In The News

Community addresses purpose and promise of public education

This article appeared in the Herald & Review on May 22, 2017. Continuing Ed. is a yearlong, statewide series of free public programs that puts parents and schools back at the center of conversations addressing difficult questions. You can find the original article here.

DECATUR — In a wide-ranging evaluation of the state of public education, one central question cut to the heart of the challenges educators discussed Monday.

“My concern is, are we making education relevant?” asked Bishop G.E. Livingston, president of Robertson Charter School.

Livingston was among 10 panelists who tackled a spectrum of education-related issues during a discussion at the Decatur Public Library sponsored by Illinois Humanities Continuing Ed.

The event focused on the “purpose and promise” of public education, an open-ended category that sprawled over topics as varied as standardized tests, project-based learning, lifelong education and the need for relevancy, as Livingston mentioned.

“If we aren’t relevant to kids in this day and age when they have the world on their phones, we have a very difficult time making it relevant for them,” said Ed Moyer, chief instructional officer for the Decatur Public Schools. “And if it’s not relevant for them, we’re going to have a difficult time teaching them.”

Moyer was among several panelists took time to discuss the work of Robert Hutchins, a famed education philosopher who pushed a ‘Great Books of the Western World’ canon of literature necessary in education, as well as a 1972 article in which he argued that public schools must open new worlds to the young — but also encourage youth to understand their cultural heritage.

Changes in the world have also changed the materials to teach students, Moyer said.

“While we can certainly respect the classics, it is a fundamentally different world than the one Hutchins wrote about,” Moyer said.

Monday marked the last in a series of discussions which have been held in the community since last fall, focusing on education policy issues like teacher recruitment and public school resources.

For Illinois Humanities Program Manager Matt Meacham, the forums have been a chance to learn how Decatur is approaching the challenges faced by education in the 21st century.

“We’ve been so impressed with everything we’ve learned about the positive developments and exciting things happening within the Decatur school system,” he said.

Other panelists who took part in the discussion included:

  • Brittany Acree, a teacher at Dennis Lab School;Jeffery
  • Jeffery Aper, provost, Millkin University, and historian of education;
  • The Rev. Beth Fender, coordinator of Discipleship and New Streams, Illinois Great Rivers Conference, United Methodist Church, former public schoolteacher, and parent; Alida Graham, chairperson of the Old Kings Orchard Community Center board of directors and former Decatur school board member;
  • Alida Graham, chairperson of the Old Kings Orchard Community Center board of directors and former Decatur school board member;
  • Bruce Nims, representative of Grow Decatur; Beth Nolan, vice president, District 61 board of education;
  • Beth Nolan, vice president, District 61 board of education;
    Jill Reedy assistant superintendent, Macon-Piatt Regional Office of Education;
  • Nicholas Walsh, teacher at Thomas Jefferson Middle School.