What do we want from education? How should education make us better?
These profound questions were central to the classical Greek play The Clouds, written by Aristophanes, an astute observer of politics’ penchant for impairing the very society it aims to improve. The ancient drama uses satire to depict what happens when a bureaucratic tail is allowed to wag the educational dog. As a commentary, the comedy bites most deeply in its portrayal of misfortunes derived from the derelictions of an insufficient curriculum, and the consequences that naturally follow from producing intellectually indolent citizens. Spoiler alert, absurdity ensues!
When actual government bureaucracies neglect the evolving needs of those graduating students entering life after public education, the results are not comedy, but tragedy. Preparing students to become the value creators and rising contributors of tomorrow’s workforce remains the New Hampshire Department of Education’s highest imperative today, speaking to the timeless nature of Aristophanes’ cautionary insights.
Excellence in educational outcomes means equipping students with the knowledge and skills to thrive as life-learners and active citizens. For many New Hampshire students, this calls for rigorous academic preparation for the ardent demands of post-secondary education. For others, it requires developing the skills to prosper in the Granite State’s increasingly competitive workforce. Darwin teaches us that it is not always the strongest or swiftest who prosper, but those who adapt to a changing environment.
Despite the passionate dedication of New Hampshire’s most talented educators, our education system, like any government bureaucracy, is notoriously poor at implementing the adaptive changes necessary to drive improvement in educational outcomes. Given the velocity that change occurs in today’s point-and-click environment, established modes hastily become obsolete relics. Conventional approaches are often inadequate to solve newly emerging problems. To cope, education systems must adapt.
Last year, our Legislature directed the State Board of Education to increase alternative opportunities for students to earn credit towards graduation. Working closely with parents, educators, and stakeholders, the Department of Education built the Learn Everywhere program. This exciting innovation allows students to earn credit toward graduation for the successful completion of designated courses taken outside of the school campus environment. School districts will partner with relevant community institutions, businesses, and training facilities to conduct competency-based learning programs. These courses will expand formal instruction beyond the 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. weekday school cycle.
This will open up a world of unique learning opportunities as professional groups, businesses, and non-profit organizations will develop and deliver educational instruction for students across a variety of academic fields. Groups such as the New Hampshire Academy of Science and the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center can provide top-shelf courses to all New Hampshire students, no matter their home district. While previous outside-the-classroom efforts were hindered by the haphazard series of irregular approval processes from 162 school districts, Learn Everywhere consolidates and connects students and parents directly with these new options.
Learn Everywhere will require all new educational entrants to apply to the State Board of Education, subjecting them to the same exacting standards as all New Hampshire schools. Once approved, the programs would remain under the State Board’s supervisory jurisdiction. Districts will continue to maintain control of their own curriculum, while students will receive credit for completed Learn Everywhere courses for up to at least 30 percent of their graduation requirements. School districts could allow students to learn 100 percent of their graduation requirements outside the classroom, but that would be up to local officials.
But perhaps even more than the measurable benefits that Learn Everywhere will generate, its greatest rewards may lie in the intangibles. For young learners, it is the stir of the novel and its promise of challenge that arouses the mind. Within these new Learn Everywhere courses, fresh skills will be acquired, positive mentor relationships will be formed and students’ dormant confidence will be tapped into, and used to elevate the spirit of knowledge.
As Pheidippides shares with his father Strepsiades in The Clouds, how sweet it is to be conversant with things which are new and clever.