One of the reasons that so many people disagree about educational policies, both in the abstract and in the specific, is that the basic underlying philosophy of education may well be different for each of the individuals doing the disagreeing. And until one really considers the question, one may not have ever thought there was a question there to consider.
So ... the first question is this (and it’s a hard one):
What is the purpose of education?
Common reflex answer: “Oh, come on <rolling eyes> -- everybody knows that!”
Ohh? Really? <Spock-like eyebrow lifts toward edge of bangs>
OK, so what’s the answer?
Let’s take K-12 education first. That’s probably the easier one to resolve without shouting.
I’ll look at higher ed in my next post. (After all, I want y’all to be able to read what I write without having to take a nap in the middle of the post. Besides, it’s getting close to supper time, and I had a really long day!)
One of the stated purposes of public education in those early years was to “mold children into good citizens”. The following (from the philosopher Herbert Spencer) is an example of the notion of the 1800s: “For what is meant by saying that a government ought to educate the people? Why should they be educated? What is the education for? Clearly, to fit the people for social life — to make them good citizens. And who is to say what are good citizens? The government: there is no other judge. And who is to say how these good citizens may be made? The government: there is no other judge. Hence the proposition is convertible into this — a government ought to mold children into good citizens…” [ Source: http://mises.org/story/2226 ]
Well, THAT sure worked a treat, didn’t it? <giggle>
In Ohio, public education was established in 1825 (and was financed by property taxes from the very beginning). Public education in Ohio was not mandatory until 1921, at which time “once a child reached the age of sixteen years and had passed the seventh grade, the student could work as a farmer rather than attend school.” [ Source: http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/topic.php?nm=education&rec=9 ]
This implies that contributing to the workforce was a pretty important part of the picture as well. (True, only farmers are mentioned in the Bing Act, but at that time farming was an immense part of the Ohio economy.)
In the U.S., school-based apprenticeship programs are becoming more and more common (as they have been in other countries for generations) for children as young as 13, who are being asked to consider their career goals and make decisions that will affect their education and careers while still in middle school.
There are also those who believe that K-12 education is to create a relatively well-behaved, semi-rational being out of Mommy’s Little Monster. That might actually just be a subset of the first one about molding good citizens, so we’ll leave it at that.
Then there are those weird, funky hippie-folk and their ilk, who believe that the purpose of K-12 education is to help each young person learn to think critically, perform creatively and generally maximize his or her own individual potential. Children learn to use their imaginations to ask questions and create new ways of doing things.
... So what if they don’t pick a major until the third year of college?
So at this point we have three basic ideas about the purpose of education at the elementary level:
1. To mold good citizens
2. To prepare children for the adult world and workforce
3. To create creative, thinking individuals
True, you may see quite a bit of overlap among two of the three -- or all three. But it depends on your personal philosophy and Weltanschauung (“worldview”), don’cha see?
If you think that #1 and #2 overlap, you are looking at K-12 education as preparation for the adult workplace.
If you see overlap between #2 and #3, you are looking to the creative thinking power of today’s children to charge the workplace of tomorrow.
If you think #1 and #3 go together, you believe that the political and social scenes need and will need the creative power of individual thinkers to resolve the issues of the future.
If you think all three should be combined somehow into a workable system, and if you’ve been horrified at how most public K-12 education can hardly be called “education” -- then let’s do a nice, long lunch or teatime or something. You’re in my camp.