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Thread: The education system

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    In a very round-about way you spared a sentence for the topic. What is the purpose of education. Is it vocational? Or to teach us our culture? Or to make someone well rounded?

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    Sapere aude Politesse's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jason Harvestdancer View Post
    In a very round-about way you spared a sentence for the topic. What is the purpose of education. Is it vocational? Or to teach us our culture? Or to make someone well rounded?
    I can tell you that the current position of the US government is in favor of seeing education as vocational training alone. Nearly every curriculum process I have been involved in since I started teaching has had economic viablity as its critical criterion. They call it "student success", but employability is always what they mean by that; the content of classes is irrelevant unless it connects to the latest buzzwords on Glassdoor somehow. Some in power are willing to give lip service to cultural education, well-informed citizenry etc, but at the end of the day only capitalist considerations will cause a program or policy to be created or destroyed.

    My sarcasm may betray that I am not exactly on board with this prerogative, but it is what's in practice right now. The traditional liberal arts education, and by extesion the responsibility of the academic system to produce new knowledge and expressions of humanity, are rapidly going extinct.

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    Veteran Member PyramidHead's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Politesse View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Jason Harvestdancer View Post
    In a very round-about way you spared a sentence for the topic. What is the purpose of education. Is it vocational? Or to teach us our culture? Or to make someone well rounded?
    I can tell you that the current position of the US government is in favor of seeing education as vocational training alone. Nearly every curriculum process I have been involved in since I started teaching has had economic viablity as its critical criterion. They call it "student success", but employability is always what they mean by that; the content of classes is irrelevant unless it connects to the latest buzzwords on Glassdoor somehow. Some in power are willing to give lip service to cultural education, well-informed citizenry etc, but at the end of the day only capitalist considerations will cause a program or policy to be created or destroyed.

    My sarcasm may betray that I am not exactly on board with this prerogative, but it is what's in practice right now. The traditional liberal arts education, and by extesion the responsibility of the academic system to produce new knowledge and expressions of humanity, are rapidly going extinct.
    The purpose of education in America is as I laid it out, I think: to reproduce the willingness and ability of the majority of people to receive the work that is imposed on us by capital. When children were no longer allowed to work in actual factories, schools started to become social factories. When women stopped doing the work imposed on them at home, industries were created to capture their labor as "service", and educational structures sprung up to support those jobs. You can't ask what the purpose of education should be without taking a hard look at what the purpose of the economy should be.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jason Harvestdancer View Post
    In a very round-about way you spared a sentence for the topic. What is the purpose of education. Is it vocational? Or to teach us our culture? Or to make someone well rounded?
    It's publicly funded daycare. Every time a teacher strike, or schools close, blah blah, there's always news about how parents are scrambling with what to do with their kids.

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    Sapere aude Politesse's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Trausti View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Jason Harvestdancer View Post
    In a very round-about way you spared a sentence for the topic. What is the purpose of education. Is it vocational? Or to teach us our culture? Or to make someone well rounded?
    It's publicly funded daycare. Every time a teacher strike, or schools close, blah blah, there's always news about how parents are scrambling with what to do with their kids.
    This is a fairly serious problem when both parents are working full time.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Trausti View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Jason Harvestdancer View Post
    In a very round-about way you spared a sentence for the topic. What is the purpose of education. Is it vocational? Or to teach us our culture? Or to make someone well rounded?
    It's publicly funded daycare.
    ^^^^ This ^^^^ The chief purpose of compulsory education laws is to make sure children aren't being put to work in sweat shops.

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    I taught from '76 to '07. I have no over-reaching plan for improving U.S. public ed -- but I have a few observations:
    1- The mania for testing is about the surest way to kill intellectual curiosity in children. Who would want to read a "text" in later life, when every "text" reading in school is followed by benchmark assessments? (For that matter, when have you ever heard an adult say to a librarian, "Where are your social studies books? I just love reading social studies.") One of my principals attended a talk by the head honcho at the Ohio Dept. of Ed., and one of the takeaways was the comment that, if you cover a 'text' with your class and do not follow up with an assessment, you have just wasted an educational moment. Sheeeesh. My favorite memory of 7th grade is the day our English teacher, Mrs. Briola, read O. Henry's 'The Last Leaf' to us. We talked about it afterward, but had no formal assessment, so, in the eyes of the ODE chair, that was wasted class time. Right. It happened 52 years ago, and I'm still thinking about it. I still remember how she reached the last line of the story and I could feel the hair rising on my head. A low gasp went through the class. I went on to read another 50+ O. Henry stories, which led me on to more writers. But the moment was wasted, lost, unutilized.
    2- American history is typically taught twice in a student's school years -- maybe 5th grade and then again in 9th or 10th grade. This is inexcusable -- there's too much to cover in one year, and it becomes a featureless, rushed, superficial study. It should be taught in two consecutive years (and even then there's a torrent of knowledge -- just imagine year one as Native American beginnings through the Civil War and year two as Reconstruction through Deconstruction, the Trump Era.) (Excuse the editorial, can't suppress it.)
    3- State history should be abolished by any state wise enough to see its priorities clearly. Let whatever you must know about your state emerge from American history. Too many of us leave our "home state" anyway. Dull as hell textbooks on states, too.
    4- High school students should have a civics course that adds a lot more knowledge of economics and employment and personal finances. In place of a one-time jobs fair, there should be a substantial emphasis on the realities of the American job market -- wages, outsourcing, etc.
    5- Gym class should be Lifetime Fitness (this is already true in some places.) The emphasis that was put on team sports in my school days was misplaced -- few of us engage in team sports after our teen years, but all of us need realistic exercise to have healthy lives. That insight was completely missing from my gym classes, as experienced in the 60s and early 70s.

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    Sapere aude Politesse's Avatar
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    State history can be quite interesting; the problem is that it tends to hit too close to home. Administrators and textbook publishers wouldn't want to cover genocide or slavery in local detail, because a lot of the families that committed the major crimes are still on the school board. So these issues are only tackled as "national" issues solved (presumably) very long ago, and education about the history of states is whittled down to dates and documents that everyone can agree on and that aren't too controversial. I guarantee you, students would be interested in an honest account of how most of the US States came into being. Sex and violence sell, for children just as well as for adults.

  9. Top | #29
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bomb#20 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Trausti View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Jason Harvestdancer View Post
    In a very round-about way you spared a sentence for the topic. What is the purpose of education. Is it vocational? Or to teach us our culture? Or to make someone well rounded?
    It's publicly funded daycare.
    ^^^^ This ^^^^ The chief purpose of compulsory education laws is to make sure children aren't being put to work in sweat shops.
    Preventing forced child labor is only part of it. Long before child labor laws, people like Jefferson recognized that public education was essential for democracy to have any value and for human liberty to be protected.
    He understood that each person voting in accord with a reasoned analysis of their interests is what allows for a democracy that protects liberty while advancing the common interests. And that without accurate knowledge of basic facts and of history, people were incapable of reasoned analysis.


    "I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think
    them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take
    it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional
    power."
    --Thomas Jefferson to W. Jarvis, 1820.

    Convinced that the people are the only safe depositories of their own liberty, and that they are not safe
    unless enlightened to a certain degree, I have looked on our present state of liberty as a short-lived
    possession unless the mass of the people could be informed to a certain degree.
    --Thomas Jefferson to Littleton Waller Tazewell, 1805.


    This was the basis for his strong advocacy of publicly funded primary education, plus publicly funded secondary education for more "gifted" students whose parents could not afford it, because he argued that it was critical for government representatives to well educated and that the people be able to select well educated representatives without being confined to wealthy who could afford more than a basic primary education. He first proposed such a system for Virginia in 1779 in "A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge". Later, based on these same principles, Jefferson along with Madison and Monroe created the explicitly secular public University of Virgina in 1819, where instead of only law, medicine, and divinity that private religious Universities taught, divinity/theology was explicitly left out and replaced with chemistry, ancient languages, modern languages, natural philosophy, and moral philosophy.

  10. Top | #30
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    Here's an issue then. The teaching of writing. It is in the province of the English department for historical reasons, but I'm not sure it belongs there.

    Overall, one can write about anything. Those who teach writing generally want you to write about their subject matter. So while a student might want to write an essay about baseball, the teacher assigns an essay about the symbolism in Dickens. I'm pretty sure Dickens would prefer to read an essay about baseball. What is being taught is that writing occurs generally in one area, and that is writing about writing. The writing assignment before college is the classic "five paragraph essay" in which the first paragraph is to state your point, paragraphs two through four are to give support for your point, and paragraph five, the concluding paragraph, is basically a restating of the first paragraph in sufficiently different words to make it not the same.

    An essay is supposed to be an exploration of a topic, and if an essay is successful it starts with a question and ends with a conclusion. That's my opinion. Some of my favorite papers to write were in my philosophy classes where I really was challenged to make a point.

    Just as a music critic need not be a composer, and a writing critic need not be a writer, a teacher of literature need to be a good writer. Yet to learn how to write well, you would want someone who does write to be your teacher, or at least your coach.

    But if an English teacher is not the best one to teach writing, who is?

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