A Commitment to Action. . .

I spent the day here in Copenhagen yesterday learning a bit more about the educational systems of Denmark and stumbled upon an idea that I was fascinated by.  A core tenet of the educational system and philosophy here is to teach children a "commitment to action."  Knowledge as a product of education is not enough.  Instead, knowledge needs to be paired with value judgments and then an action orientation towards life’s situations.

For me, I think this commitment to action based on value judgments is something that is often left out of American classrooms because we’re crippled by fear when encouraging children to make value judgments about issues that they are studying.  We’ve been battered time and again by conflicting voices in the community, some who argue that encouraging values is the responsibility of schools and others who argue that schools have no right to impart values. 

Teachers feel this pressure the most and tend to drift away from controversial topics in the classroom as a result.  Instead, we present every topic without encouraging opinion at all or introducing children to alternative points of view.  Rather than exposing our students to productive opportunities to wrestle with what’s true to them, we give knowledge but drift away from understanding.  Without wrestling with values, students can’t be encouraged to take action because action is necessarily defined by values….regardless of outcomes.

In Danish schools, values aren’t discouraged.  Instead, they play a role of prominence without judgment.  Students are encouraged to work through to their core beliefs and then taught constructive strategies for taking productive action.  Is this an element that should play a more prominent role in our education system?  How would society benefit if schools emphasized a commitment to action rather than knowledge alone? Interesting questions, huh?

2 thoughts on “A Commitment to Action. . .

  1. Renee Moore

    I agree with Mike (and Bill) that in American classrooms, we have not done as good a job as we could (or have in times past) of guiding students to thoughtfully consider or explore “more important underlying values.” Things like: responsibility, citizenship, integrity. Surely, these are as much employability skills as reading and math.

  2. Mike

    Interesting questions indeed, Bill, and to an earlier generation of teachers and Americans, questions that would have an answer that would go something like this: Commitment to action? Of course. We must teach the kids all that is required for them to act as well informed, honorable Americans. We must teach them that America is the most free, most generous, most decent nation in history, and that they should, each and every day, thank their lucky stars that they are Americans. We must teach them the basics of civics, such as doing one’s duty to others, to their community, voting, staying well informed, and being honest in all things. We should teach them the value of hard work, and of treating others as we would ourselves wish to be treated. We should teach them to help those less fortunate, to protect the weak, and not to wish for easy lives, but for strength to face life. We should teach them that education is a life-long process and that it is always hard work, hard work that can be fun and delightful, but always hard work and that unless we, each of us, do that work, we will not be educated regardless of how many hours we sit in a desk in a classroom and how many pieces of fancy paper we have framed and hanging on the wall. We should teach them how to politely disagree with others, and about loyalty to our families, our friends and our nation.
    All of these qualities, which are free of partisan cant (well, at one time, they were anyway), will help each and every student be commited to action, the action of seeing that America remains the last, best hope of mankind. All else pales in comparison.
    I don’t think we’ve been doing so well in this regard of late. We might well have students commited to combatting global warming, “social justice,” or any one of a wide variety of trendy, politically correct commitments, but the deeper, more important underlying values, not so much.
    In reality, I suspect that most American schools do a pretty good job of teaching the kind of values that Thomas Jefferson would appreciate. Still, we can and should do better. That’s a kind of nationwide education reform I can get solidly behind. I wonder if that’s what the Danes have in mind?

Comments are closed.