George Lucas Educational Foundation
Student Engagement

A New Must-Read for All Educators

March 6, 2015

My theme for this year is best articulated in the words of the great singer/songwriter and activist, Pete Seeger, who said, "The key to the future of the world is finding the hopeful stories and letting them be known." (I wrote about this -- and what it might mean for our schools -- in January, Finding and Sharing Hope in Schools in 2015.)

Stories of Hope

Recently in a presentation titled, "Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Teachers," I suggested that if we are going to create transformational learning communities for children and adults, we need to be actively on the lookout for stories of hope. We need to find these stories and share them widely.

We need stories of hope perhaps more than we need new ideas on curriculum, formative assessment, or instructional strategies. Stories of hope can nurture our spirits.

And then Tom Little's new book, Loving Learning: How Progressive Education Can Save America's Schoolscame into my hands. My response is simple and straightforward: Get this book. Read it. It'll nurture your educator spirit. And if yours is anything like mine -- lagging sometimes in the current big picture of our education system -- you need it. And you'll love it.

My favorite line in this book comes on page 202. I belted out a mental, "Amen!" when I read, "Can we please stop talking about Finland?"

Progressive Education

I have waited years for someone to say this in the way that Tom Little does, after offering the stories that he shares in this beautiful tome. The first two hundred pages of the book are primarily descriptions of schools and classrooms across the country in which children are "loving learning." Teachers, administrators, and parents: These are the stories that we need so that we can remember what is possible within school walls.

Tom was a teacher at Park Day School in Oakland, California, and then the head of school for 27 years. A small, K-8 private school, Park Day School follows a progressive education model, and in an effort to define what this means, Tom set off a few years ago on a nationwide tour of other progressive schools.

His book relays what he saw and heard and offers a history of progressive education, as well as a definition: "Progressive education prepares students for active participation in a democratic society, in the context of a child-centered environment, and with an enduring commitment to social justice." (Full disclosure: My son attends Park Day School.)

Making the Case

What Tom suggests in this book is that we can figure out what to do about the challenges in our schools, in part, by looking into our history (and particularly at the history of progressive education), and by looking at what's happening in progressive schools -- right now. We don't need to look at Finland.

If we're going to make a case for schools that are different from the way many schools are going (toward constant, intensive testing; stripped of art, music and inquiry, and so on), then we need to be armed with knowledge and stories that counter this way of thinking. Some of the "data" that we need can be found in Tom Little's book.

A Legacy Lives On

Tom Little passed away from cancer almost a year ago. He was diagnosed during his sabbatical and finished his manuscript just weeks before he died. His death has been a terrible loss to his loved ones and to Park Day School, but his legacy and learning will continue for many years due in part to what he offers us in Loving Learning.

This book will lift your spirits, remind you of what is possible, provide you with some of the knowledge you'll need to advocate for child-centered learning -- and help you feel connected to so many other educators on this same journey.

You'll close this book knowing what progressive education means, with vivid details of what it looks like in action on a daily basis, and, I hope, armed with concrete ideas for how to shift your classroom or school into a place where more children are loving learning every day.

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