I am so pleased to see the posts on this issue of the purpose of schooling. I’m continuing to think and write about the issue myself, and I hope this blog becomes a place for lots of people to exchange ideas about the reasons we educate in a democracy. Let me also invite readers who teach in postsecondary settings, job training programs, adult literacy centers, etc. to join in. The discussion of the goals of education has become narrow in those settings as well.
I think there is a two-fold task before us.
The first part, as everyone has been saying, is to offer a richer, fuller list of reasons as to why we educate in a democracy. I think we already have a long list of good reasons, and many of them have been posted by the readers of this blog alone. True, much public discussion and deliberation would be needed to refine them and achieve consensus, but we’re not operating in a conceptual vacuum.
The big challenge right now as I see it is to get this discussion more fully into the policy arena and public sphere. That is the second part of the task that faces us, and I think it is formidable. Let me tell you a brief story.
I originally submitted the essay on NCLB that I referred to in my 3/19/08 post to one of the on-line politics and culture magazines, a place where I had published before. You can read excerpts on the 3/19/08 post or retrieve the whole articles from the “news” section of my web site, but, in a nutshell, I tried to give NCLB its due while explaining its limitations and unintended consequences. So, for example, I explained in non-technical language why a standardized test score is an inadequate measure of learning. This is the kind of thing, I figured, it would be good for the general public to consider.
The editor responded that the piece was too “wonky” and “cautious”. Could I send something that is “faster” and gets to “what works and what should be changed?” I understand the editor’s desire for writing that has some snap to it, but I was also struck by the characterization of the writing as “wonky”, which, to my mind, means overly laden with details that only a policy buff would appreciate. How did we get to the place, I wondered, where analysis equals tedious attention to detail, where reflection becomes “caution”, or, the subtext, boring?
As we continue to try to change the public conversation about education, we need to consider, as well, the limits of the mechanisms of public discourse. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, and will have more to say in future posts. But I’m curious about your thoughts and experiences. How do we get more deliberative discussion about the purpose of schooling out into the public sphere?