Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

An Interview with John Goodlad - Leadership for Change

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

An Interview with John Goodlad - Leadership for Change

Article excerpt

Now in his 80th year, John Goodlad continues to press, in a consistent and optimistic way, for a time "when the education community gives affirmation that We're doing many things well" and when educators will not be "subject to the constant pushes in different directions from politicians and business leaders."

JOHN GOODLAD recently celebrated his 80th birthday. While he remains extremely active both as co-director of the Center for Educational Renewal at the University of Washington and as president of the Institute for Educational Inquiry (IEI), Goodlad is also at a point in his long and distinguished career where great honors are coming to him.

A book has been published to pay homage to Professor Goodlad and to summarize his accomplishments: The Beat of a Different Drummer: Essays on Educational Renewal in Honor of John Goodlad (Peter Lang Publishing, 1999).

On 30 November 1999, a full-page announcement appeared in the New York Times proclaiming that John I. Goodlad was one of this year's recipients of the Harold W. McGraw, Jr., Prize in Education. This prestigious award and a $25,000 gift are presented annually to three "outstanding individuals who have dedicated themselves to improving education in this country and whose accomplishments are making a difference today." Goodlad was honored for six decades of work in educational renewal, school partnerships, curriculum improvement, and the lifting of standards in education. Past recipients have included the late Ernest Boyer, Barbara Bush, and U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley.

I interviewed John Goodlad in Seattle at his Institute for Educational Inquiry office, a converted private home overlooking Lake Union and the Aurora Bridge. Casually dressed and looking very fit, Goodlad was full of contrarian ideas, mature judgments, and observations filtered through the lens of 60 years of experience doing everything from teaching in a one-room schoolhouse in rural Canada to serving as the dean of the Graduate School of Education at UCLA, from consulting on education in China to publishing more than 30 books as author, co-author, or editor.

When I asked Goodlad to look back over the years and tell me the first large thought that came to mind, he said without hesitation, "Over more than 60 years, the problems remain essentially the same, and the solutions remain essentially the same. If kids don't pass some arbitrary standard of what a grade means, you punish them twice. They"ve already experienced failure, an enormously debilitating experience, and then you tell them they have to do it all over again." From Seattle to New York, students do not show up for mandated summer school and then fail the same tests a second time. Their parents complain about interference with the needs of families.

A much more intelligent and effective way to look at problems children are having in school would be to see "youngsters" failure as a signal for help rather than a signal for punishment." Why is the child failing? What is the school trying to do? How can the school build an agenda that the staff can get behind to fulfill that school's mission and to provide meaningful help to every student? What sort of training do teachers and administrators need to renew the school and make it effective? What resources will the school need to be successful? These are some of the questions a school staff should be encouraged to ask. Simply telling youngsters they must pass an arbitrary test without thoughtful preparation in the school will result in little difference. "Our test scores will go up a bit, but they will not go up significantly, and they will not solve the problems of disadvantaged youngsters who arrive at school seriously handicapped - more handicapped than ever before."

School "reform" is a significant part of the school problem in Goodlad's opinion. In fact, the majority of schools in this country are doing many things very well. …

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