Home > Essays > Learn Everywhere: a Progressive Idea Expropriated by NH’s Right Wing Anti-Public Education Commissioner.

Learn Everywhere: a Progressive Idea Expropriated by NH’s Right Wing Anti-Public Education Commissioner.

August 4, 2021

The notion of awarding academic credit for life experience is supported by most progressive educators who want to liberate children from the lockstep curricula that are often seen as pointless or unchallenging to students at the secondary level. But traditional thinkers have thus far rejected experiential learning because it challenges the normal framework of “schooling”: the framework that measures learning based on standardized test scores; the framework that insists on atomizing life experiences into non-overlapping compartments like “mathematics”, “social studies” “science” and “English”; the framework that sorts and selects winners and losers based on comparisons with age cohorts on the ability to learn abstract skills at a constant speed. 

For decades progressive educators have championed unconventional approaches to learning, ones that capitalize on the interests of students and reflect the reality that students mature at different rates intellectually as well as physically. Consequently, they advocate schooling that keep learning constant and time variable. Because of that mindset, progressive educators reject the current system that identifies students who perform well on pencil-and-paper tests designed to measure their ability to manipulate symbols as “gifted”. In identifying this group as “gifted” that are simultaneously labelling all other students, including many creative students and students with physical dexterity, as “ungifted”.  Progressive educators also decry the current arrangement whereby students the current system identifies as “slow learners” because they are not maturing at the same rate as their age peers are subjected to monotonous work designed to help them “catch up” so they can “succeed” on standardized test scores. And yet when these same students mature intellectually and find content that interests them, they make dramatic strides in learning, in some cases overtaking their age peers who were identified as “gifted” when they excelled on tests as kindergarten students. 

As one of those progressive educators, I was heartened to read Ethan DeWitt’s New Hampshire Bulletin article describing the roll out of the New Hampshire State Board’s Learn Everywhere initiative. The article provides this overview of the program: 

Learn Everywhere (is) a new state venture that allows public school students to sign up for approved programs outside of the classroom and receive public school credit.

Under the program, students who attend programs approved by the State Board of Education… can go to their schools and demonstrate that they have completed the out-of-school course. At that point, schools must accept the coursework for credit, freeing the public school student to opt out of the corresponding class in school and take a different class. 

Given that description, the program seems anodyne and uncontroversial. After all, if I took a summer course at a community college why shouldn’t I receive credit for it? Operation Running Start, a program that gives high school credit for students enrolled in community college courses, operates on the same premise, simultaneously awarding a high school and community college course. So… what’s the problem? 

School districts have complained that it takes away local control of the curriculum by mandating that schools accept credits approved by the State Board of Education. School choice advocates say the program is an opportunity for students to diversify their learning opportunities, without local red tape.

I am clearly not a fan of Frank Edelblut, the current State Commissioner in New Hampshire, an individual whose children never set foot in a public school and an individual who ran for Governor with the expressed agenda of eliminating or undercutting public schools. Nor do I support the current Governor’s decision to appoint Edelblut as State Education Commissioner, an appointment that came with an alleged promise to support Edelblut’s candidacy for Governor once Sununu sought a Senate seat. Nor do I support the New Hampshire GOP legislature’s recent bills that create Education Savings Accounts designed to facilitate the transfer of scarce state dollars away from public education to sectarian private schools, bills that our anti-public education Commissioner AND Governor Sununu supported. There are good reasons to be suspicious of Edelblut’s and Sununu’s intentions for introducing the “Learn Everywhere”, not the least of which is the probability that at some point they or their colleagues in the legislature will introduce a bill that calls for State money to “Follow the Child”. 

For me, the principle of awarding credit for out-of-school-experiences is more important than applying partisan thinking to every idea concocted by the GOP… because, as aptly observed in a quote attributed to writer Susan Mallery, “even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes”. Time to accept the statistical reality that three blind squirrels— Edelblut, Sununu, and the GOP legislators– are even MORE likely to uncover a nut! 

Categories: Essays Tags:
%d bloggers like this: