Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The purpose of general education (paca)

There have been a couple interesting posts lately on The Moderate Voice by one of the co-bloggers Polimom about education. She lives in Houston, it seems, and some of the schools there have reached drop-out rates possibly over 50%. She says that one thing she's noticed in her conversations about educational reform is that people all have different ideas concerning what the purpose of universal education is. Here are her questions:

Is the goal a literate society whose citizens can support themselves? To participate in / understand the issues that affect them?

Or is it to compete in a global economy?

Is it to educate to some common denominator? Or instead, is it to take each individual to his/her fullest potential?

Am I way off base and it’s something else altogether?

So what do people here think the goal is? I don't have a great answer myself.

Here's what I came up with as a comment on her post:

"I agree that it’s very confusing, and I have no wisdom. The only productive thought I have at the moment is to distinguish universal government-sponsored education from education generally. Those should have different purposes. Education as a whole is a life-long endeavor whose endeavor is for people to reach their greatest potential. This might be through englightenment of the mind, but just as practically and importantly, it might focus on obtaining specific skills required for a certain employment. After all, we spend half our waking lives at our job, we will certainly be reaching our greatest potential if that employment is meaningful to ourselves and our community.

But the goal of universal education?

Not exactly the same. I think it’s something closer to giving someone abilities to make their own decisions in their society. So still student focused. If you can’t do basic math, read, or know how your society functions (history, gov), your choices are extremely limited. But at some point, usually around high school, the student has the ability to reason well enough to make their future decisions. When that happens, you are moving from universal education to personal education.

I don’t think this works, but it’s the best I’ve got right now."

What do you think?

UPDATE: For others who are interested in this issue, you might wish to link over to the commission's report that got polimom thinking. On the moderate voice blog, polimom mentioned that one of my comments there was similar to some of their recommendations, which means that these commissioners must be doing something right. I, however, have not read it yet, as the executive summary is 27 pages long. One more useful thought is: let's say you agree with the "radical" recommendations in the report. Do we have to wait for the President of the United States to agree before we do anything, or can something be done in the meantime, i.e., at the federal or state level? You would hope so. However, I fear that No Child Left Behind (and other Washington programs) have such control now over all local programs, that there's little that can be done. People can read the report and let me know.


-E said...

i don't have a complete answer, but i get angry when i hear people who don't have school aged children or send their kids to private school say they don't want to pay taxes to support public education. if we as a community are unwilling to support each other and make sure all children have a basic education, all of society will be affected. uneducated or undereducated children now, lead to adults who cannot find legal gainful employment later.

bunnygirl said...

I think the term "general education" says it all. Public K-12 education should provide a solid foundation from which students can pursue their dreams. What most kids think they want to do at eighteen isn't at all what they're doing ten years later, so a solid grounding literacy and basic math is essential. But to me, that's the bedrock of it all.

Of course, it's good for schools to provide electives and advanced courses from at least the middle grades on up. There will always be go-getters. But everyone who is capable should graduate with enough of a base that they can decide, like my husband did at 35, that they want to go go college after all, damn it!

But as for cultivating highest potential, I'd say leave that for college, electives, and extra-curricular activities. Public schools can't bring people to their highest potential unless they're already motivated, and motivation comes from within. No public school can provide that.