Which school do you want to support?
By age five or six, American children begin their formal education. The process consumes a large fraction of their waking hours through adulthood. Taxpayers commit enormous sums to support this system. Families organize their lives around the bell schedule. Why do we do it?
At an individual level, of course, the "why" of education is almost meaningless. School is compulsory. It's what we're expected to do! Also, education is the only path to a job that pays a living wage. (Remember the old saw: "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance!")
The remarkable, revolutionary idea behind universal public education is that all young people are worth investing in.
At a societal level, the remarkable, revolutionary idea behind universal public education is that all young people are worth investing in, for reasons that are both philosophical and practical. Today, in principle Americans tend to believe that our democratic heritage applies to everyone. We have a shared stake in an educated society and an educated electorate. Our society values the individualistic ideal that a person's place in the pecking order should be earned rather than inherited, and that everyone should have a shot.
The public education system, even with all its flaws, is our biggest collective investment in our society. It is an expression of our belief in social mobility, and in the potential of each person to contribute something to this world we share.
And if that doesn't move you, most folks agree that they would rather pay for schools than for jails or soup kitchens. And who wants the kids just hanging around, getting into trouble? Better at school than at home, right?
The high level goals are easiest to agree on: we all want our children to emerge from their school years prepared for college, work, and citizenship. We want schools to help our children realize their potential. We expect students to emerge from school proficient, armed with certain fundamental knowledge and skills such as literacy and math.
Beyond the practical matters, however, we also expect schools to help transform children into flexible, decent, and broadly capable adults. In an evolving society and a rapidly evolving job market, we cannot pretend to know exactly what skills a child really needs.
This idea is far from new:
"At school you are not engaged so much in acquiring knowledge as in making mental efforts under criticism..."
At school you are not engaged so much in acquiring knowledge as in making mental efforts under criticism... you go to...school not so much for knowledge as for arts and habits; for the habit of attention, for the art of expression, for the art of assuming at a moment's notice, a new intellectual position, for the art of entering quickly into another person's thoughts, for the habit of submitting to censure and refutation, for the art of indicating assent or dissent in graduated terms, for the habit of regarding minute points of accuracy, for the art of working out what is possible in a given time; for taste, for discrimination, for mental courage and mental soberness.
William Johnson Cory, Headmaster at Eton, 1861
This lesson concludes the introductory chapter of Ed100. The core lessons of Ed100 are organized with a big picture in mind: "Education is Students and Teachers spending Time in Places for learning with the right Stuff in a System with Resources for Success. So Now What?" For a graphical summary, have a look at the EdPrezi.
The next lesson will shift the focus to ideas about Students.
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