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April 14, 2006

more discussion of school policy

Harry Brighouse at Crooked Timber has written a response to my recent post on "major strategies for educational reform." There are a few interesting comments on the Crooked Timber page. I was struck by one person's claim: "The difficulty with looking within schools is that in my experience you need a hell of a lot of experience to understand an industry/system/sector from within. And by that I mean any industry, not just education." I'd respond that education shouldn't be viewed as a "sector," but rather as a highly normative (i.e., value-laden) activity of a whole community, including, but not limited to, what goes on in schools. Education is the process by which we replicate--and possibly enhance--our culture. If we convince ourselves that schools form a complex specialized system that we lack the expertise to understand or reform, then we abandon a crucial opportunity to shape our future.

Incidentally, I met last week with the social-science education director of a smallish European country. He had just completed an elaborate set of consultations to develop a national curriculum for "civics." The curriculum itself sounded very good to me. The process was deliberative and is overseen (at least in principle) by a democratically elected parliament. Now that decisions have been made, every school and teacher-training program in the country (secular or religious) must implement the curriculum. Inspectors will visit classrooms regularly to check on compliance. Apparently, they inspect Moslem schools monthly because they do not trust them to present the national constitution fairly.

This is one version of democratic education. The purpose of the civics curriculum is democratic; the methods and topics seem likely to produce democratic skills and attitudes; and the national agency responsible for the whole business is transparent and accountable to the voters. In contrast, democratic education in the US is ad hoc, uneven, and generally in decline. However, the European approach is not "community based," participatory, or pluralist. I was left thinking about the tradeoffs.

Posted by peterlevine at April 14, 2006 03:07 PM

Comments

I'd respond that education shouldn't be viewed as a "sector," but rather as a highly normative (i.e., value-laden) activity of a whole community, including, but not limited to, what goes on in schools. Education is the process by which we replicate--and possibly enhance--our culture.


That is a difficult position for the left to take. Most Americans are Christian, so the normative function of schools should reflect Christian morals. But of course that opens the Church and State issue. You can either support universal vouchers - or admit that a secular (and liberal) elite is trying to apply secular normative policies to the largely Christian community.


If I were a progressive, I'd pretend that schools are just about the three R's. Nothing to see here.

Posted by: Jibaholic [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 17, 2006 02:28 PM

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