I spent the day here in Copenhagen yesterday learning a bit more about the educational systems of Denmark and stumbled upon an idea that I was fascinated by. A core tenet of the educational system and philosophy here is to teach children a “commitment to action.” Knowledge as a product of education is not enough. Instead, knowledge needs to be paired with value judgments and then an action orientation towards life’s situations.
For me, I think this commitment to action based on value judgments is something that is often left out of American classrooms because we’re crippled by fear when encouraging children to make value judgments about issues that they are studying. We’ve been battered time and again by conflicting voices in the community, some who argue that encouraging values is the responsibility of schools and others who argue that schools have no right to impart values.
Teachers feel this pressure the most and tend to drift away from controversial topics in the classroom as a result. Instead, we present every topic without encouraging opinion at all or introducing children to alternative points of view. Rather than exposing our students to productive opportunities to wrestle with what’s true to them, we give knowledge but drift away from understanding. Without wrestling with values, students can’t be encouraged to take action because action is necessarily defined by values….regardless of outcomes.
In Danish schools, values aren’t discouraged. Instead, they play a role of prominence without judgment. Students are encouraged to work through to their core beliefs and then taught constructive strategies for taking productive action. Is this an element that should play a more prominent role in our education system? How would society benefit if schools emphasized a commitment to action rather than knowledge alone? Interesting questions, huh?