Reading the turmoil around adoption of core national standards in the last couple of days, I’m back again in a fundamental observation about education. When we talk about what teachers should do in their classrooms, and what schools should “produce” in students, what we’re really talking about is what qualities and attributes kids need to have meaningful lives. What do we consider valuable? What makes a life meaningful?
The hardest project in my education course is on the purpose of education. Why do we do education? What is the purpose of schools? What my students are really being asked is, what is the purpose of life?
How do we, as Americans, answer this question? In lieu of better and more fulsome narratives, we have largely allowed the discourse to go this way: meaningful lives are had through intense competition with other people, besting them, making a lot of money, and living in the suburbs, driving an immense car, and having a lot of stuff. We need a new American dream?
Alfie Kohn makes this point when he describes how obsessively our educational reform discourse over that past 15 years has focused on global competitiveness, as if the greatest end result for all children is to be employed as a corporate gladiator in a globally competitive multinational. “Finally, what’s the ultimate goal here? It’s not to nourish curiosity, help kids to fall in love with reading, encourage critical questioning, or support a democratic society. Rather, the mantra is “competitiveness in a global economy” — that is, aiding American corporations and triumphing over people who live in other countries.
Looking at kids only as future potential employees does a terrible disservice to them. And yet I hear this dialog everywhere, in almost every school I am in.
How do we have impact on The Dream?