Dr. Larry Myatt has over three decades of experience in education and will be the Honorary Conference Chair of the upcoming conference INSPIRE 2013. The founder and President of the Education Resources Consortium, and the co-founder of Boston’s Center for Collaborative Education, Dr. Myatt was also the founder of Fenway High School in Boston, a model small school for the nation, and its head of school for 20 years before accepting an assignment to advise Boston’s High School Renewal Initiative.
We appreciate his reflections on the state of education in this country drawn through a recent interview with him. This is a three-part interview in which Dr. Myatt reflects on the founding of Fenway in the first section; the second part of the interview reflects his concerns over current barriers to creating meaningful and effective education; and in the third segment he lends his thoughts on School for Children’s innovative work under the banner of the National Institute for Student-Centered Education (NISCE).
You’ve been in the educational arena for a long time. When were you most convinced that what you were doing was sure to have a great impact on how we educate our children?
It wasn’t so obvious at the time –being in the midst of it—that the school I was a part of founding and building, a school built on what students were saying had been missing for them, would have the impact that it has. From a small alternative school that no one had heard of, Fenway became a city-wide resource to families, and to other schools; among the first of the Massachusetts charter schools (turned down to become the first Pilot School in Boston); the region’s first CES school; the local school that exemplified the potential of the small schools movement; a school that thrived in three different neighborhoods and locations including on a community college campus; the first Boston school to have an Advisory, a pastoral time for relationship-building between and among students and adults; a school recognized nationally and visited by thousands of educators –a New American High School and a U.S. Blue Ribbon High School. It never was about the accolades, but about the gratification that came from people who could come and say, “Wow, this is really different. Look at what these kids can do.” Those kinds of comments, that kind of attention, and the resources and opportunities that came with it, convinced us at Fenway that what we were doing, and how we were doing it, mattered.
What would teaching and services look like if there were no resource limitations at any of our schools?
Well, we certainly know that the role of “teacher” is long overdue for reconsideration. Technology, the abundance of information, the world in which we live, all suggest that teachers need to serve two functions –one is being a pastoral presence, a dependable adult who invites young people into a welcoming world of knowledge, citizenship, rewarding work, etc., and, on the more technical side, no longer the content expert, but a broker of ideas and information, a connector, a facilitator.
We’d want smaller more inviting settings in our schools, yet at the same time, more opportunity to be out of them, purposefully out in the world, connecting to places and people, getting back to the multi-generational authentic learning contexts that served us well prior to “industrial” notions of school. I would want and expect schools to look very different given the local context, physical and human resources, the values and goals of each community, and very permeable to the outside world, from governance to learning to developing real accountability, the kind that eludes policy makers –students showing what they know and can do to folks who know and care about them.