This week I’m organizing and participating in “Blog for IDEC 2012 Week,” which highlights the four defining values of the upcoming International Democratic Education Conference in Puerto Rico next March. Today’s theme is “Real education is relevant.”

I know a teacher who has believed in relevant education since the beginning of his career 37 years ago. His name is Dave Neubacher, and he teaches at El Verano Elementary School in Sonoma, where I spent kindergarten through fifth grade (the first and second time around). While I didn’t have the privilege of being Mr. Neubacher’s student as a child, I participated in his class for Reschool Yourself and loved seeing him in action. Here’s what I wrote about him on the blog:

First thing every morning, he sits in front of the class in his casual jeans shorts and tennis shoes and asks the kids what current events they’ve heard about. Some are local, like a skateboarder arrested for interfering with the Vintage Festival parade, and others are global. Every year, Mr. Neubacher shares his love of environmentalism with his class, doing the recycling for the school and writing letters to government officials about global warming. In 2005, the class won an all-expenses paid trip to the Disney Resort for their advocacy, community cleanup, and relief efforts. It’s amazing to hear the kids talk about the polar ice caps melting and the oceans rising; they’re much more aware of world issues than I was at that age.

The class has also done projects like adopting a polar bear and releasing butterflies in the school garden. The students develop a deep understanding of environmental stewardship and personal responsibility. They also learn to take care of their own classroom, taking turns with tasks that keep it clean.

For Mr. Neubacher and teachers like him, there’s no false division between the worlds inside and outside of the classroom. They know that kids (and adults alike) are learning all the time, not just when they’re seated in desks within those four classroom walls. Mr. Neubacher instills values and skills in his students that they can apply well beyond their fifth-grade year; they will carry them for the rest of their lives. That is relevant education.

Read more about Dave Neubacher in the Sonoma Index-Tribune article written about him this past August.

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