Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Well that proved popular...

I checked my site stats today and was pleasantly surprised to see that yesterday's post generated about 3x as much traffic as normal. If you are coming from odonnellweb, welcome. Hope you enjoy your time at Page 132.

Let me put out a little disclaimer: Mr. O'Donnell wrongly asserts that I've set out to defend public education. In fact, I didn't. My post was entitled "Who is making the argument FOR public schools?" A slight, but important, difference. Also, I have to admit a little blogging laziness. I googled "arguments against homeschooling" and took one of the top ones. From the context of Mr. O'Donnell's post, apparently the homeschooling sub-culture has already shot down "our favorite school janitor." I believe the janitor has some valid points, but like I said in my original post, I'm not interested in making the argument against homeschooling. I'd much rather see arguments in favor of public schooling.

Now let's get to the meat. Chris O'Donnell (no - not THAT one!) attacks me in his post with the following-
Expat Teacher provides the goals of education.

There are three options for the goals of education: Democratic equality, social efficiency, and social mobility.

Notice anything missing? Maybe reading? Maybe math? Maybe the ability to form complete sentences? How about the ability to reason?

Expat, in his defense of public education, lays out for the whole world the primary problem with public education.

Education isn't even one of their goals.
I don't know anything about Mr. O'donnell other than what he has on his bio page, but he either didn't understand my article or he is short-sighted about education.

It is a given that schools will teach reading, math, reasoning and complete sentences. The big question is: why do we teach those subjects? Why not teach others like watching grass grow, navel gazing and observing paint drying? The reason is one or a combination of the 3 options I outlined - Democratic equality, social efficiency, and social mobility.

The purpose of education determines what we teach.

Those favoring democratic equality will want all of Mr. O'Donnell's cherished subjects taught because such subjects will make the students better citizens. Students need math skills so they understand taxation, budgeting, etc. They need literacy because one can't be involved in society without being able to read and write. Students will need reasoning skills so they can differentiate between competing claims in the public arena (whether those of a political platform or whether soap can be both new AND improved).

Adherents to the social efficiency model (mostly seen in SE Asia - Malaysia in particular) want all subjects taught in order to produce good workers. Therefore math, reading, and writing will all be taught because countries can't compete without a work force with basic skills. They may or may not want to teach reasoning because it doesn't directly apply to getting a job. Or, like in Germany, some students destined for management positions will be taught reasoning/philosophy while assembly line and/or tradesmen will get more hands-on work in their future profession.

Finally, proponents of social mobility will want everything Mr. O'Donnell wants, but just more of it for their students. Education is a consumable commodity and therefore the secret is to have MORE of it than the person next to you. You need a higher level math scores, better grades, an internship at a magazine or a book published, etc. to differentiate between one student and the unwashed masses.

Discussion about education in America is almost exclusively about the social mobility option. Vouchers, high stakes tests, etc all assume that teachers produce 'education' and students consume it. I'd like to see someone start making the argument that education benefits all of society and not just individual consumers.

I hope this explanation disproves the allegation that in public schools "education isn't even one of their goals," but instead shows that those of us working in education are not only thinking about WHAT should be taught, but WHY it should be taught.

So I ask you, Mr. O'Donnell, do you know why you are teaching your children what you are teaching them?