Feb 4, 2015

Taking Francis Parker Seriously

The famous progressive education pioneer Francis Parker, who has several fine schools named after him, including two of our own client independent schools in Chicago and San Diego, once argued that “the needs of society should determine the work of the school.” I have been reflecting upon that quote a lot lately as I examine the relevance of school and college curriculum and programs.  Every time I read his quote I find myself hearing a “wake up call” to North American education.

Last week I keynoted on educational trends and inflection points at the Independent Schools of the Central States Heads Conference in Chicago.  Of the ten different trends that were outlined in the talk, educational relevance is perhaps the one inflection point most intriguing – and concerning – to me.  I often reference the famous book “High Noon – 20 Global Problems for 2020” as a guidepost for building a relevant curriculum.  In the book, the French author outlines some of the most pressing and predictable challenges our globe will face in the future, including globalism terrorism, digital piracy, and a lack of natural resources, such as water and petroleum. If these are the problems of our future times and the world in which our children will inherit, why does our curriculum not reflect the tools our students will need to solve these problems?

Francis Parker was ahead of his time.  He knew what he was speaking about when it comes to the broader and more strategic purpose of education.  We may believe that our students are in school to prepare for good colleges or careers.  But, if we take Francis Parker seriously, they are being prepared to solve the greatest challenges of our times. As Parker said, the needs of society should determine the work of the school.  Is your school curriculum up to the challenge?

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