Friday, October 11, 2013

3 lessons American public schools can learn from British private schools

As we learned this week, adult Americans are struggling to grapple with the globalized world. If we don’t address this challenge soon, a day will come when American competitiveness is a dream of the past.

It's time for new thinking.

For my two cents, beyond the 
five suggestions I offered yesterday, I also believe three further solutions can be found in the UK private school system. 

First though, a caveat. UK private schools (known as independent or public schools) are imperfect - pervasive 'old boys networks' are negative for society. This being said, in terms of character development and educational orientation, the British private school system has much to offer America.

1) Enforcing Discipline - The reinforced expectation of good conduct is paramount to a successful schooling environment. This is true for individuals and for a schooling group more generally. Absent discipline, teachers waste time managing the ringleaders of disruption rather than teaching those who want to learn. Many American children suffer the consequences of this dynamic. But in the UK private system, it’s different.

In British private schools, unmistakable authority garners effective learning. Under this system, escalating punishments flow with a culture of expectation. Students understand that their personal reputation is contingent upon their positive behavior. When students face serious consequences for ignoring that understanding, discipline flourishes without the need for regular remedial action. 

Ultimately, this structure cultivates a sub-conscious appreciation for good conduct - students behave because behaving is the norm - 'it's what's done'.

2) Finding Individual Purpose - Rather than considering sporting excellence as the defining tenet of institutional esteem, in the UK private system, students are recognized under a broader orbit of consideration. Further, by injecting varied student pursuits into an intra-school competitive environment (the 'House System'), students gain peer support for their individual endeavors. In turn, this builds a notion of unified purpose. This 'identity' is accentuated by school uniforms - impressing the understanding that all students start from an equal foundation.

3) Building a Tradition - This is critically important. By attaching students to a historic legacy that reaches across generations, British private schools inspire successive year groups to strive for excellence. At a basic level, students are made to feel that they belong to an identity of timeless value. This is important for two reasons. First, it inspires integrity whilst at school. Second, it encourages former students to honorably 'represent' their establishment long after they've graduated. This 'tradition' is most evident in the many students who elect to pursue careers in the British Government/Armed Forces.

Practicality of US application
Implementing these lessons would require strong leadership from local school boards and principals. It would also demand flexible commitment on the part of the teachers who would lead the reforms. Nevertheless, the key tenets of this approach - fostering a unity of purpose, inspiring an ethic of hard work and attaching students to a lifelong institution, would find a strong base in American culture. They would not be cost prohibitive.

America needs to be bold. Our current education system is a bad joke.
Photo credit: Rasmussen

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