Thursday, January 5, 2012

Goal of Education

Edward Thorndike wrote, "for a large number of children the possibility of being a great benefactor of humanity, as teacher, physician, moral leader or the like, is nil....... if one restricted their education to preparation for the loftier would be giving them an education unfitted to their capacities and to what the world needs of them."
What is the goal of education? Why do we educate our children? It seems that the goal is black or white- to enlighten people and encourage a life-long quest for knowledge, or to develop a person who is prepared for adulthood and the workforce, with a "place" in society. For some reason, schools seem to exist in a vacuum where, instead of finding the best of these tenets, they ignore them altogether, but claim the opposite. The Progressive movement brought about a lot of educational reform, and while I am a harsh critic of the movement's impact on education, I will briefly say some good came out of it - but that is for another post, another day. The Progressive movement yearned to implement a fair and equal education (doesn't that sound great?) in what I feel were very segregated, stereotypical, racist means. Vocational education is a major Progressive reform, and one would think, how wonderful, preparing students who are not college bound, to find a great job, enter the workforce with skills, and what a great place for non-traditional students. Heck, I can agree with that, as I have had students who ended up in apprenticeships and the like and succeeded beyond even their own imagination, so yes, college is not for everyone, and all children deserve a education to best "fit" them, where they can blossom. However, if we decide for the student which "pathway" to take- college bound, vocational ed, etc, isn't that denying them rights and freedoms, and isn't that being judgemental? The "evil" of vocational ed is that when created, the Progressives made it specifically for the "negro", the girls, the children in poverty. They did not want the downtrodden to aspire to a broken, hopeless dream of being a successful, college-bound, elitist (because recall, the IQ and standardized tests "proved" that these students were less-than). I do not see any "good intentions" in the drive behind vocational ed, but only if you look deep, under the covers, do you see it for what it is- institutionalized racism, classism, and control. The majority of people- myself included, once- think that vocational ed is, as I said, "wonderful, preparing non traditional students for success". Too bad it isn't that way. And now, with NCLB and the pressure to have all students "proficient" in the standardized tests, there isn't any room for vocational ed, whether good or bad. Vocational ed cannot be assessed via a standardized test, and it is not standardized, therefore it is worthless in our current educational climate. Why teach a child how to administer a blood test on a patient, or dismantle an engine, when you HAVE to teach them the quadratic equation and stoichiometry, to pass the test?
Wait, you may say to me, I thought you were for an education that has rigor, a private-school, college level, enlightenment era style education, and yet you're flip flopping here. To defend myself, I believe education should teach students some life and job skills, as well as curiosity, knowledge, etc. I think education is not black and white in that aspect. I have had students who leave high school completely unprepared for adulthood. In fact, I know it first-hand. I took the "smart" path and enrolled in AP courses and graduated in the top 5% of my high school class, and yet I hadn't a clue how to determine a tip or discount, how to file taxes, how to dress for success, etc. I do NOT think, as some Progressives did, that education should only teach these skills, or only teach them to select students. I feel life skills are a must in schools, but not a focus- perhaps it should be a one semester course. I think education should indeed educate, enlighten, inspire... everyone. Sure, some students cannot master or do not wish to master the quadratic equation or stoichiometry, but that does not mean that you simply dumb everything down enough that learning is dull, rote, disconnected, nor does it mean you force the child into learning it. I recall in high school that I despised my Algebra II class, and saw no point to it. Whenever I'd ask anyone why I HAD to take it, I was told either "well, you have to as a college pre-req" or "well, it exercises your mind." Sorry, but, no. I have never used ANY of my Algebra II math in life, so why did I sit and waste an entire years, an hour a day, in a pointless class? Why is it I graduated with knowledge of cosine and vector graphs and yet, I had completely forgotten how to divide a fraction or calculate tax, because those skills were reserved for the "dummy" group that got the privilege of taking consumer math- math you can use! I do not advocate removing algebra from schools, but perhaps we should give students a choice in their education. I'd have gladly chosen consumer math over algebra II, writing for publishing over English I, and the like - and I think I'd have enjoyed school more, and got more out of it. However, just because I would have taken "dummy math" does not mean I should get a dumbed down education, as Progressives may have proposed. There should be rigor, relevance, critical thinking, hands on learning, application, freedom, choice, etc in ALL courses. And in case it hasn't been emphasized, school staff and "experts" should NOT have any say in what courses or pathways a child decides upon, or else we'll just have reform on paper and be back to marginalizing students and putting the "unfit" (aka minority or low income) students into the "dummy classes" which solves nothing. A child should own their education since it is for, well, them. A cooperation of parent and student can help determine coursework. Socialization, preparation for life, etc can be a product of education, but not the goal. Education should give students the tools for living, but that can be approached through choice and curriculum. Who says consumer math cannot have project based learning as a final project, where students file taxes or balance a workplace budget or what have you? Why can't a basic American History course teach - instead of "social studies"- the connectedness of historical events, the philosophies behind them, the hidden histories....and the ability for a student to determine on their own what they believe to be the "real" history, the two sides to every story? Why can't we offer every child a "world class", private- school, college level style of education, tailored to each child's needs based on what THEY decide, not what some biased exam, given just once, determines? Why can't we teach our students to think critically, analyze, interpret, connect, compose, create.... why can't we teach students to develop their individual ideas and dreams, to think for themselves, to learn what they deem valuable?

Ah...yes...because this would shake up the Progressive Utopia, the idea that only the top few percent of people can succeed, rule, manage, or think. If suddenly the masses thought for themselves and began to question the world around them, the master planned society that's been built up for over a century would be dismantled. Since the masses are too unfit to do things on their own, pandemonium would break out! Heck, we'd end up with a world reminiscent of the Age of Englightenment or Colonial America, yet modern. I think this strikes fear in the ruling elite's eyes. Also, as they said, why should a "dummy", say, a fast food cashier, know, or need to know, about the philosophies of the Founding Fathers or the beauty of iambic pentameter in Shakespeare's sonnets? I mean, what good would that do them, when their place in society is a cashier? Wouldn't this knowledge be a waste? I think not. I say, let the cashier decide if it is a waste or not. Education is not a product that must be used in its entirety, there will be some bits and pieces not used, not applicable to a career, but that have some other intrinsic value only the user, the educated, knows of.

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