It's me doing a little posing while taking a break at the Ouray, Colorado Jeep Jamboree in 1995.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

My Brush with Higher Education

I have a friend who is working on her PhD in education. Among the requirements for her course in curriculum philosophy she has a weekly chat-room discussion with her professor and classmates. It takes place in the early evening. I have been monitoring this chat room with her. To keep up with the discussions, I have also been reading the assigned material.

I was never aware there are so many formal approaches to education. Our public schools basically employ a philosophy called Essentialism. This approach recognizes the need for providing knowledge in certain basic subjects -- reading, writing, math, civics, history, science and so forth -- and rating a student's grasp of the material as the basis for moving that student on to the next grade level. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program tests to this approach.

Essentialism is about the only way to educate masses of kids -- some who clearly don't want to be in a classroom or don't have any real aptitude to learn -- and provide them with the bare minimum with which to either move on to college or into the work force. It's a common-denominator approach that drags down more gifted students in the hope of not losing slower or less motivated students in the process. Consequently, many college freshmen spend the first year in remedial courses teaching them what should have been learned in high school. If this were a scholarly paper, I would research some numbers on this statement to present here. The information is readily available. But I am just blogging here; I'll leave it to you to do the research, if you are interested.

Virtually every other recognized, formal approach to education is aimed at more motivated students, in smaller classrooms with more specialized educators. Progressivism is an educational philosophy that rather than teaching basic subjects, concentrates on capitalizing on a student's individual interests, to present learning material. It relies much more on elective courses in place of the basics.

Perennialism focuses on truths passed on from the classic education of the Greeks and Romans. Truth is truth, knowledge is knowledge, and neither ever really changes. Yawn.

Somewhat conservative in my thinking, I got a charge out of Multiculturalism and Social Reconstructionism. These two approaches basically view traditional educational philosophy as being the product of white, homophobic, misogynist men. As such, it ignores our role as global citizens and views gays, lesbians, minorities, women and the disabled as second-class participants in the world order. Teaching traditional history, for instance, does nothing but reinforce negative views the aforementioned groups have about themselves: yea, white men; boo, everyone else. I guess that's one way to look at it.

My point in sharing all of this is that in monitoring this chat room that is populated with public school educators, I am filled with dread. That some of them don't seem overly bright is just one concern. That many of them would love to kick Essentialism aside for a more Multiculturalism approach is a huge concern. These are the very people who will be running our public education in 10 or 20 years. As a group, they are quite bitter about NCLB and how it forces them to teach certain material like, ummm, English. "What about students who don't speak English?" they would probably ask.

Because from their comments I can deduce that many of these chat-room participants are politically somewhat left of center -- as is the professor, I'd like to be able to point out to them that if it weren't for the federal government taking our tax dollars, laundering them through Washington and then giving them back to us as federal aid to schools, the feds couldn't attach any strings to local education. It's "Big" government at work. But I can't comment in this chat room, nor would I have the time to explain basic 8th-grade civics to people who don't believe civics a worthy subject for schools.

The lunatics are in charge of the asylum, or soon will be. This has been a real education for me.


  1. I can't figure out why we are wasting money on a federal Dept. of Education. Wait. I can figure it out. It's a federal boondoggle. What I should say is, I can't come up with a sane reason for it. I believe it was started under Carter. I guess that explains everything you need to know about it. Time for you to chime in, teacher David Green.

  2. Wow Russ. Before you categorize an entire profession as "lunatics" you should probably actually sit in on a typical day in the life of an American school teacher. From morning until the last paper is graded at night. (And yes, I do know that my last "sentence" is actually a fragment and not a complete sentence. ( Literary license.)

  3. My intention wasn't to smear an entire profession; I was really only speaking about this group that I follow week after week. I am sure there are sincere, capable educators out there doing a wonderful job. My friend, I am sure, is such a teacher. And I suspect, Carla, so were you. My point is that being exposed to this group hasn't filled me with confidence regarding public schools.