'Portrait of a Graduate' is a recent implementation for all IPSD 204 schools. It anticipates supporting the philosophy within the district's mission statement. (Harrison Linden)
'Portrait of a Graduate' is a recent implementation for all IPSD 204 schools. It anticipates supporting the philosophy within the district's mission statement.

Harrison Linden

PORTRAIT OF A GRADUATE: IPSD introduces measures to bring clarity to the purpose of education

January 27, 2020

There are 1,420 minutes in a day. The National Science Foundation states that humans can have up to 60,000 thoughts each day. A decent fraction of those thoughts typically includes a couple of tests, along with reading, or a project to present. But what is the point of our education?

A buried question

Student life can motion an endless cycle of production. Things are continuously thrown on the list. As time goes on, many of them focus more heavily on what needs to get done, rather than how they can get things done well. Within the 24 hour day, amidst the many tasks on their plates, students are seldom afforded the time to reflect on the hidden gem of education. Without a clear answer, they are left confused about their journey in education. 

Students know about the surface-level purpose of school: It is to academically and mentally prepare them for unknown destinations. But is that going to inspire an unmotivated student? Is it going to give students the confidence they need to be “life-ready”? By all means, the purpose often is ironically ambiguous. 

For years, educators have been teaching students to become influential thinkers and compassionate citizens. The curriculum sets well-rounded skills as they are necessary for today’s world. For example, students who walk into a classroom may include qualitative and quantitative skills on how to craft an argument or find the net force of a moving object is going in with similar goals. 

For many students, like junior Brian Edwards, these goals are not being fulfilled. “I feel prepared to go off to college, but I don’t feel prepared to have a plan for life,” Edwards said. “It is tough to find something special when you’re so overwhelmed with the amount of work you have to do. I know that the workload is to prepare us for college. But it makes us feel like we need to get things done, rather than looking forward to it.”

The education system ultimately puts students in a place where they expect to learn and foster their opinions as global citizens. Whether students think about their values in education or not, they understand the responsibilities of a student. They know about the importance of skills that teachers are trying to foster. 

“You probably won’t need to know [the curriculum], but it’s the skills that you develop from the class,” junior Clayton Penttila said.

Connecting the dots

What students do not understand is how to connect the dots about the practices teachers are trying to foster. When they do not grasp the explicit purpose or know what they are learning, they begin to question their academic and civic perception of the classroom. 

A sizable issue in the classroom stems from a lack of communication. Students, for the most part, do not have many educators who consistently emphasize why they are learning what they are learning. 

At the beginning of the year, students may be given a syllabus to “understand” what they will get out of the class. Although that is important, it is not the defining moment of any course because it is often only mentioned at the start of the school year. 

Students remember to complete tangible assignments rather than follow their curiosities in the class. It is easy to fall prey to a cognitive illusion of learning: As students diligently complete daily assignments, they struggle to find their defining moment with the class. This leads many to ask, “How did the system get to the point of educational dryness?”

Breaking down the problem

The average person would say it is due to the factory system. To an extent, it is viable to consider that the factory system was a catalyst.

The factory system emerged in the late 1700s to early 1800s. Otherwise known as the “Prussian Model,” it was the path to industrial development. Later on, it became the gold in finding universal public education for all. 

In terms of public schooling, Hoarace Mann gave the United States that similar exposure during the 1840s. Alvin Toffler, the author of Future Shock, claims the brilliance of implementing factory-like schooling systems: “The whole idea of assembling masses of students (raw material) to be processed by teachers (workers) in a centrally located school (factory) was a stroke of industrial genius.” 

In the early 20th century, the Committee of Ten began to establish universal standards in education. They decided on twelve years of compulsory education and the standardization of schooling. These expectations included standardized testing and class size. It was made to establish a foundation block to enhance the system further.

However, this “stroke of industrial genius” got stuck for the next 128 years. Despite the developments in technology and curriculum, the classroom continued to be as dry as the Sahara desert. 

“We had old overheads. [The teachers] would put up the answer key and you get out your homework,” math teacher Collin Hayes said. “You could have done it all wrong, and it would be a wasted night. Then, there would be more material coming out at you in the next 15 minutes.”  

In spite of the relationship between factories and the education system, it was only part of the educational dullness. Furthermore, educational reformers say that the system of an assembly line is a rhetorical foe. Granted, there are factory-like aspects of the American education system. But it is not the only definitive answer to educational withers. Society has grown to develop new mechanics of classroom instruction with new technology. Younger kids have increasing exposure to technology, and teachers are looking to reach for “engagement” starting in elementary school. 

Information is at everyone’s fingertips: innovation allows this generation to push forward the standards to active learning. But it also leaves students impatient and disengaged not only with their society, but the capital of students’ educational careers. The emergence of technology can also expose students to the isolation of knowledge. 

“I do worry about social media,” Longwood Elementary School teacher Deb Swieter said. “I worry about all this technology. All this information at your fingertips with these young minds. They expect immediate feedback. They expect to be entertained at all times.”

In addition, educators believe in sticking to the norms. However, traditional practices fall short of what the modern generation needs. It is supporting the practice of only fostering one answer with every discussion and it is embodying a disengaged generation. 

 Dr. Claudia Costin is the Director of the Center for Excellence and Innovation of Education Policies (CEIPE). In her essay, “Meaningful Education in Times of Uncertainty” she explains why teachers neglect to encourage active learning environments. “Facilitating a class where consistent participation is expected is extremely difficult for novice teachers that were themselves taught through the pedagogy that doesn’t demand students’ engagement.” 

In retrospect, the problem is not the curricular standards. It is the classroom environment that sets students up for the “ideal” workplace, such as a cubical office.

Joshua Kim, author of Competency-Based Education, Technology, and the Liberal Arts, supports the idea that the education system is not always about the curriculum. “There is more to education than the demonstration of a narrow set of technical competencies.”

The ambiguities of modern education

Teachers have been working to make curriculum and instructional practices more meaningful for modern students. The curriculum gives teachers space to incorporate active learning environments, but it is the teacher’s responsibility to foster effective learning in their classroom. 

There is the district’s educational philosophy is to “prepare all students to succeed in an ever-changing world through comprehensive programs and experiences in collaboration with family and community.” In addition, there is Metea’s continued philosophy, “Everything Matters.” There is also individual teacher’s own beliefs and each student’s views of learning. 

For the past decade, there have been ambiguous philosophies to promote future readiness in schools. The number of mission statements underlines the lack of clarity to what Indian Prairie wants out of all students. Students are so wrapped up in their heads with the present moment that they do not take the time to understand the overall purpose of their education.

What exactly is the goal of education? It is something that students can establish before they walk out on graduation day. This further establishes global citizenship in an uncertain world. 

“It is somebody who thinks more about the almighty buck. [It is someone who] thinks more about than what’s happening in just their patch of the planet,” Science Department Chair Matthew Long said.

Seeing through the fog

District 204 wanted to address the qualitative aspects that lead to the success outside the classroom. Without a practice to life competencies, there are no global citizens. Thus, there is a connection between academic skill and civic education. That connection is Indian Prairie’s “Portrait of a Graduate.”

Portrait of a Graduate is a recent implementation from this school year. Its goal is to state the characteristics students should have distinctly after high school. The school district has built a team with community leaders, students, educators, and parents. The big team was determined to create the six competencies in Portrait of a Graduate. 

“This is the right time to go with this. Over the last few years, we were thinking about what it means to be college-ready? What does it mean to be career-ready? What does it mean to be life-ready,” Indian Prairie’s Director of Core Curriculum Michael Purcell said. “We did not have good indicators in place that I could say with some certainty or even a student could say that they can say that they are life-ready.”

Overall, Portrait of a Graduate embodies the qualitative aspects versus quantitative values students should have. It is another attempt to clarify the purpose of education. 

“Two of [the competencies] relate to the habits of mind. Two of them relate to the habits of will and two overlays to the habits of heart,” Purcell said.

 Now, how can teachers give teach that in their classroom? How are teachers maintaining the balance between the curricular and instructional values? A lot of it comes down to the classroom structure. No matter how strong the curriculum is, the responsibility to cultivate comfortable learning environments falls on the teacher.

For a long time, classrooms were in rows. The room must be quiet, and the place is meant for solitary learning. With those obsolete components, finding the epiphany to education is nearly impossible.

If you take a look at problem-solving, communication, creativity, and innovation, you cannot do that in single rows. ”

— Social studies teacher Susan Fuhrer

Flexible seating is not the only recent shift in classroom structure. Teachers are looking at new approaches to reach their student’s intellectual curiosity but also catching those who may be struggling in the classroom. 

“[Check-ins] provide [students] a space for feedback between the student and me, but also between their peers. I’ll clip their words and put them on the SMART Board. If [students] thought they were alone, here’s eight out of 25 of them all feeling the same thing,” Hayes said.

Teachers who create a positive learning environment can break the glass of passive learning. Furthermore, they can begin to open up the relevancy of their classrooms. And students are likely to challenge themselves. 

“Flexibility has a lot of positive effects. I think that it kind of goes away from the ‘you get it or don’t kind of mindset’,” senior Heidi Gabriel said. “Our STEM departments at school structure their classrooms differently compared to how it was back then. I think that it opens up more students who didn’t think they would be able to take a specific class.”

In addition, prompting challenging questions pushes students to think outside of the textbook. Although there are baseline targets, the classroom structure needs to incorporate a student’s choice of learning. 

“The College Board has certain things [teachers] have to do. But I think providing students with choice is the number one thing we can do to help students become critical thinkers, problem solvers, and communicators,” English teacher Megan Cherne said. “Not only are [students] demonstrating that they know the skills, but they are also figuring out how you learn best and what you need to do to be successful.”

Teaching is like tending a garden. Beautiful gardens are not the result of entrepreneurial innovation or industrial manufacture. It takes patience, attention, gratuity, and love for the diversity among every individual. The reward is a million different seeds come to reward society with full beauty. 

A version of this story originally appeared in Issue 3 of The Stampede.

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