Deciding What School Is For
Debates concerning what to do about the deterioration of public education appear to be honing the matter down to an essential question: What is elementary and secondary education for?
Retired founding editor of Education Week Ron Wolk appears to take what might be seen as the establishment side of that question:
Is a rigorous high-stakes standardized test appropriate to assess all children? How does treating all students alike accommodate the enormous diversity of students in their interests, their socio-economic background, their cultural differences and their learning styles?
The answer to Wolk’s first inquiry, I’d suggest, might best be phrased as a return question: “Assess all children” on what? Standardized tests may not “accommodate” the diversity of qualities and interests, but that doesn’t justify changing the practical import of a diploma, which does and should have a specific meaning. Graduation from high school is an academic achievement, not a statement that the system was able to find some redeeming quality in the student.
In keeping with the creeping mentality of secular statism, we seem to be elevating school to status of comprehensive development. Writes Wolk:
Yet we treat young people as if the only thing we need to know about them (or care about) is whether they meet rigorous standards in math and English. We seem to care very little about their character, their habits of mind and behavior, how hard they work, what social skills they have, and what they aspire to be.
That may or may not be true, but it’s wholly appropriate for those who interact with children in an academic setting to address them mainly in terms of academics. Teachers, administrators, counselors, and coaches should never lose sight of the fact that students are human beings, and therefore more than the sum of their classroom and athletic achievements, but their total development as human beings is not, should not be, and cannot be the responsibility of a universal education system.
This conceptual error may be at the heart of more problems than just our waning academic prowess as a nation.