Education and the End of 'Why'

05/12/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A liberal by any definition, Carol Smaldino takes on President Obama's proposed educational reforms with the concern that they equate to "the murder of diversity at home."

Regarding our children's educational needs, I propose the following: They have different educational needs and styles, which is part of diversity at its core. As such, our key mission should include creating opportunities for "hope," "change," and confidence for them all. Of course, to do this, we would need to make space for their sparks of inspiration, curiosity, critical thinking and collaboration.

Children, from early on, learn through play through being respected. Slowly, they learn how to learn.

Certainly, benchmarks have to change, and we need to evolve as a society. And while other cultures, in particular some Asian cultures, are way ahead of us by formal standards, no one is ahead of America in terms of conflict resolution, emotional literacy or advances made on climate change and ecology.

Given this, our President's current attempts to make all standards uniform negates the essence of what makes this country what it is: diverse.

Some of the best charter and private schools in the country are those which promote a dynamic learning environment where children, teachers and families can thrive. In stark contrast to the average public school, the words imagination, curiosity, creativity and uniqueness are not seen on the latest documentation coming from our government in collaboration with the educators who plan to standardize goals for all children in all states. Additionally, there are other terms missing such as development, choices for children, honesty, compassion, or courage.

Some schools are taking the lead in connecting the emotional, social, physical and intellectual parts of a child as a human being. They dare to respect diversity in both children and staff and to promote the mystifyingly controversial value of critical thinking. It is controversial in the mainstream since this means encouraging children and adults to ask why about anything and everything. Furthermore the implication is that when people come up with viable objections or suggestions, they should be taken seriously, not merely humored.

If thinking critically involves the potential of making real change, then students as well as all of us could have the power and satisfaction of making an impact on those who can more easily change policy. If children are encouraged to develop their potential and their capacity to function creatively -- if that is their bent - then they could be teaching us all. Their fresher thinking, at least some of the time, could make class discussions more relevant for their needs and likewise help us further our own insights about them as well as ourselves and our world.

The bottom line is that there is no freedom without taking a step back to evaluate the purpose and meaning of our choices. I submit that today there is no freedom without the responsibility of learning to collaborate to protect the precious and fragile resources of our planet, be they pertinent to plants, animals, climate, or just we the people.

Without connecting to each other and connecting one corner of any curriculum with how we can come together to use the knowledge, we are enslaved to regressive prejudices, and we are doomed to go backwards. If we cannot respect, entertain and investigate differences of style and opinion, then we are lost in prejudice.

We desperately need knowledge from child development that might slow down our desperation to have our kids reading during toilet training...intrauterine reading, anyone? While we can take the time to breathe, we do have on our plate the race to connect more deeply and practically to the needs of our planet and the people on it. The notion of a uniform standard for children to read one book set in stone, as of now, may not be our answer.

Freedom is another word for carefully and flexibly considering the implications of our decisions.

Is it too radical or undignified to consider commissions where children can speak to us, one at a time, so that we can study where children, expressing their inspiration and humanity, have thrived and can thrive in the future? It would certainly up the ante if we included consulting with actual real live children of all ages.

Since his candidacy, President Obama has talked about what he wants to give our children, including a replica of the "American Dream." Perhaps they deserve more than a dream that was, and perhaps they need to be part of defining their own dreams.

Right now I'm having my own day dream of kids learning without the delusion that "winning" is final or complete, rather that they achieve awareness that they can learn from mistakes in order to change their lives.

Most of us are beset by a plague of comparison so great that we don't even disagree with our neighbors for fear of losing the modicum of friendships that we have. I wish for our children a greater sense of security in their being so that they don't have to run on empty and repeat hollow phrases ad nauseam.

I, for one, always loved Louisa May Alcott, but our kids may come up with something just as good. And they might even write their own books for us.

I had to convince someone I love ever so deeply that being able to ask questions was as valuable as any answer. She has become someone who might have some good suggestions for me, and I am quite ready to share, no kidding.