Monday, July 4, 2011

Cherish our freedom to learn

Happy Fourth of July!

Though it is still not something we do frequently enough, it is common on Independence Day to recognize the commitments of those who serve in our Armed Forces to protect the freedoms we hold so dearly.  That is an appropriate gesture, and one of the things our Norris school community is very proud of are the many students who have made the choice to serve our country as soldiers.  We must  also recognize that numerous Norris families have endured great hardships over the last several years as parents of our students have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.  The resilience and cohesiveness of these families is inspiring, and we should all continue to do our part to encircle those affected by deployments in the broader family of our district and reach out to them.

Another facet of freedom that is appropriate to contemplate on the July 4 holiday is the impact teachers have on helping a democracy flourish.  Unless we are free to learn, to inquire, to challenge one another, to ask difficult questions, and to pursue our thinking in creative and innovative ways, our democracy will not flourish.  Teachers are essential in perpetuating democracy and public schools need to be places where teachers are asking essential questions about meaningful content to guide students toward greater levels of autonomy and higher levels of critical thought. Through the relationships our teachers establish with individual learners, trust is built.  Within the bonds of trust, a learner can take leaps of faith and risk 'not-knowing' to overcome ignorance and strive towards knowledge and awareness.  That nurturing process helps instill democratic ideals in young people.

These aren't just lofty abstractions or noble ideals. If you want to earn, you've got to learn.  Study after study notes that future earning potential is highly correlated educational attainment.  Our teachers do a great job preparing Norris students for post-secondary life - whether at two or four-year colleges, the workforce or the military.  With the essential role teachers serve in empowering young minds, it is disheartening to read about some of the negative rhetoric that has been spewed from politicians during the recession who want to scapegoat education for the fiscal woes of a nation.  Public education is a great value for the dollar, and the vast majority of teachers I know are incredibly dedicated, caring people who are motivated not by the myth of 'summers off' but by the highest ideals of fostering student learning and helping others attain their life dreams.

At Norris, we have been giving a lot of thought to how we can use technology to empower learners.  We took an innovative  role as a district in adopting Open Office and instituting Google Apps, encouraging student e-mail and document sharing for collaboration last year.  Our next step is that we have been doing summer infrastructure work on the wireless that will allow us to empower learners to make Norris a BYOD "Bring Your Own Device" school where the connection is up, on, and open all the time.  It will depend on the ingenuity and intelligence of teachers and students to take advantage of a learning environment that is more powerfully connected than any we have had before - at any time in our district's short history and at any time in the history of public education.  Capacity is not an issue.   In addition to the open wi-fi, we will be rolling out a limited implementation of iPads and Chrome notebooks.  The capability will be there to connect.  So let's empower one another to use this freedom to better ourselves, learn more, and aspire towards an even greater future in this amazing democracy.

And on this Fourth of July, if you love learning, enjoy reading, dared to question, and weren't afraid to wish, to dream, and to inquire, you probably have a teacher to thank for that.  So thank them for helping instill democratic values in you as a learner and thank your community for supporting public education.