Thursday, July 10, 2008

Wish List for the New Administration

This is my first blog post; thanks, Leonard for getting this initiative off the ground and for inviting me to participate. I haven’t quite “decompressed” from the spring semester, as I went right into the summer semester, so I’m going to take your invitation literally (you promised “a paragraph”) and try not to be overwhelmed by some of the latest detailed, lengthy and philosophically thoughtful posts. What I’d like to initiate is a blog strand that discusses what the presumptive Democratic and Republican presidential candidates have to offer in the way of new and fresh ideas about education. Are we in for more of the same no matter which party attains presidential power? Will the dance to the right, left, and center towards desired constituents neutralize any potentially powerful ideas for change? Each of them - McCain and Obama - have “issues” that they have offered some commentary on: perspectives on national standards, educational choice and competition, character education, merit pay, etc. I’d like to suggest that we take one issue at a time, and try to generate as much “complicated conversation” (thanks to Bill Pinar for that phrase) about it as we can. I would like to see what collective, pragmatic inquiry looks like when we take on issues that have the potential to go beyond traditional right/left ideologies. How might we, as Kathleen Knight-Abowitz suggests in her blog post of July 2, “remain committed to the questions rather than one fixed set of answers,” and maybe, just maybe, influence the course of events? If progressive educators could prioritize our policy wishes, how might that list read? What role would we want a new president to play in the formulation of federal education policy? I suspect we are all very hopeful about opportunities for real change, but where should Dewey-inspired educators put their focus, in terms of influencing policy?

1 comment:

Susan Laird said...

Thanks, Kathleen. Sorry to be chiming in late. I've tried to pick up your invitation in my response to Brian Burtt's Obama video (7/16/08), but did not pick up there your excellent plea for a list of policy priorities.

However, I do think such a list might come out of conversations that make the complicating shift in perspective that I am suggesting there. I think ad hoc innovations of myriad sorts might make policy proposals far more productive educationally than lists emerging out of the current narrow-minded focus on NCLB. I think there needs specifically to be public support for ad hoc experimental efforts (perhaps inspired by Jane Addams Hull House, Myles Horton's Highlander Folk School, and other such wild-cards besides Dewey's Lab School), efforts that aim specifically to address various aspects of the full challenge of educating children and adults to live wisely and well in a diverse, dynamic, and ecologically endangered society.

What disappoints me about the current political campaign dialogue is that it is all framed in terms of micro-policies, this little perk and that little tweak, this little band-aid and that minor surgery, not in terms of an overall policy strategy for making it possible for education (not just schooling) in the US to become the exhilarating imaginative endeavor it can be and must be if we are to experience anything like democracy in the 21st century. It may be hard to translate that kind of wish into a policy list, except to head that list with pleas for public support to experimental ventures that can build educative inter-generational, multicultural, truly coeducational communities. Another item might be to fund qualitative assessments of whole communities in terms of how educative or miseducative they are--not in order to damn the communities, but in order to fund experimental energies to transform them (not just their schools) educatively. This is just the start of a brainstorm your post has prompted in me. I look forward to others' thoughts on this as well as your own further thoughts. Thanks again.