Perspective Taking

Walking to the front door was not an easy chore. I had to navigate around broken toys, lots of snow, and an occasional car part. The “porch” to the mobile home didn’t look too promising either. I wondered if it would hold my weight. I hunched my shoulders to protect my neck from the blowing wind and snow and placed my foot on the first step of the porch. The step held, so I carefully walked up onto the porch. The mobile home had seen better days. Actually, I could see through the seams into the house itself. I pulled my hands from my coat pocket and knocked on the door.I am here because Joe has not been to school in a while and we could not get a hold of the parents. As a high school principal, I consider it my job to not let any kids “fall between the cracks” and I am here to talk to Joe’s dad. After two more knocks I can hear someone walking toward to door. I have a good relationship with Joe’s dad so I am not worried about the reception I will get. Joe’s dad opens the door and welcomes me into their home.As my eyes adjust to the dim lighting I notice that snow is blowing through slits in between the siding of the mobile home. I also see the burner on the stove is on…an obvious attempt to keep things warm inside. I ask Joe’s dad about Joe and why he hasn’t been to school in a week. He tells me that he has kept Joe home from school to help with “chores” around their property. His tone indicates that he is not going to listen to other points of view on the wisdom of keeping Joe home from school.I am stopping this story at this point because I want to bring up an important point.As educators sit and talk about “the critical skills kids need for the next 5 years,” or “the 21st-century skills schools should teach,” I think about Joe and his dad. Who is sitting at the table representing the perspective of them when we discuss the future of education?Let’s face it…when educators get together to talk about “the future” and what learners “need” to be successful, we are coming (in most cases) from a perspective of privilege. Most of us have lived our lives in a comfortable state of being. That is not to say that what we may come up with is bad. On the contrary, it is probably good. What I am saying is that if we do not pause and consider the perspective of those that are different than us in socioeconomic, racial, or any other way, we are losing a great opportunity to craft an education that can benefit everyone. I can guarantee you that Joe had more “grit” and “resilience” than most kids in our school because of the life he lived with his dad. If we do not take the perspective of kids like Joe, we run the risk of missing the positive traits of kids that are right in front of us. So, don’t forget to concentrate on perspective-taking the next time you get together with colleagues to plan for the future of education.

About Tom Butler, Ph.D.

I believe that public education is for the public good and that education should be uncompromisingly learner-centered. The New Learning Ecosystem points us away from the old model of education that does not serve kids well. All educators regardless of where they work can help lead and contribute to the New Learning Ecosystem.
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