We’ve all heard the phrase “It takes a village to raise a child.” As an educator and a child psychologist, I know that schools need to, and often become part of that village.
Following the news lately, I have found myself thinking about the fact that it also takes a village to build a country. The health of our democracy and the country that we build together depends on the commitment that we have as individuals and communities to a set of shared beliefs and ideals. In this context, part of the role of our educational system is to prepare our children to be citizens who will have the knowledge, the skills, the sense of agency and, perhaps most importantly, the commitment to participate in the building of such a “village.”
Much has been written about what schools must teach to prepare students for this task. We know that in a world where information exists at the tip of our fingertips, the focus needs to be on “21st Century Skills” such as critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, collaboration, creativity and innovation. Certainly if we want to build a world where citizens and politicians can differ in their opinions, debate respectfully and reach compromises that allow our country to move forward, we must explicitly and intentionally teach those skills. If we want our society to be able to address its “growth edges” around race, immigration, income inequality, etc., we must teach our children how to have difficult conversations- to tolerate the discomfort, appreciate others’ truths and perspectives, and understand that their words and actions may sometimes have unintended impacts.
While these skills are at the core of what and how we teach as an IB World School, I believe that we must look deeper than our curriculum to see where the preparation for “building villages together” is occurring. At the core, villages are built through relationships with others and require a great deal of work. People do not wake up one day knowing how to “do” relationships- they must build the necessary muscles over time, through practice, failure and accumulated successes. Within this context, it is not just the curriculum that matters, but the opportunity that schools offer for children to practice building “intentional villages” together.
The “muscles” to build such villages cannot be developed through stand-alone lessons or exercises. Instead, they are developed in the daily interactions that students have with each other and with teachers. By helping kids think about what kind of “village” they want to build here at school, we are helping them articulate a shared vision for the world they want to live in. Muscles are then built by leveraging everyday teachable moments that are par for the course in the classroom and on the playground. When a student crosses the line, as all will do at one point, between “being playful” and “being hurtful,” working out that “village dilemma” allows them to build their perspective-taking, communication and problem-solving skills. If, when a student feels slighted or “ouched” by another, we help them recognize that discomfort, speak up in a productive way, and practice reconciliation skills with their classmate, we are preparing them to be upstanders and agents of change.
This is hard, painstaking work that must inherently embrace that all villages, as well as villagers, have “growth edges.” But, it is in the attention we give to this journey of “building a village together” where I believe we are truly preparing our children to be the hope for our country…