A classroom should be a place where human needs - love, caring, belonging and a sense of control - are met. In such classrooms, the outcome is usually people who are confident and ready to contribute, said Dr. Al Mamary, superintendent of Johnson City School District, New York.
Mamary's district has become a model of "outcome-based education," a type of reform that concentrates on the learner, not on learning, he said.Mamary was keynote speaker for the 10th Utah Rural Schools Conference, which is being held through Wednesday on the College of Eastern Utah campus. He introduced the conference theme, "Outcomes-Driven Education: Philosophy to Practice."
He told Utah's rural educators that a child's failure is really a failure of the system. In his district, a child is not passed until he has actually assimilated the required information. A grade below an A or B requires extra time on the subject.
"If we adopt the philosophy (of a people-oriented system) we examine every practice and stop doing things that don't work," Mamary said. "I-can is more important than IQ."
Too many educators underestimate the capacity of every child to learn. "They come to us having learned a language that no one ever `taught' them," he said. "All kids can learn, and learn well."
He suggested educators should ask themselves four questions: What do we want for children? What do we know? What do we believe about education? What are we going to do about it?
If parents, educators and administrators were to discuss what they want of education, he predicted, they would agree that they want children to feel good about themselves; that they be able to think at all levels of cognition; that they learn social skills; that they become self-directed learners; and that they learn concern for society.
Research has revealed a lot about the learning process that's not being applied, Mamary said. "Let's eliminate the mystery of learning."
He promotes an attitude that prevents premature school-related problems by recognizing their potential and dealing with them "before the child is broken."
In general, children come to kindergarten feeling good about themselves, he said, but by the time they are in third grade, many have been destroyed by labeling and sorting according to the educator's expectations.
"They learn to feel lousy about themselves. We've got to stop that," he said. "Don't give a kid a test if you know he will fail. That's damaging to his self-esteem. Give a pre-test so you will know what they haven't learned. Then certify that they've actually learned something only when they've learned it well."
Children do not destroy what they have come to value, Mamary said. There is little vandalism in Johnson City schools, and the majority of the children are performing above grade level.
Children thrive in an atmosphere where they have a loving, caring environment, where they feel important and worthwhile, where they have some choice and freedom and where there is laughter, joy and fun, he said.