The School in the White Suit

Article excerpt

Those who passionately espouse grandiose goals, purposes, and priorities for the schools would be horrified if what they say they want actually came to pass, Mr. Beymer asserts.

THE pastor admonishes from the pulpit, "Be careful what you pray for, because it just might be granted." The same advice can be offered with regard to the plethora of current proposals that focus on the goals and purposes of public education. Contemporary schools are suffocating beneath an avalanche of grandiose goals, purposes, and priorities passionately espoused by those who would be horrified if what they say they want actually came to pass.

Back in 1951 Sir Alec Guinness starred in a movie titled The Man in the White Suit. The story line followed the trials and tribulations of a young scientist in a textile plant who invented a cloth that never wore out, tore, or became soiled. The consequences were predictable; the textile, fashion, retail clothing, laundry, and dry-cleaning industries united to destroy him and his creation. This movie teaches a lesson appropriate for our times.

Suppose someone discovered a miraculous method that would result in the instant achievement by all our children of all the educational goals being publicly touted. Perhaps the miracle would be a chemical additive that could be slipped into school cafeteria tacos or a series of short subliminal spot messages that we could embed into episodes of "The Simpsons" or play on MTV. Maybe it would just be a simple magic button. Should we add the chemical, broadcast the messages, or push the button? Be careful how you answer, for the consequences could be revolutionary.

Just imagine the mischief. Almost everybody would stay in school until graduation, which would mean at least a 30% increase in teachers, facilities, materials, supplies, equipment, and buses. There would be few dropouts to work in fast-food restaurants and other businesses that pay minimum wages and provide no benefits. …