Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Flow, Eros, and Ethos in Educational Renewal

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Flow, Eros, and Ethos in Educational Renewal

Article excerpt

What's the difference between school reform and school renewal? Mr. Goodlad provides some answers to that question.

THE FABRIC OF our society blends "the soft and tender" and "the hard and tough," with one tending to dominate the other in successive cycles. With regard to schools, I once conjectured that each cycle had a life span of approximately 22 years, during which either the soft and tender or the hard and tough rose to and then faded from dominance as the other began its ascendancy. The excesses accompanying the dominance of each side have been, I believe, a major factor in its subsequent descent.1

In 1986, in The Cycles of American History, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., posited a 30-year cycle of American politics, focused on Presidential leadership, that appears to provide an ideological context for my perceived cycles of schooling.2 During the concluding decades of the 20th century, he saw private interests holding sway over the public purpose that had been much stronger in the past.3 Wearied by sacrifice during decades of perceived public need, the people had turned more toward individualism and private interests, abetted by political leaders. As Neil Postman pointed out a decade after Schlesinger's analysis, the narrative of economic utility had taken over the reform of schools.4

Schlesinger predicted a growing sense of emptiness in the pursuit of private purpose that would surface increasingly as the nation approached the new millennium. He predicted a kind of disintegration that would lead once more to a strengthening of the narrative of public purpose, never dormant in any case: "There are enormous potentialities for disintegration in contemporary America the widening disparities in income and opportunity; the multiplication of the poor and underclass; the slowdown on racial justice"; and more.5

And so, is the imagined editorial in the currently nonexistent Atlanta Globe (see sidebar, page 572) a fantasy or a not unreasonable glimpse at an alternative narrative for schooling and education that is just beginning to appear on the horizon?

With the narrative of economic utility reigning supreme, with the drumbeat for hard and tough standards rising to a crescendo, and with alternative views brushed aside as soft-and-tender fluff, surely only a cockeyed optimist could anticipate a significant shift occurring any time soon. But we must remember that the frequency and the tempo of the rain dances are always increased as it becomes clear to the medicine men that the people must be distracted from the paucity of promised outcomes.

The educational narrative that has been pushed to the sidelines by the rhetoric and practices of current school reform is not new. Nor is it made up of a single, cumulative theme. It has surfaced again and again in the U.S. and abroad. But when it surfaces, it generally adopts a new perspective, and so it becomes difficult to connect its themes into a powerful, encompassing whole. In trying to make certain views and practices fashionable, advocates too often become excessive and bring down charges of faddishness on their own views as well as on the views and practices of those who share the general narrative but come at it from a different angle.

Nonetheless, there are sufficient elements in common to create a community of believers, a community that believes in the inherent value and equal worth of each human being, in education as an inalienable right, in the non-negotiability of education for its own sake, in the multiple ways humans learn, in the moral responsibility of all teachers (including parents) to assist young people in finding their own identities and developing moral dispositions, in resisting the pressure to value children as an investment in the economic well-being of adults, in the joy of teaching that arises out of helping others accomplish their goals within the bounds of democratic civility and civitas, and much more. …

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