Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Let's Push Back

In School and Society, John Dewey described the school as a social microcosm that the young should find consonant with a humane and functional society. He assumed that the social ethos the young experienced, day in, day out, would reinforce the influence of a well socialized school.

Were Dewey writing now, the resulting book would be Society against the School. The school struggles as the social ethos constantly carps that the schools and the teachers are failing the nation, putting it at risk. Critics sound as if all the other elites were doing an exemplary job in their domains, upholding the interests of the nation through selfless wisdom, while the schools alone subvert the nation's prospects. This carping damages educational effort, but it is a symptom, and not a cause, of how society has turned against the school.

Society at large has abdicated its educational responsibilities, treating the school as if it is the only educational influence at work in the formation of the young. Schools are limited, bounded institutions, whose proper business is essential to the well-being of all. Those who will take the trouble to go look for themselves, will find most schools remarkably well-organized and effective, despite the parsimony of their appearances. By and large, the pedagogical problem is not in the schools, but in society, in a social ethos in which prominent personages―politicians, executives, entertainers, media pundits―have ceased to recognize any responsibility for the educative implications of their actions.

Children are immensely energetic, curious about what is happening around them, observant and independent in drawing their own lessons from what they observe. Young persons do not simply aspire to learn at school whatever school might teach. Young persons perceive that they must make a full future for themselves in a complex world. Hence the totality of life is their object of study. They learn, 24/7/365, from all that happens around them. A society that assigns all educative responsibility to its schools alone will be a sloppy, ineffective educator, no matter how excellent its schools and teachers may be.

Educational accountability must start, not simply with the school, but with the society at large. Before economists become puffed with pride over the artfulness of their Teacher Value Added metrics, they should put forward similar measures of Leader Value Subtracted. The educational effects of actions in commerce, communications, politics, entertainment, and public life are the pedagogical context within which the schools do their work. Anyone with a modest sensitivity to the inner lives of children and youths will realize that the aggregate of pedagogically contextual behavior has become educationally corrosive. Talk about the accountability of schools and teachers, without simultaneously attending to the educational accountability of the whole society, illustrates how society has turned against the school. Let's push back, analyzing the miseducation of the public wherever it occurs.

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