind, specific to the discipline, and by the related tools and skills. Furthermore, every subject discipline has the inherent power to invoke joy and enthusiasm in the discipline itself. We believed that if we engaged children in the essential structure of reading, writing, mathematics, history, or science they would discover the enthusiasm and passion of professionals in these fields.
Third, we deemed it important that children learn to think analytically, critically and creatively. These thinking skills are embodied in the problem solving process. Our perspective was honed and supported by the work of Benjamin Bloom, educational psychologist who devised a taxonomy of educational objectives in 1956. The cognitive domain category lists six levels of learning: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. This taxonomy informs our decisions about curriculum design, questioning strategies, and expected student outcomes. Concerning education for creativity, we found curricular direction for teaching problem solving skills in the work of E. Paul Torrance and other pioneers in the development of creative problem solving models.
Fourth, at the heart of our beliefs about high quality education is the realization that challenging academics must be complemented by deliberate efforts to build achievement ethics. Personal attributes are necessary for academic achievement. Our emphasis is strengthened by the work of Herbert J. Walberg, University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a member of the Koret Task Force on K-12 Education, whose research focuses on educational productivity and human accomplishments. He and other attributional theorists such as Julian Rotter, propose that causes of academic success are rooted in a dynamic internal focus of effort that can vary according to tasks and challenges versus an external focus of achievement that limits success to static factors. In more recent years we have drawn from the work of Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, and other scholars who focus on the development of human competency. These views supported our expectation that students must take ownership of their learning, accept the fact that their academic success rested upon their own shoulders, and apply the habits of industry that lead to achievement.
Fifth, we knew that the basis for high level academic achievement and character training is an environment of love, kindness, gentleness, support, and encouragement. A family-like atmosphere would provide children psychological support to take the risks associated with superior academic work or the demands of habit-building training. The highest standards of excellence are best delivered by teachers who understand the child’s need for care, understanding and support.
From this theoretical base, we have set out on a journey to craft a system of education that might provide our students with opportunities to reach their highest potential. To this end, we keep ourselves under constant scrutiny. Self-reflection and self-evaluation are at the heart of growth.