The DeHavilland Blog

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Why do we do it?

I'm a big fan of education reform in theory - but in action, it's been pretty disappointing stuff. We spend all our energy debating the type and frequency assessments, how to impose standards, how to train teachers, how many and what kind of charter schools to allow, whether to make vouchers possible, and so, so much more.

But when is the last time you heard someone step back and ask, "Why do we educate?" It seems that if we could agree on a shared purpose - what we really want to accomplish as a society through the process of public education - it would be far easier to gain consensus on the path forward.

As Neil Postman wrote in “The End of Education” (1996),


In tracking what people have to say about schooling, I notice that most of the conversation is about means, rarely about ends. Should we privatize our schools? Should we have national standards of assessment? How should we use computers? What use can we make of television? How shall we teach reading? And so on. Some of these questions are interesting and some are not. But what they have in common is that they evade the issue of what schools are for. It is as if we are a nation of technicians, consumed by our expertise inhow something should be done, afraid or incapable of thinking about why.

If you want to know the root cause of our public disengagement in education, and the battles between educators and community leaders, this is it: We have different ideas about what public education is and what it is supposed to do. Fix that and you'll take a huge step forward.

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