THEY WEAR THEIR LEARNING WITH
Imagination is a contagious disease. It cannot be measured by the yard, or
weighed by the pound, and then delivered to the students by members of
the faculty. It can only be communicated by a faculty whose members
themselves wear their learning with imagination. (Alfred North White-
head, Aims of Education, p. 97)
Educators in public education throughout the country are under siege. Why? State and federal legislators assert that quantifiable gains on standardized tests equal “student achievement.” Throughout the country schools and districts are ranked and labeled as failures or put “on probation” if gains are not made. Rankings are made public so that parents can be given the choice to move their children to a “successful” school, one with high test scores. The ideology of the free market has been translated into the realm of education. Higher student “achievement,” equated with teacher performance, is commodified and advertised on the web so that communities can benefit from increased real estate prices or not.
In response to ever more pressure, beleaguered school districts, whose funding is increasingly based on test results, unintentionally threaten students’ well being by cutting fine arts programs, school libraries, and other enrichment approaches that might not be quantifiable. Dwindling resources are funneled into test preparation materials offered by textbook companies, technology venders, or state approved service providers. Within the context of this punitive kind of “accountability” cycle, exemplified by the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act or No Child Left Behind, key questions have been eliminated from the public discourse because the results cannot be quantified. What is the purpose of education? What knowledge is of most worth? What is the value of public education? How does formal education, in the context of schooling, influence our life’s journey as human beings?
The philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead offers us deep insight into these questions because he assumes that “the learned and imaginative life is a way of living, and is not an article of commerce” (1929a, p. 97). A process philosophy of education provides a divergent and concrete view of what the life of schools and school districts can become.