BOOK EXCERPT: “Bill of Educational Rights” from the Book First Do No Harm: Progressive Education in a Time of Existential Risk

In his introduction to Steve Nelson’s acclaimed book on progressive education, Matt Damon writes, “All children deserve a progressive education, not just a privileged few, an education that will enliven their lives with joy and possibility and help them contribute to the betterment of society and our planet.”  What can we expect and even demand of public officials — school board members and local legislators — who decide on the ways in which public schools are run? Steve Nelson argues that we should begin by insisting, that first and foremost, no harm is done to children who attend public schools. He encourages us to consider a Bill of Rights for Children that he presents in the last chapter of his remarkable book along with his conclusions on why progressive education is so important in this time of existential risk. Hardcover, paperback, and ebook now available. Paperback book ON SALE, 20% off on Amazon, $14.35.

Author: Steve Nelson
Book: First Do No Harm: Progressive Education in a Time of Existential Risk
Garn Press (264 pp.)
$24.95 hardcover, $14.95 paperback (ON SALE), $9.99 e-book, $2.99 on Amazon when you purchase the print book
ISBN: 978-1-942146-48-3
Buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound (local bookstore) | Indigo Books | Waterstones | Books-A-Million
eBook: Amazon

Book Excerpt from First Do No Harm: Progressive Education in a Time of Existential Risk – “Bill of Educational Rights”

Some years ago my adult children and I had a spirited debate about change. They argued for small, individual acts of kindness, generosity and wisdom. I argued for political movements, massive protests demanding social and economic justice. I’ve come to believe it is an unimportant distinction. Change is like a good snowstorm, massive drifts created from elegant snowflakes, each one contributing its small part to creating a new landscape.

More than any other single thing, revolutionary reform must be driven by parents who demand a better, more loving experience for their children. I hope this book will reinforce parents’ best instincts and provide them with ammunition to demand more (or less of many things!) from their teachers and schools. It is fitting that a progressive revolution be a grassroots revolution. The money and politics that have a stranglehold on education policy can only be changed when we insist on change.

Parents and concerned citizens should demand the following things from every school. Consider it a Bill of Educational Rights. Turn this list into a petition and circulate it among all the families in your child’s school. Send it to the school board, the principal, local legislators.

Bill of Educational Rights – the undersigned insist that our school(s) and all teachers:

  • Recognize the broad consensus that early childhood education should be primarily dedicated to free, imaginative play;
  • Provide arts programming, recognizing that the arts are critical to all learning and to understanding the human experience;
  • Provide ample physical movement, both in physical education classes and in other ways, recognizing that exercise enhances learning for all children;
  • Exhibit, in structure and practice, awareness that children develop at different rates and in different ways; that strict age- or grade-level standards and expectations are meaningless and damaging;
  • Acknowledge the large body of evidence that long hours of homework are unnecessary and detract from children’s (and families’) quality of life;
  • Exhibit genuine affection and respect for all children;
  • Honor a wide range of personalities and temperaments;
  • Encourage curiosity, risk-taking and creativity;
  • Cultivate and sustain intrinsic motivation rather than relying on elaborate extrinsic systems of rewards and punishment;
  • Understand that brain research supports active learning, engaging all the senses;
  • Understand that children are intelligent in multiple ways and that all these intelligences should be honored and developed;
  • Listen to each child’s voice, give them real experience in democratic processes, and allow them to express their individuality;
  • Know each child well, appreciate the unique mix of qualities each child brings, and never demean, discourage or humiliate any child.

The simplest test is this – is your child happy and does he/she look forward to school most days? If not, you and your child have the right – the obligation – to demand change. Children should not be subjected to stressful and punitive schools. As I write, a nationwide “opt-out” movement is gaining momentum. All parents have the right to say “no” to stressful, meaningless tests, to keep their children healthy and happy.

The uniform, factory approach to education has never served all children well. The cost is immense. Children who develop more slowly in early years are dismissed as less capable and may internalize this misjudgment for a lifetime. We neither recognize nor nurture children who are brilliant in ways that don’t conform to the IQ-style of education and assessment. As a result their growth may be stunted and their potential to contribute to society is truncated. The extrinsic structures that drive compliance and conformity inhibit intrinsic motivation. One of the greatest satisfactions in life is the endless opportunity to learn and grow. When school is a stressful or unpleasant experience, aversion to continued learning is an inevitable consequence.

We should allow our children to grow naturally, not force them into early, unnatural tedium. We should treasure all children’s originality, not press them into intellectual or social conformity. This requires igniting their imaginations, cultivating a love of beauty, and instilling a fascination with the natural world.

We desperately need our children to love the world and its people enough that they will save it.

Our purpose should be to sustain curiosity, strengthening children’s intrinsic desire to continue learning for a lifetime. We should affirm each child’s intelligence, giving all children the freedom to construct their own lives without judgment.

Pursuing these purposes does not contradict the declared intentions of education reform. Rather, it achieves the purposes of education reform. Tedium, stress and conformity are the enemies of both individual satisfaction and social progress. Imagination and beauty are the things that enliven each individual life and advance civilization.

I began by claiming that we are living in a time of unprecedented existential risk. The risks are amplified by surrendering control of education to those who profit from the compliance and control of conventional education. Can we change the world if our children believe climate change is a hoax or that evolution is just another theory? Will the world be safer if schools teach a whitewashed version of history, declaring America “exceptional” and inculcating blind faith and nationalism? Can we expect future generations to change the world if they are not encouraged to challenge conventional wisdom?

The qualities nurtured through a progressive approach to education are the things that animate meaningful lives and promise the greatest contributions to society.

And, above all – first do no harm.

Buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound (local bookstore) | Indigo Books | Waterstones | Books-A-Million

Book Reviews

“This is ultimately a hopeful book.  Steve spells out a vision of real education reform that we just might be ready for now. His Bill of Educational Rights, based on the best of what is known from science and theory about human development and children’s learning, should be our manifesto. All children deserve a progressive education, not just the privileged few. All children deserve an education that will enliven their lives with joy and possibility and help them contribute to the betterment of society and our planet.” – Matt Damon, Actor, Writer, Producer

“This optimistic, anecdotal book offers useful ideas for changes in education.” – KIRKUS REVIEWS

“Parents, teachers and those who support better educational opportunities for all of our children should start 2017 by reading Steve Nelson’s First Do No Harm, Progressive Education in a Time of Existential Risk. At the same time, the book should be a mandatory read for our elected and appointed officials, whose understanding of the benefits of true public education is needed now, more than ever. If they truly understand where we are, where we are headed and the alternative approach that would serve our country and its children, they would use First Do No Harm as a guidebook for their policy actions.” –  Jonathan Pelto

“Steve Nelson knows full well that freedom begins between the ears.  He negotiates this space with clarity, charm and precision.  Ultimately he shows the reader how a good education is the mirror image of a proper democracy.  For too long our systems of education have shrink-wrapped our imaginations.  Nelson successfully argues for a new way of thinking.” – Colum McCann, Author of Let the World Spin and National Book Award winner

“Nelson’s thesis: To nurture all children – rich or poor – to develop an intrinsic desire to learn life-long. His is an educational bill of rights I wish we could implement tomorrow. Written in direct, jargon-free style, and using his vast educational experience, Nelson makes a compelling case that much of current educational reform is wrong-headed, focusing as it does on ‘compliance and conformity.’ Until we encourage ‘skepticism and originality’ – gained via progressive education – students will not fulfil their ‘limitless potential.’ A great, thought-provoking read.” – Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Ph.D., Unidel H. Rodney Sharp Professor, University of Delaware, Co-author with Kathy Hirsh-Pasek of Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells us About Raising Successful Children

“Nelson combines experience, knowledge, wisdom and brilliant writing as he invites us into school the way it should be. Using progressive education as his platform, he demonstrates how education can nurture engaged and motivated children who actively discover their world and grow up to be good citizens. Sound like a pipe dream? Read on. This book is for parents and educators who know that schools can and must do better.” – Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, Temple University

“This powerful, entertaining book is both a beautifully-expressed explanation of progressive education and a searing indictment of contemporary education policy and practice. As an teacher, I appreciate the inspirational, good-humored tour of contemporary research and theory. As a parent and an activist, I appreciate the Bill of Education Rights, outlining what we should expect from our schools. As a citizen, I appreciate the clear vision for what education can be — humane, equitable, meaningful and joyful.” Amazon Review, Amazon.

First Do No Harm: Progressive Education In A Time Of Existential Risk

Hardcover, paperback, and ebook now available.

Author: Steve Nelson
Garn Press (264 pp.)
$24.95 hardcover, $17.95 paperback, $9.99 e-book
ISBN: 978-1-942146-48-3
Paperback & Hardcover: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound (local bookstore)
eBook: Amazon – Ebook $2.99 on Amazon when you purchase the print book – Amazon’s Kindle Matchbook Program

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