What is the role of government in education? And how do school board members, as a governmental body, make a healthy impact on their communities? It’s questions like these that Melvin Adams is passionate about finding answers to—and guiding people to make a difference in education. Listen in on today’s special episode from Melvin’s lecture at NWEF’s School Board Summit this year to learn more about the 5 core principles of education and how they can help school board members orient their mindset.
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– WHAT IS THE NOAH WEBSTER EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATION? –
Noah Webster Educational Foundation collaborates with individuals and organizations to tell the story of America’s education and culture; discover foundational principles that improve it; and advance practice and policy to change it.
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ADAMS: Some of you came a long way to be here today and let me just start this way: I am grateful for you. You are, as Travis was saying, the front lines of what’s going on in education. If you haven’t gotten to the front lines yet, you are very close.
Some of you were just elected to your positions. Thank you for running. Thank you for stepping up. We desperately need leadership as we approach education. I’ll say this a little bit later but I’m going to say it right now: [01:30] education in this country is driven by two things, primarily.
Leadership and Legislation. Alright? And we’re going to come back to that in a little bit. To each of you who have taken the challenge, thank you! To all of our organizations that have joined us for this event, thank you! And this event really began as a result of some conversations between Travis and me. [02:00]
We were talking and it’s like we often work so hard (all of us in this have done this) to find the best people who can represent our communities and serve. And we work hard and spend money and hours trying to help get them elected.
And sometimes we’re successful and we clap our hands and we pat ourselves on the back [02:30] and we move onto the next thing. In the meantime, those of you who got elected are left holding the bag. And so we’ve put together some bags for you to take with you…
Here’s the idea. And honestly what today is all about is building relationships, [03:00] not only amongst yourselves but with other entities and individuals and organizations who can resource you.
That is the most important thing you can have as a leader. Is to have a network you can reach out to to get help and information and input. Whether or not you use it all is one thing, [03:30] that’s up to you. But just having those touch points, those connections…
Because here’s what we often see. People we work hard to get elected and we think they share our values, and so often within a year, they’re just checking off the boxes like everybody else in the system and it’s like, [04:00] “They said they wouldn’t do that! What’s wrong?”
Well, I think we’ve figured it out. Here’s what’s wrong. Under the pressure of the job, and with a lack of touch-points, other inputs that can give them help and encouragement and advice and expertise, they are left with what they know and what they know is that thing in their ear that keeps saying [04:30] “it’s from the association, from the unions…
“Just do this, just do this, just do this. Check the box, check the box, check the box.” Listen, you need to listen to all the voices. But people elected you to represent them. You represent your communities, you need to be in touch with your communities, and you need to be able [05:00] to stand as an independent, solid voice who can make intelligent decisions that are good for your students, your schools, and your communities.
That’s what you’re elected for. So let’s go back to what I was talking about. Education is driven by leadership and legislation. [05:30] Really, it addresses this: whose ideas and whose decisions are these? What broader influences are behind the ideas and decisions? Sometimes you don’t know, but sooner or later you find out. [06:00]
But those are critical things. And as leaders, it’s partly your responsibility to be part of that, to have the ideas, to make decisions, but also to network with other entities who can help you to make the very best decisions even if it’s not what everybody else is deciding. [06:30]
And even to help you, hopefully, come up with better input and ideas that you’ve gained from other inputs so that you can help bring a better conclusion in the body that you work with, called the board. We want you to be influencers. And that’s what you want to be.
Quality education [07:00] is always rooted in core principles and best practices. To understand the concerns and make the changes needed for success a few foundational questions need to be asked. Here are just a few for us to consider.
Why is it that we educate our children and youth? You say, “That’s a no-brainer.” But have we really thought through that question? Why is it that we educate our children and our youth? [07:30] I mean, we need to chase that from A to Z. Where is the why?
What do success and failure in education look like? What impact does [08:00] education have on culture and society? And that’s huge. These are serious questions that we need to grapple with because decisions always have consequences. Even unintended consequences. And all of us as leaders are vulnerable to that. [08:30]
What elements are essential for quality education? What models have worked in the past and are working presently? What are the best things working today? What changes [09:00] need to be made in our present educational system? And what actions can be taken to secure these changes on a wide scale?
There are so many more questions but these are just a few to get us started. You might say, “Well, our superintendent and faculty grapple with these questions.” That’s the pat answer, isn’t it? [09:30]And hopefully they do! Hopefully, they do.
But let me say this. They should but as a person with primary oversight of our schools, these are questions that we should be asking ourselves and the “experts” who work for us. [10:00] If they know the answers, we should be asking for them. But as a good lawyer, you don’t ask a question you don’t have the answer for. Okay? It’s called leadership.
So as we start today, I want to introduce you to five significant [10:30] areas that are what I consider the big issues in education. And I will bet that everything you deal with a board member will in some way touch these points. Everything.
Your understanding and perspective [11:00] on these matters will determine your effectiveness and success. And that of the employees and students that you indirectly oversee. The first one I want to talk about is The Role of Instruction.
Instruction, so when I say Instruction, different people think of different things. [11:30] But what I’m talking about is a holistic view of instruction. I’m talking curriculum, I’m talking pedagogy, I’m talking about all of these things that are put together—theories and constructs that are part of the information preparedness and delivery that helps inform (that’s the keyword in Instruction, right?) [12:00] and equip the next generation.
So, what is education? Travis was talking about Noah Webster and yes, we picked that name on purpose. Noah Webster was one of our founding fathers. He was contemporary with the very formation of this country.
And part of the thing that really drove Noah Webster [12:30] in that time period was that we had people coming from parts of the world, but particularly Europe, and as they had in Europe, there were German-speaking places, there were French-speaking places, English speaking places, and all of these communities that kind of came and evolved their own languages and communities.
And so [13:00] what Noah Webster was saying was, “Look, we are trying to form a new vision of a nation. We have a new concept of liberty and freedom. Like in Europe, you’ve got all these broken down communities and language was at the heart of that.
And he said that if we want to reach the ideals that we have for this country, we need to have some common language, common way of thinking, [13:30] common understanding, and common ability to communicate to the future so that everybody has the same opportunity.
And out of that, he created a dictionary that takes language and makes it uniform so that everybody can understand. He also began to write the first textbooks and started some of the first curriculums [14:00] and started promoting schools across the country.
But look at his definition of education. This is from his 1828 dictionary (by the way, it’s been watered-down a whole lot. If you look at a modern Webster Dictionary, it won’t even reflect this.) But let’s take a look here.
“Education is the bringing up, [14:30] as of a child, instruction, formation of manners. Education comprehends all that series of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits of youth.
“And to fit them for usefulness in their future stations. [15:00] To give children a good education in manners, arts, and science is important. To give them a religious education is indispensable and an immense responsibility rests on parents and guardians who neglect these duties.”
Wow. If we could get back to that definition, to that common understanding [15:30] of what education is in this country… Honestly, that’s at the heart of the goal of Noah Webster Educational Foundation. To help us get back to that understanding of what education is.
There’s a lot to unpack there. But if we go on and we break that down, from this definition, we can deduce that the purpose of education is three-fold: [16:00] to impart knowledge, to develop character, and to equip students for a useful place in society.
Now isn’t that what all of us are trying to do? Isn’t that what we really want? We want to help impart knowledge, we want students to be informed, knowledgeable, and equipped. We want them to have good character [16:30] because if they don’t have good character they’re nothing.
And we want to equip students so that they are useful in society. So that they are productive. So that they are creative. So that they bring value to themselves, to their families, and to society as a whole. I’d like you to take a quick look at a video that we have [17:00] talking about instruction.
This is kind of a 30,000 foot view perspective, but hopefully, it’ll be enlightening. There are so many things we could get into the woods on in instruction—and our blogs and conversations and stuff, we want to go there, but right now I’m just trying to hit 30,000 feet. [17:30]
VOICEOVER: When it comes to the education of a child, there’s one word that captures the process. That word is instruction. But instruction itself involves a broad scope of influences, all of which have a lasting impact on your child.
These influences include parents, family, teachers, coaches, mentors, language, curriculum, career guidance, technology, resources, environment, opportunity, [18:00], and attitude.
ADAMS: If you want to see the whole video, you can find it on our website, NWEF.org under “core principles”, the first one. Alright, let’s go to the second one: the role of parents.
As an educator, I want to tell you that students always do best when they have strong parental [18:30] involvement. Many of you here are educators and you know that. Many of you here are moms and grandmothers. You know that.
You’ll be hearing from a panel of parents this afternoon, which promises to be exciting and informative. I want to encourage you as school board members: do not [19:00] overlook the importance of engagement with and from parents.
They will be your best advocates, and they will help bring the best solutions if you engage them. A resource in your packet, from an organization that may help you, even brings solutions in your school systems [19:30] where families are not healthy.
Now let’s take a second here. One of my pet peeves, with education in this country (and I’m just going to apply that to the broader thing of government in this country), is that it tries to be the grandmama of everything. And has taken on roles that it should never have taken on. [20:00]
And suddenly it’s like the schools are supposed to do everything. Wrong. What happens is when we try to do everything, nothing gets done. Secondly, parents don’t have any initiative.
Part of the problem parents are so upset is because the schools are trying to do so much and they’re saying, “Get out of my life! Let me be the parent, [20:30] let me feed my child, let me take care of their medical needs.”
But the school system wants to do it all. Why? Money. It’s a pipeline. I just want you to think about these things. Because these are critical things and we need to back out and let the schools be the schools [21:00] and let the rest of society be the rest of society. I think it would go a long way to helping us fix problems. Let’s see if we can get the whole video on parents.
VOICEOVER: Let’s talk about the role of parents in education. It is significant. Parents have the unique opportunity to be their child’s very first educator. They actually help to form the child’s foundational [21:30] concepts of reality and learning.
Therefore the parent has more potential than anyone else to profoundly influence their child’s life. That influence can be shared by others, but if it is abandoned by others, the child suffers. That is why parents should think of themselves as the primary educator.
Of course, children need interaction and influence from many people to bloom and grow. A parent will not be an expert [22:00] on everything, but they should be an expert on finding the best influences and support to help their child flourish.
Professional educators recognize that children learn best when they have active engagement and positive support at home. To learn more, visit nwef.org.
ADAMS: The next thing I want to talk about, the third point of these big issues, is the role of government. [22:30] Now, this morning, I am talking to the government. Like it or not, you have become part of the government and you are governing this role of education at your local level.
Some think that there should be a reduced role of government when it comes to education. Others think that there should be more! But we know that government does [23:00] have a role. You are the governing body closest to education. Have you determined what your view of the role of government should look like?
I’m letting that soak in a little bit. If you haven’t you need to figure it out. And then that needs to be how you measure your decisions. Have [23:30] you determined your view of what the role of government should look like? Maybe this video will give you some ideas.
VOICEOVER: Creativity and innovation are natural results of learning. Social stability and strong economies depend on it. So it is in the government’s best interest that every member of society is well-educated. However, it is not in the best interest of citizens when the government controls [24:00] their only source of educational opportunities.
In most industries, there are regulations imposed by antitrust laws at both the state and federal levels. These regulations control the organization and conduct of business in order to promote competition for the benefit of consumers. Regardless of the product, monopolies tend to decrease the quality and increase the cost.
While diversity and competition almost always result in better goods, services, and prices from all providers. What improvements might we see if these principles and laws [24:30] were applied to the field of education? To learn more visit nwef.org.
ADAMS: Alright, we’ve got two more and I’m going to hurry because we’re just about out of time. The fourth one is the role of faith and morality. We could spend hours on each of these areas, but especially this one. Did you know that Virginia law requires schools to provide instruction in these areas? Faith and morality?
It does. [25:00] But this area can also be very contentious. So take a look at this video. Then I’m going to let you take this topic and mull over it. And there are a lot of resources you can pick up. But this is an area where education has gotten upside-down sometimes. [25:30] So let’s take a look.
VOICEOVER: Noah Webster, one of our nation’s founding fathers, and a contemporary of the American revolution, became widely known as the father of American education. He said, “Our continued freedom and success is dependant on our educating the youth of America in the principles of Christianity.”
Education has universally been thought to produce more in an individual than just the knowledge of observable facts, [26:00] scientific theories, and stated hypotheses. It challenges us to think and ask the big questions about origin and purpose, right and wrong, self and society, time and eternity, and body and soul.
This search ultimately leads to questions about the existence of and relationship between God and man. Addressing these questions leads individuals in societies toward faith and morality, which form the basis [26:30] for ethics or standards of human behavior.
A study of ancient Western and Eastern civilizations, as well as modern society, reflects their importance in human existence. A person is not thoroughly educated unless they have explored these ideals.
ADAMS: Alright. Before we go on, there are a couple of statements I want to make here. I don’t think anybody in this country [27:00] wants our schools to be (unless they are private religious schools with that specific statement of purpose) I’m talking now about our public schools.
Nobody wants our public schools to be points of evangelism for any faith community. That’s not its purpose. [27:30] On the other side of that, a knowledge of faith and morality is imperative to form and understand how the community works.
What is so important is not that the schools are evangelizing but they are giving a historical perspective on faith. And what is even more important is that the schools [28:00] should never be allowed to run and be promoting moral and religious concepts that are anti, or in complete violation, or opposed to what the parents of your students in your community are trying to instill in your comminutes.
Listen, every one of you comes from a community. You should know [28:30] what the general moral ethic of that community is. And that is what should be promoted in your schools. I’m going to say this real quick. We have things going on in our schools that violate the laws of our commonwealth.
People would be taken to prison [29:00] for doing those things or teaching those things or sharing those things on the street. But they are encouraged and allowed to do it in our schools. Something is very wrong.
And so I just want to say that as board members, this is an area where I hope you will be a sheriff. Okay. [29:30] Hurrying along because we’re out of time. Alright. The last big point I want to talk about is this: budget appropriations.
Leadership is tasked with finding solutions. Too often, Money is seen as the solution. It is not. It can be very helpful but it is not the solution. I’ll give this quick illustration. So often, we see failing schools and what do they ask for? [30:00] More money. And the board decides “We’re going to fix this school up, we’re going to pour money into this.”
So they do a big remodel, a whole new sports field, and everyone drives by and says, “Wow, that looks great. That school is doing great!” but you know what? It’s still a failing school because the root problem was never addressed.
Alright, that friends are where you as board members need to [30:30] stand strong and make sure… that’s where leadership comes in. Leadership doesn’t let the salt shaker be transplanted by the pepper shaker. You address the problems and fix them no matter what it takes. Alright, final video. Let’s go for it.
VOICEOVER: In brick-and-mortar schools, it’s easy to build the perception around the presentation of the campus: [31:00] it’s buildings, it’s sports fields, and lawns. They can be impressive. But remember: while facilities matter, they don’t educate. Educational facilities should be safe, clean, well-maintained, and adequately equipped to enable learning.
Technology is an important tool to support and prepare students for today’s work environment. Physical education and competitive sports can do a lot for our children and our communities. These are all important but shouldn’t be a higher priority than the foundational instruction that actually [31:30] equips students with essential life skills.
Facilities often reflect the educational priorities of administrators. School boards should insist that budgets focus on the needs of all students and honor the investment of local taxpayers by choosing programs wisely. At the end of the day, learning—not facilities, is the measure of a successful school.
ADAMS: Alright. That’s something for you to think about. Thank you for being here. God bless!