If Minds Matter…

“At a time when American educators are being riddled with proposals to emphasize content as of if it could be separated from the process that gives it meaning, If Minds Matter: A Foreward to the Future, is welcome.

The curricula we provide in schools, the ways in which we teach, the opportunities given to children in the course of their development are the opportunities that shape the kinds of minds children will come to own.”

From the foreward by Elliot Eisner, 1992

“It’s about the economy, stupid”. How often have we heard this phrase when news analysts are projecting the chances of victory for a candidate or when they are looking at what makes a sitting president’s rating soar or plummet? We are now living in times when this standard of performance is being applied regularly to education and the importance of producing an educated workforce in order to maintain the nation’s role as a world leader. Let me be a bit blunt. Education is not about the economy. In fact, it’s stupid to make it about the economy. It’s about minds and the opportunity that universal education provides to develop them.

I encountered If Minds Mattered a long time ago. I don’t think any book that I’ve found has affected my view of teaching and learning (consider reversing these consistently to learning and teaching) more than the work by Art Costa, James Bellanca, and Robin Fogerty. In the collection of articles and essays that the editors assembled, they opened a door to a kind of thinking that I had only vaguely understood, and to a way of thinking that has engaged me for more than 2 decades since my first encounter.

While I would fail a test that asked me to name even a modest number of the selections that Costa and his colleagues included, the lesson that has endured is simply this… There is an intimate connection between what we say is important and what we intentionally do to demonstrate such importance.

This has been transformative for me, both as a school leader and in my current work as an observer of schools throughout the country. I learn best by asking questions and I have long believed that it is the quality of the questions we ask which largely, if not exclusively, determines the quality of the answers we find.

What made reading If Minds Matter transformative for me was the kinds of questions it “demanded” that I ask. I found myself asking, “If the minds of children really mattered, would our schools and the experiences we provide for children look the same or different? Would we group kids the same way? Would we organize time the same way? Would we assess and report student learning the same way?”

This was not an affirming exercise twenty years ago. It is still distressing today.

What would our schools and the learning experiences we provide for children look like if, indeed, minds did matter?

Ken Robinson humorously explores this question when he points out, contrary to prevailing international opinion, Americans do, indeed, understand irony. Why else, he asks, would the very best examples of school organization and mind development be called “alternative” schools?

As I continued my reflections on the book, it occurred to me that Costa and his colleagues had offered a broader suggestion…what would happen if I substituted other words for the ‘minds’? If reading really mattered, what would experiences in school look like? If student relationships mattered, what would we be doing intentionally to demonstrate this importance? If life and career skills really mattered, what intentional experiences would we offer?

Is it possible that we have repeated so often that things like minds, reading, engagement, etc. really matter that we believe they do even when our actions demonstrate quite the opposite?

Is it possible we have focused so much on the need to move large numbers of children through our schools in an orderly and efficient manner that we have become somewhat blind to the impact on the development of the things that we say we value?

When was the last time we have intentionally taken stock of how we spend our time (and the time of our students) in our schools?

Could you list those things that intentionally seek to advance the words written in your mission statements?

Why not inventory those things we do on a regular basis that actually demonstrate that minds, reading, student engagement, critical thinking, etc. do matter in our classroom/school?

Why not inventory those things that, based on policies and procedures, might indicate that efficiency matters more than minds, student engagement, career and life skills, etc.?

If Minds Matter was published in 1992. In too many schools, the connection between what we say is important and what we intentionally do to demonstrate such importance is still missing.Isn’t it time to create a school culture in which minds do matter?