International organizations, such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), as well as governments in OECD member countries are implementing policies aimed at increasing secondary school completion rates. Some decades ago, the senior secondary years were an exclusive option for an elite minority. Now, a common expectation is that they will cater to 90% or so of young people. However, too often the practices in contemporary schooling contexts have not kept up with this change. In particular, there is extensive evidence that concerning numbers of socially and educationally marginalized students are rejected by, and themselves reject, mainstream schooling. As a result, in many jurisdictions alternative educational provision has been central to re-engaging young people and enabling their secondary school completion. Such provision includes “flexible,” “second-chance,” or “alternative” schools that, although not all the same, often have in common an inclusive and democratic approach to educating young people who have not been well served in mainstream schools. Rather than such alternative schools being seen only as a useful “stop-gap” measure for marginalized students, they offer a valuable opportunity to re-imagine education. Such sites demonstrate structural, relational, and curricular changes that enable a range of education and learning options. First, in terms of structures, practical support and wraparound services are central to removing or alleviating structural barriers and clearing a path for learning. Second, supportive relationships are significant in enhancing the quality of young people’s educational experiences and outcomes. In particular, connectedness and partnerships are key factors. Finally, a diverse curriculum is needed to facilitate an education that is meaningful and authentic, and builds the capabilities young people need in the 21st century. Initiatives aimed at speaking more meaningfully to young people who have traditionally been poorly served by schooling are at the core of many alternative schools, but they are also present in outstanding mainstream schools. These innovations offer inspiration for reform across all schools, for all students. Embedding such reform through broad systemic change in mainstream schooling is necessary to facilitate an education for all young people that is: meaningful in holistic ways, democratic and respectful, supportive and enabling, and equips them with the skills and knowledge to progress their hopes, dreams, and imagined futures.
Kitty te Riele, Glenda McGregor, Martin Mills, Aspa Baroutsis, and Debra Hayes
Martin Mills and Glenda McGregor
Alternative schooling has a long history. However, defining alternative schooling is difficult because it necessitates an answer to the question: “alternative to what?” It suggests that there is an accepted schooling archetype from which to differentiate. However, just what that model might be is likely to vary over time and place. In one perspective, alternative schools challenge what Tyack and Tobin, in 1994, referred to as the traditional grammar of schooling as it pertains to conventional forms of schooling developed in Western societies since the Industrial Revolution. Alternative schools challenge the taken-for-granted grammar of schooling variously through their organization, governance structures, curriculum, pedagogy, type of students, and/or particular philosophy. Certain types of alternative schools, including democratic schools, developmental and holistic alternative schools (e.g., Montessori and Waldorf/Steiner), and flexi schools, might offer lessons to the educational mainstream on how to be more inclusive and socially just. However, there are also ways in which they can work against such principles.
Carol A. Mullen
Commitment to mentorship, while necessary to benefit mentoring parties, is insufficient to work with the complexities of contemporary educational settings, especially in pursuit of engagement and learning for all. Mentoring that makes a profound difference for all participants, worldwide, is oriented at the outset to call into question such organizational constraints as hegemony, hierarchy, and culture. Traditional versus alternative approaches to mentoring is a critical binary that can be differentiated in the abstract. However, context and culture are existing organizational realities for which mentoring forms, enactments, and activities (such as mentoring circles) either perpetuate the status quo or produce significant change. Thus, alternative mentoring approaches work within both the traditional view of mentoring and any alternative to it.
William T. Pink
From a comprehensive analysis of the extant educational literature on school change, it is evident that two activities are essential for the successful reform of schools in the United States. While the focus in this article will be on the programmatic shifts implemented in U.S. schools, the danger of exporting these same failed programs to other countries also will be noted. The first requirement is a systematic critique of the major school reform strategies that have been employed since the 1960s (e.g., the Effective Schools model, standardized testing and school accountability, the standards movement, privatization of schools, charter schools, and virtual/cyber schools). The major conclusion of this critique is that each of these reform strategies has done little to alter the connection between schooling and their production of labor for the maintenance of Western capitalism: beginning in the early 1970s an increasingly strong case has been made that the design and goal of U.S. schooling has been driven by the need to produce an endless supply of differentiated workers to sustain the U.S. economy. Moreover, while both equality and equity have entered the conversations about school reform during this period, it becomes evident that the relative position of both poor students and students of color, with respect to their more affluent White peers, has remained at best unchanged. The second essential requirement is the exploration of an alternative vision for school reform that is grounded in a perspective of equity, both in schools and in the society. Beginning with the question “What would schools look like, and what would be the role of the teacher in a school that was committed to maximizing equity?” such an alternative vision is built on the concept of developing broadly informed students able to play both a thoughtful and active role in shaping the society in which they live, rather than be trained to fit into a society shaped by the interests of capital. From this exploration of the literature emerges a new role for both schools and teachers that repositions schooling as an incubator for social change, with equity as a primary goal. Also addressed is the importance of inequitable economic and public policies that work to systematically inhibit student learning. A key element in forging a successful transition to schools functioning as incubators for reform is the ability of preservice teacher preparation programs to graduate new teachers capable of doing this intellectual work, and for current classroom teachers to engage in professional development to achieve the same end What is clear from a reading of this literature is that without this re-visioning and subsequent reform of schooling, together with a reform of key public policies, we must face the high probability of the rapid implosion of the public school system and the inevitable escalation of class warfare in the United States.
William Ayers, Rick Ayers, and Joel Westheimer
Social movements change the world. Thus, they shape curriculum. Participation in movements educates the public by altering viewpoints and actions. Likewise, participants learn through participation in social movements; therefore, social movements can be considered curricula. The experiences of social movements are curricula that exist in and out of schools. Examples of the myriad connections among school curriculum, nonschool curriculum, and social movements interact in dynamic fluidity. Curriculum is much more than a course syllabus, set of plans, or the indoctrinations or liberations intended by schools. Curriculum includes all experiences of schooling and contexts that influence schooling: intended, taught, tested, hidden, excluded, outside, peer-driven, and more. It encompasses knowledge, relationships, and interpretations that students bring to school or anywhere else. These multiple dimensions of curriculum also exist in the diverse experiences, institutions, and gatherings of everyday life. Alternative forms of curriculum have been envisioned and enacted over the centuries to overcome the dominance of autocratic forms of education. Social movements educate and are therefore curricular. A noteworthy example of curricula of social movements is the Civil Rights Movement, particularly the Mississippi Freedom Schools in the United States. Another example is the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, founded by Myles Horton and based on the Danish model of folk schools, which was a center of inspiration and praxis for participants in the Civil Rights Movement. Emancipatory educational movements are exemplified in the problem-posing work of Paulo Freire, initially in Brazil, evolving to counter the oppressiveness of “banking” forms of education in many parts of the world. Freire has shown how oppressed persons could be major creators of their own education, by learning to name, write, and read the world to compose a more just world. In the second decade of the 21st century, young climate activists, such as Xiye Bastida and Greta Thunberg, have advocated ecological renewal; this has grown into a worldwide movement, captured in the title “Fridays for Future.” Local examples include the insightful stories in The Journal of Ordinary Thought, inspired and evoked by Hal Adams and authored by the parents of students in some of Chicago’s most impoverished Black neighborhoods in the late 20th century. Global movements include Black Lives Matter, which has manifested itself as an act of solidarity in the second decade of the 21st century. Social movements, of which the contributions of Martin Luther King, Jr. are an emblematic example, teach the power of learning and the learning of power. They help raise the deepest and most worthwhile questions: What does it mean to be human? Who am I in relation to others? What kind of a society do we want to create? How can schools and other public spaces become generative sites of contention and authentic engagement? That is where a curriculum of social movements comes to life. What lessons might educators learn from the examples of a curriculum of social movements? How should we live? How will we live? What will you do about it?