A shortsighted vision

Carlin, David R. Jr.

OF SEVERAL HINDS David R. Carlin, Jr. A SHORTSIGHTED VISION THE ABC'S OF SCHOOLING One of the best in the long string of recent education reform reports came out in...

...Never mind either 615 that the shortness of human life, along with other aspects of the human condition that cabin, crib, and confine our potential, make it impossible that any human being, let alone a child or adolescent, will develop his or her "full potential...
...They are trained and paid, in other words, to carry about the logistics of the journey, not the destination...
...They are not trained to develop such an ideal...
...But another purpose is the good of the community the community conceived not narrowly, as to include only those living at the present hour, but broadly, to include generations that went before and others that will come after...
...When I say they are not well educated, I mean they are not persons of broad, high, general culture...
...We have obligations not just to the living but to the dead and the unborn as well...
...Nevermind that the phrase is sheer cant, meaning nothing in practice...
...Or perhaps I should not say "strange," since the word implies such views are unusual...
...Inspired by her simple candor, let me take a fling at saying something that is almost equally obvious but even more rarely said...
...As these things go, it is not a bad passage...
...They are trained and paid to be managerial technicians...
...As they set about their work, they have no ideal in mind of the educated person...
...if I don't know where I'm going, I'll have a difficult time figuring out how to get there...
...and I wish to God schools would do a better job of developing it than they do...
...That is, certain high cultural values, once having come into the world through invention or discovery, have a right to remain and flourish in the world...
...He is, next of course to Walt Whitman, who always occupies fir^t place in this regard, our most overrated author...
...for they usually are this, too...
...and that much of the blame for this deplorable situation falls on our educational establishment...
...They often have doctorates in education...
...The people in charge of American schooling have no satisfactory vision of what their product should be like...
...One of the reasons education in America is so poor is that the people who run our school systems, the top administrators, are themselves not normally very well educated...
...Instead, let's say such views are weird weird though all too usual...
...It remains to be seen if the educational establishment is capable of profiting from it...
...Cheney does not go as far as I do in this regard...
...the destination dictates the journey...
...she does not elevate certain cultural values to a quasi-divine status...
...Apart from this uncharacteristic lapse, American Memory is wonderfully salutary reading...
...they have a right to be maintained, cultivated, studied, cherished...
...for a revolution in textbook writing so that students will be able to get their hands on good literature and lively history...
...Cheney closes her fine essay with a wisdom passage from Mark Twain...
...Cheney's essay is not intended to be especially subtle, profound, or innovative...
...She clinches her argument with a devastating anecdote about the reply some teachers give when a visitor laments that students don't know what the Reformation was or when the Civil War occurred: "But they know how to look them up...
...What is truly objectionable about this phrase is the premise which lies behind it, namely, that schooling exists purely and simply for the sake of the individual child...
...Its great virtue is that it plainly speaks a few home truths: that there are certain things every halfway educated person ought to know...
...The argument for teaching, e.g., Shakespeare, in the schools, is that we owe it to students, we owe it to society, and we owe it to the poetry itself...
...But my stomach turns every time I hear "full potential" mentioned...
...Yet a third purpose of schooling is not only supra- individual but supracommunal...
...One of the purposes of schooling, true enough, is the good of the individual student...
...means only that a person is clever, determined, and diligent...
...Nor do I mean that they are not smart and well-trained...
...that by and large our high school graduates don't know them...
...Now, I've got nothing against student potential, full or otherwise...
...Cheney faults the nation's schools for an undue emphasis on what they are pleased to call "skills" combined with an undue neglect of academic content...
...And how should they...
...But she goes far enough...
...The very best of the many good moments in Cheney's brief booklet is its title, which suggests that schooling has to do with something other than "developing the student's full potential," a thing educators who have to give speeches love to talk about...
...for they usually are...
...Look to the end, the old proverb says...
...How can mental skills be developed," she reasonably asks, "except through exercise on materials that are challenging and substantial...
...I do not mean to deny that these administrators are talented, wellintentioned, and hard-working...
...Behind such a response lies not just a strange theory of education but a strange epistemology, indeed a strange worldview...
...They are not paid to develop such an ideal...
...Not to teach it is to be unfair toward students and society, and to demonstrate a lack of piety toward one of the high values of our civilization...
...But an Ed.D...
...it does not mean that he or she has a lively, perceptive, or well-furnished mind...
...she calls for the revival of the study of history, literature, and foreign languages in our schools...
...A SHORTSIGHTED VISION THE ABC'S OF SCHOOLING One of the best in the long string of recent education reform reports came out in September: American Memory, by Lynne V. Cheney, who chairs the National Endowment for the Humanities...
...and for teachers who have a sound knowledge of their subject matter...
...But Americans, I'm afraid, will never be properly educated until we disabuse ourselves of the notion that Mark Twain, is a first-class writer...
...We have obligations, it seems to me, to subject matter...
...In a world short on the vocabulary of piety and long on the vocabulary of rights, it is difficult to make this point, but let me try...

Vol. 114 • November 1987 • No. 19


 
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