I’ve had plenty of things to say about education on this weblog. Since I’ve spent the last fifteen years teaching, the subject comes naturally to me. And it’s not just out of self-interest that I support universal and public education. But a recent article on The Huffington Post about Common Core standards that are spreading a layer of varnish over our failing schools reminds me of the need to be clear about what exactly we’re trying to do in education in the first place.
1. Critical thinking
Another way to put this is logic. Knowing how to think correctly and how to spot erroneous thinking–in others and in one’s own thoughts. That is the one essential skill that students and indeed citizens must have. That skill alone, what the ancients would have called philosophy, makes everything else accessible and useful.
2. Other skills
These certainly include literacy and numeracy, civics, history, and science, among many other things. Students should have opportunities to find careers that suit them and to learn the skills necessary for those fields.
Schools should show students things that they might not otherwise encounter. Not everyone gets to see great paintings, listen to music beyond what’s immediately popular, or hear about the many claims of science and religions at home. To make an informed choice, we have to have some notion of the broad world that we have yet to explore personally.
My advisor in college told me that I needed to take a P.E. class–to knock a ball around or something similar. I objected until I saw sailing as one of the options. But in the fine tradition of the Greeks, an educated person improved the body as well as the mind, and given our health concerns in the modern age, that old idea remains valid.
What is the purpose of all of this? For one thing, a wealthy nation should have excellent citizens. But a nation in which citizens participate in their own governance requires an educated population to function. Another article on The Huffington Post decries the influence of money in politics, but with educated voters, money becomes irrelevant.
And that is the point. Citizens make a society in their own image, and I want our image to be an educated one.
Crossposted on English 301: Reading and Writing.
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