People may have differing opinions about education, but almost everyone agrees on one thing: Kids deserve the best educational experience possible, and they will need it if we want them to thrive in the twenty-first century. We hear gloomy statistics about falling test scores, and we wonder if we’re going in the right direction. Just this week, in fact, we learned from the Program International Student Assessment that US teenagers rank 25th worldwide in math and science.
However, I am very optimistic about the situation. This might seem like a strange thing to say at a time when so many others are pessimistic about the educational system, but I believe that challenges are simply an opportunity to change, and an opportunity to grow.
The True Nature of Power
When teachers experience difficulty with classroom management and effectiveness, it may be because they are relying on old paradigms of power and control. That’s natural, since some of these methods have long been traditional in education. But the world is changing, so why shouldn’t we, as parents and teachers, also change?
If we want our children to become the best they can be, I believe we first need to understand the true meaning of the word power. For too long, that word has meant having the ability to control others. We have seen through history that authoritarianism doesn’t work for long, yet in many ways we insist on that way of interacting with our children and students. “Why do I have to do that?” a child asks, and “Because I say so” is too often the grown-up’s reply.
I believe that true power does not come through this kind of control. In his book Power vs. Force, David Hawkins distinguishes the difference between true power and the desire to control others, which he defines as “force,” not power. He shows how “force” actually weakens the muscles of the body, while genuine “power,” which is cooperative and universally beneficial, strengthens the muscles. In order to tap into this truer form of power, we as parents and educators need to shift away from old forms of control toward cooperative models.
Key Differences in Approach
There are certain key differences between a “power” classroom and a traditional classroom that is based on control of behavior. First of all, respect is very important, not just for the teacher, but for everyone. In previous models, students have been expected to obey the teacher and to show unquestioning respect to him or her. In a cooperative model, everyone shows respect to everyone else—students respect the teacher, students respect other students, and teachers respect the students. Yes, teachers lead activities, but students’ initiative and viewpoints are valued.
Also, the classroom in a “power” model is no longer about competition, where only a few are likely to come out on top. Rather, everyone’s greatest potential is nurtured in a cooperative classroom, and everyone is expected to support everyone else in the process of becoming the best that they can possibly be.
You may wonder, “But what about discipline? Won’t kids just take advantage of this and run wild?” Well, actually, discipline becomes even more important, and students are expected to take even greater responsibility for their own behaviors and habits in a cooperative classroom. Instead of simply following the rules and being punished if they step out of line, students are held to a greater degree of accountability since they are expected to be a responsible member of the classroom “society,” where everyone has a sense of duty toward other students’ learning process.
For example, disruptive behavior is not simply “bad” because it breaks a rule. Rather, it is understood that everyone is responsible for maintaining a good learning environment that benefits everyone.
In the cooperative classroom, there are rules, but they are rules that invite deeper reflection and accountability, not just blind compliance. These are the rules that I use that I’ve described in my new book, The Brain Power Classroom:
1) Do Your Best
2) Be Confident
3) Be Positive
4) Be Honest and Responsible
5) Trust Your Brain.
This may seem permissive at first glance, but all other needed rules are implied by these five. If students understand “be positive,” they will also know not to bully others. If they understand “do your best,” they will focus on their work. The best part of these simple rules is that students find their own answers for how to follow the rules, so good behavior is internalized as a personal choice that sparks personal growth, not as something that is followed due to fear of punishment.
Making a World of Difference
I am a believer in this cooperative method of education partly because I know that it works in the classroom. It turns difficult educational environments filled with resistance and defiance into classrooms where real kids can learn and grow. But more than that, I believe that it reflects a change that is also necessary for the entire world. We, as humans living on a small and fragile planet, can no longer afford to only focus on competing and winning. The time has come to learn cooperation, not only with those we feel are most like us, but with everyone on the planet.