26 May 2009

the world of education

I've spent the last year or so immersed in education. Paul was teaching in the jackson public schools - physical science and ap physics, and i was teaching preschool - the Young Threes at a great little Methodist preschool very close to home. Very different worlds we were in, but educational worlds all the same.

Add to our education jobs the fact that Ada Brooks will turn five in June, and thus be ready to start Kindergarten in the fall - real school, big school. (She was in Pre-K 4 this year.) We've been in investigatory-decision-making mode all year about that.

There are so many different places to start about education - what one thinks is best for society as a whole, what one thinks is worthwhile, what works, which aspects of an education should be prioritized above others, etc. But the most tangible, applied moment in that debate - the debate about what education means to you and what you believe about it - is when your first child approaches that fifth birthday - that getting ready to start 'real school' moment.

What do we want for her and the rest of the ever-growing Forster brood, in terms of their education?

Well, there are the obvious things -
  • to be challenged
  • to be loved
  • to be nurtured and encouraged
  • to be held to a high standard
  • to have fun
  • to be taught by knowledgeable, competent, kind people
Then there are things that are important to Paul and me that are important to many others, but may not be as apparent or universal:
  • for our children to develop a love of books
  • for them to realize that all facts are part of a bigger story, and that story is ultimately their story
  • for them to appreciate interconnectivity and synchronicity - to realize how cool it is, for example, that calculus was discovered nearly simultaneously in two different countries because of the arc of history and where Leibniz and Newton were in that arc.
And then there are the things that are more unique desires - we certainly are not alone in these, but i believe we are in the minority:
  • for our children to always learn and know their political history as intertwined with a history of their faith, that of the Christian church
  • for them to know that almost every fact carries with it moral implications
  • for them to know that they are but nanos gigantum humeris insidentes (dwarves standing on the shoulders of giants) [side bar: there is an entire wikipedia page outlining the history of this phrase - so glad to know.]
  • for their spiritual development to be held up as inseparable from and as important as their intellectual development
  • for the following attributes to be purposefully fostered: humor, humility, honesty, introspection, intelligence, intentionality.
  • for them to realize that their education and abilities bring with them unspeakable responsibility.
  • for them to have peers who are encouraged in a similar direction by their parents.
And a couple of things that are just picky:
  • for philosophy to be taught long before college
  • for their teachers to be funny people
  • for them to learn about their environment and how to be good stewards of it.
I am fully aware of the two (main) critiques of this ambitious list of mine:

1) That is asking way too much of the education system
2) Many of those things are parental, not educational, responsibilities.

The response to number one is that our educational problems stem primarily from a lack of standards - mainly a lack of standards by the parents of the students being educated. So maybe my standards are too high. Or maybe we've become complacent about our mediocrity. Because really, no matter how many Parents for Public Schools rallies are held lauding the accomplishments of various schools, we, in America, and most especially Mississippi, get excited by phrases such as "Adequate Yearly Progress" (emphasis mine), "Functional Literacy", and "Mid to Low Dropout Rate".

Basically, we are all but thrilled with mediocrity. Personally, when Ada Brooks popped out into the world, one of my first wishes for her was not "I want her to struggle within a mediocre system." It was more like "I hope I will always make decisions to provide the best opportunities for her to live up to her God-given potential."

The response to the second objection, that some of these responsibilities are parental rather than educational, is that the very distinction is a false dichotomy. The parents of and educators of children should always be working toward the same goals - or it will never work (as we see today). The idea that you can send your child off to learn 'facts' - reading, writing, 'rithmetic - and then have her come home to learn the moral import of those things - is short sighted, naive and perhaps more idealistic than my little lists above.

The idea that those seven hours a day can be spent learning the things that are the 'responsibility of educators' and then the child can come home and learn the things that are the 'responsibility of parents' excuses both the educators and the parents from doing their jobs. The whole-person education of my children is always mine and Paul's responsibility.

If Ada Brooks turns out to be unkind, unloving, and impatient, or worse, there will be a line of people ready to, rightly, assign a large part of the blame to us. But if she turns out not to be able to read (or, heaven forbid, to be one of those people always being interviewed (and filmed by less than talented videographers) who doesn't know simple facts, like that Canada is our neighbor to the north), for some reason, people will look to the 'education system' as the entity at fault.

If your child cannot read, doesn't know his or her colors, has trouble with simple multiplication, doesn't understand United States government, are you seriously going to blame someone other than yourself? What sense does that make? How are those different skills than learning to treat people with kindness and patience or learning to be mannerly or to practice good hygiene?

Maybe they are different in that one would be more willing to delegate responsibility of teaching those 'academics' to someone else. Which is great. I hope to be able to delegate a large amount of my children's educations to people who are, by vocation, educators. But just like when Bernie Ebbers, Ken Lay, George W. Bush or any other leader delegates, he or she is still ultimately responsible, when we parents blessedly find someone to whom we can delegate some of the educational duties concerning our children, we are still ultimately responsible.

Supreme Court Justices don't write their own opinions. Law clerks do. (Law clerks that have been very carefully vetted and chosen from among a slew of amazingly successful, clamoring third year law students.) But the Justices, not the clerks, have to stand behind the opinions and are judged by their contemporaries, and by historians forevermore, on the merits of the substance of the opinions, but also the precise wording of what is written. Doesn't seem fair. But of course it is. Because they are the ones who are charged with interpreting the law.

And we are the ones, as parents, charged with the education of our children. I believe we will be held responsible by God, and that we should be held responsible by society.

1 comment:

  1. AL (I think I'll just call you Al from now on, can I??? ;))

    I love you and miss your conversations. I just spent the last hour reading your entire blog. So very happy to have found someone who is as intellectually stimulating as you. We need to chat soon!