Tuesday, June 15, 2010

School and Society

I just finished a semester long course in educational history here in the United States from the colonial period through today. As a student, with formal schooling of some 22 years, you would think you would gain a little of the history just by osmosis. That wasn't my experience! While this course was limited to public school education, the larger context of understanding history through a lense like educational policy provides insights into so many other realms. I'm grateful that this was part of my curriculum and it does provide a solid basis for understanding existing vocational and adult educational programs (including training and education in the workplace).

The text we used was called School and Society: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives by Tozer, Senese and Violas. It should be required reading prior to any public speaking on educational policy or school reform.

Prior to reading the text, I held the opinion that most of my formal schooling involved education. When I arrived at college, from the welcoming convocation onwards, the Benedictines instilled the value of liberal arts education. Not to say that I would exclude experiences of training and schooling co-existing at different periods. My experience of education is personally transformational. I hold a different worldview and am a different person because of the learning experiences I have had inside and outside of formal education. Apparently, there have been many educators and public servants that had a hand to play in my positive experiences. It might be surprising to some that educational goals are very poorly aligned in the history of the United States despite the contemporary nationalization of educational aims.

The system in place today, evolving from the efforts of Jefferson and Mann and the others we encountered this semester, still appears ill equipped to handle the challenge. Every year we are bombarded with reports that American students are far out-ranked in comparison to students from other nations and yet educational reform never seems to address this discrepancy or balance the inequities within our nation. Our educational system is barely able to articulate its own failures in relation to its espoused values and the continuing imbalance in class, race and gender. This inability is partially due to our national political economy and our national ideologies which, in fact, have failed to produce what Jefferson hoped for - the natural aristocracy. In a "free" society, it is truly amazing how difficult it is to report that we don't all experience the same educational opportunities and that all of our interests and freedoms are collectively subjugated to the dominant majority (not even a real majority). So, I continue to wonder if Jefferson's fourth tier of education, life-long learning is, in reality, not much in practice at all. After some 200 years of practice, are we better equipped to take on the educational reform needed today? We are far from being any less divided despite the many advances made.

Until we are better able to articulate our freedoms and our current reality, I am much more comfortable with state and federal involvement with our education. Few parochial minds are globally oriented. Nothing short of the goal of the formation of global citizens who have been educated in what it means to be human is imperative for America and the world. We can't get there until we seriously confront the brutal reality of where we are now.

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