Magazine article Vocational Education Journal

Why Educate?

Magazine article Vocational Education Journal

Why Educate?

Article excerpt

Why do we bother to have schools? Or as Gerald Bracey put it recently in a Phi Delta Kappan article, supposing that all the kids did succeed, what difference would that make?

From far right to far left, and those in-between, all have agreed schooling "doesn't work," although what they mean by "work" is quite another matter.

In other words, that our schools are no good is almost universally accepted, so much so that any demur brings with it scorn; but what we mean by "good" goes unquestioned. Every taxi driver--including those who just arrived in America yesterday--and every reporter knows our schools are failures, including those who have never been inside the schools they're attacking.

If the people closest to schools think maybe they're a wee bit better than claimed, this is attributed not to their greater expertise, but to their defensiveness, their low expectations, their lack of standards--further proof of why those most involved with schooling should be least involved in reforming them.

I can't tell you the number of conferences and task forces to improve education I now go to in which I am the only school person present. School people are silent onlookers, parroting mantras about "all children can learn," and "it takes a whole village," and any other cliches they are offered.

When a highly respected and utterly reputable scientific study of schooling (The Sandia Report) is produced that questions some of the conventional wisdom, everyone--right to left--rushes in to bury it. The bad news is what we want. School people, too, it turns out, want bad news. Because like the class clown, it's better to have attention than none at all.

While patriotism requires us to claim our nation is best among all, somehow our schools are the worst. Toyota beat out GM because Japanese schools worked harder, and Germany rose from the ashes because of its tougher academic standards and better apprenticeship programs. We swallowed this line and seem embarrassed to note that our fortunes have been reversed without either society having changed its education system.

We could cut loose from such myth obsessions if we asked instead the simplest, childlike question, "What is it we would like schools to be like?"

I remember when I first started teaching, I went around asking six- and seven-year-olds if they noticed that we were very concerned to get them to read. And they certainly noticed. And then I said, "Why do you think we're so interested in reading?" They said that if you don't know how to read in first grade, then you won't get to second grade. So, I asked, "in second grade you can stop reading? …

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