Penn State junior Michelle Hart understands she’ll play an important role in educating future generations.
She learned in a forum on the mission of 21st century public education how she could shape herself as a teacher.
About 40 people made up of State College Area School District and Penn State educators, students and community members attended the forum, in which participants debated three approaches to education in the 21st century. They debated how much schools should prepare students for the workplace, to be active and responsible citizens and to help them develop individual skills.
“I became specifically interested in hearing about civic duties and how that’s not one of the key components of education right now until late high school,” Hart said. “I thought that was something interesting I could include in my classroom with much younger grades, because I want to be a first- through third-grade teacher.”
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Participants came to a conclusion school board member David Hutchinson thought they would.
“Those approaches overlap, and it’s important to make that point that our goal can’t be to pick one over the others and win,” Hutchinson said. “The idea is for people to come to a common ground on what is valuable within each of those categories.”
Park Forest Elementary Principal Donnan Stoicovy said that she felt a school’s primary focus should be preparing students to be active citizens, but that it’s also important to incorporate developing individual skills to be successful.
“I think all three approaches have aspects that are really important, but I really believe that in order for us to continue on as a society we need to pay attention to having kids be able to be critical thinkers and problem solvers, which are aspects of civic engagement and being a part of your community.”
Others said a school’s first priority should be developing individual skills.
“I think it’s the essence of our culture that we start with the individual and recognize the importance of individual skills,” retired SCASD administrator John Sheridan said. “That’s what our whole system is based off of, so educate each individual to their abilities and strengths and then you move into the other components of this discussion.”
Alex Pershanina, 15, of Patton Township learned that public school issues are complex.
“I think I agree with (developing our individual skills) more than anything, but that those issues are a lot more complicated than I thought they were, so there are a lot of issues we need to resolve,” Pershanina said.
Hart said it’s hard to prioritize one approach to education over another.
“I never really thought about our schooling as having one exact approach, and singling this out into three approaches showed me that we are mostly well rounded, so much that we had trouble staying within single categories in our discussion because they all do come together,” Hart said.