“Schools should help students learn to respect values such as hard work, tolerance, democratic citizenship, the rule of law, and intellectual inquiry. The role of the school is to socialize children into existing norms and values.”
“Schools should help students gain critical distance from existing forms of social life, and help them develop capacities for individual autonomy. The role of the school is to help develop critical thinking (i.e. independent thinking) and self-governance.”
These reflect two contradictory views on the purpose of education in our country. I present these views to my college students who are just entering the education program at Eastern Washington University. I then make them select and endorse one of them. In general, their decisions are neither immediate nor easy, but I force them to choose only one. Selections made, I then have them discuss, sometimes debate, their choices and why their chosen view is the superior of the two. The discussions are often lively, especially at the beginning, each side sure they have chosen the “golden view,” but as the debate continues, most, if not all, begin to concede that each side has some redeemable qualities, and they begin to wonder if we couldn’t just combine the two for a better view. Of course, I acquiesce and tell them of course we can. We already do. As with all things in our country, there are no shortages of varying views, which unfortunately end up polarized, suggesting that the truth resides only on the ends of the spectrum, forcing us to choose one side or the other. But many of us know that is an unreasonable, generally unhealthy paradigm, and the truth really exists somewhere in the middle. And, so, I tell my kids–ready or not–they have to find their own truth about the purpose of education.
Each teacher enters the classroom with a particular worldview, which in turn will play a role in creating the culture of his or her classroom. In or out of teaching, one’s worldview plays no small role in creating the world one lives in, the world we see. It is certainly no different in teaching. But there is a difference, for the world we create in our classrooms is inhabited by young individuals who, too, are developing and refining their own worldviews, and as masters of the classroom universe, teachers have not only an incredible amount of autonomy but also an immense responsibility. We have an awesome power to do harm or good, and as kids live in our worlds (our classrooms), what happens there will have no small impact on the rest of their lives. THE REST OF THEIR LIVES. Power indeed. I like to think that my college kids take not lightly the responsibility they assume as they cross the threshold of their classrooms.
Yesterday, I was contacted by a former Cheney High student Rachael Hamby, who is in pursuit of a teaching degree at Eastern. She wanted to know what I believed “the purpose of the K-12 education is, or rather, should be.” Of course, and I let her know, she couldn’t ask me a simple question, so I was up half of the night thinking of my response, hoping to discover the profound truth and share it with the world this morning. And the answer? I don’t know the truth. I only know a truth, my current truth, for my “truths” have changed countless times in the past 20 years. This is the current truth in room 219, captured by Ted Dintersmith, a man on a mission to discover the true purpose of education, whom I highlighted in an earlier post. http://www.letschangeeducation.com/?p=193
“So back to that purpose question. Maybe, in the end, the purpose of school is to help our kids find their own sense of purpose. To prepare them for a life where they can set, and achieve, their own goals, not grind away to meet the needs of some bureaucrat or college admissions officer. Given decades of damage from our testing and accountability strategy, maybe it’s time to place our bets on a strategy that puts its weight behind engaging and inspiring our kids . . . and teachers. Imagine what our country is capable of if we figure out how to launch millions of purpose-driven kids into society prepared and energized to their world better through their talents, passions, developing skills, and ability to learn. Kids that are, truly, prepared for life.”
So, Rach. That’s what I have at the moment. It’s likely to change as I learn, reflect, and grow, but for now, this is the culture that I am cultivating in 219.
By the way, readers, if you read it, this is the Rachael from my poem, “I Wonder If They Know: Confessions from the classroom.” http://www.letschangeeducation.com/?p=246
I wonder if they know
That Rachel earned an A,
But I gave her a C.
It could not be helped.
She had not done
All her homework.
I will not tell
Of my now desperate hope
As I shy
From the mistakes of my past,
Clinging not to
The prejudice of grading
But the justice of learning.
I am so proud and pleased that this young lady is entering the profession. I am eager to learn of her journey to discover her own truths as she creates a world for her own students. Thanks for the tough question, Rach. Sorry about the “A” thing.