Hi Everyone, welcome back to Week Two Part 2 of our ED 200 class.
Last day we listened to Lera Boroditsky. I would like to share one of her talks with you. I think you will enjoy it — especially if you have any interest in psychology and language. Her talk is much the same as her early interview clips, but interesting nonetheless.
A TED Talk with Lera Boroditsky.
On to the question of schooling? What we like, and what we don’t like.
It is easy to talk about things we like or don’t like about schooling. But how do we know if one activity is better than another? How do we judge the results?
Do we judge the results of our schooling activities by the number of students getting good jobs, by the grades they get on tests, by evidence of their civic engagement, or by the sensitivity students have for their fellow human beings or for the environment?
Is it important that we have some standard? If so, what should that standard be? Today I would like to question this very idea.
So, I think it would help if we had some clarity on what education even means.
Let ‘Education’ Be Our Standard
Where should we begin? Let us begin by questioning the purpose of education? Or, we might ask, what is it to be educated? It becomes difficult when there are many different “purposes” of education. And, when we hear people critique education and schooling, it is important that we be aware that their critique may come from a perspective or philosophical position that differs from our own. Also, as you have experienced in the past, people have not always articulated, or prefaced, their philosophical position prior to their critique. For example, if you believe that the purpose of education is to get a job, and you have a conversation with philosopher Robin Barrow who argues for the ‘intellectual purpose’ of school, chances are both your arguments may well be valid but will ultimately lack the resonance you might desire in any conversation or argument with Dr. Barrow. Your arguments might slip past one another, or your arguments might collide with little chance of resolution or agreement.
Sally: I think the purpose of education is to get a job!
John: No it’s not. The purpose of education is to make the world a better place!
Margaret: You are both way off–the purpose of education is so that students can learn about our culture.
Juanita: Who’s culture?
Sally: Good point.
Who is right?
When we encounter different proponents and critics of schooling, we begin to get a sense that different people value different aspects of education. We hear different philosophies, different values, and different beliefs being played out. We will hear this with John Taylor Gatto, with Frank Smith, Ken Robinson, and Robin Barrow (coming up). What lenses, we ask, are these theorists wearing? What lens are you wearing? What lens are your parents wearing? Do you share the same belief in the purpose of education as your friends? As your relatives? As someone from another state, or country?
Four purposes of Education
Let me share with you what Ryan, Cooper, and Tauer list as four purposes of education: Intellectual Purposes, Political and Civic Purposes, Economic Purposes, and Social Purposes.
Even knowing that education can be seen as having different purposes should begin to empower us when we converse with friends and colleagues. It helps us articulate our positions and form our arguments and understandings when we are clear on where our ideas are coming from, and where the ideas of friends and colleagues are coming from. Here is how Ryan, Cooper and Tauer define the purposes of schooling:
The intellectual purpose of school is to help develop students’ intellect through academic achievement. We hear the language of intellectual purpose in mission statements that call for academically rich learning environments, challenging curriculum, and the development of thinking skills. We also hear this language in the No Child Left Behind Act with the call for accountable academic performance.
We hear the discourse of political and civic purpose of schooling in the call for students to develop the skills and virtues needed to participate in a democracy. We see this played out when students are expected to address the needs of the less fortunate, take an active interest in governmental process, and learning about our democratic process.
The economic purpose of schooling is concerned with preparing students to enter the American work force and to be a contributing member of our economic well-being. It has been thought that to become a good worker requires certain skills, and that these skills should be addressed in school–such as respecting authority, being compliant, meeting deadlines, and being rewarded for quality work–basic workplace habits. Students are often differentiated or tracked so that they can fulfill different positions in the workforce.
We hear the social purposes of schools emphasized when we hear talk of having students learn to adapt to social conventions. With social purposes in mind, students learn acceptable ways to interact with others, how to act appropriately, and are expected to “fit into society.” We see evidence of this in extracurricular and classroom activities and emphases. Sports teams, clubs, appropriate language, etc. emphasize the social purpose of schooling.
Does it have to be this way?
This framework helps us understand, a little better, what different people are critiquing. For example, on the one hand some schools might say they want students to be creative. On the other hand they might expect compliance (or students to comply with school demands). Compliance and creativity are not always compatible.
We will hear John Taylor Gatto comment that industry should be responsible for training workers–it should not be the schools’ responsibility to train workers. Let the companies that hire them do that he says.
We will hear Frank Smith suggest that the industrial model, for economic purposes, has lead to a distortion of how natural learning takes place–people learn best in social arenas.
We will hear Ken Robinson suggest that a strong economy needs creative, rather than compliant, people.
We will hear Freire and Shor suggest that schools should liberate people. Each critic is critiquing something, and sometimes when the critique rubs us the wrong way, the critic is opposing what we believe to be the the primary purpose of schooling. Each critique grows out of its own narrative.
It is well to keep in mind that Ryan, Cooper and Tauer’s speak quite generally of only four purposes. And, they are rather broad generalizations. You may have your own.
Second Question Set
8. Of the four purposes of schooling that Ryan, Cooper and Tauer lay out, which purpose most closely aligns to your own belief about the purpose of schooling?
We will find that the educational critics we encounter have very substantive concepts of education. What does that mean? It means that their arguments do hold together within the framework they have adopted. Their arguments do have an internal consistency. In other words, one person might have very good reasons why s/he believes education should be one way rather than another. And, s/he might have very good arguments why that is the case. However, if another person doesn’t agree on the basic premise of the argument, neither will agree.
When we begin to listen carefully to the language different people use when they describe education we can get a better sense of their framework. But why do we have to listen to the language they use? Well, because few people begin their critiques by clearly stating the framework they have adopted. And even though all of the critics of schooling may not agree, one thing they do have in common is that they asked the question, “Are there other ways of viewing the situation that might be more fruitful (of course ‘fruitful’ is in the eye of the beholder)?”
So Here We Are or We Are Here
So here we are –facing a number of narratives. Some seem to have competing definitions of education and schooling, some seem to conflate definitions of schooling and education, and some seem to leave the definitions somewhat ill defined.
What does it mean to conflate definitions of schooling and education? It means that some people think schooling and education are the same thing.
What does it mean when a definition of schooling or education is ill defined? It means that it is not very well defined.
Ultimately what all of this means is that many people might talk about the importance of schooling, but haven’t bothered to define education.
We may be left with the impression that there may be a variety of purposes of schooling–that may not be entirely educational in purpose.
Substantive Education — another kick at the can
Paul and Elder, in their Educational Fads guide (something you can buy online if you are interested) begin their own critique of schooling by clarifying the necessity for substantive education. In their guide they talk about many different educational processes. But before they begin their analysis they help the reader become very clear by what they mean by education. They clarify their terms. They state:
Most educational trends or fads originate in reasonable ideas. All reasonable ideas about education enhance instruction when integrated into a substantive concept of education. They fail when imposed upon instruction through a non-substantive, fragmented conception of education, which is unfortunately typically the case in schooling today. . . . By a substantive concept of education we mean one that highlights the essential components of education, consequently one that has clear implications for how we should understand “the educated person” and how we should design the educational process. Many popular concepts of education are non-substantive in that they are vague and fragmented, and therefore superficial and misleading. They do not highlight the common dimensions of the various disciplines. They do not illuminate essential intellectual standards. They do not define essential intellectual traits (the personal characteristics that, when acquired, direct the right use of the mind). Instead they lead to instruction that mainly trains, indoctrinates, or socializes rather than educated the individual. They produce “counterfeits” of educated persons because they ignore essential abilities, standards, and traits in the instructional process.” p.p. 5-6
This is very important for us to understand. So let me briefly reflect on what the authors were saying:
Most educational trends or fads originate in reasonable ideas. In other words, we do lots of different things in schools, and we the things we do seem reasonable.
All reasonable ideas about education enhance instruction when integrated into a substantive concept of education. In other words, when we design these activities being very clear what education means, instruction is usually quite good.
They fail when imposed upon instruction through a non-substantive, fragmented conception of education, which is unfortunately typically the case in schooling today. Our schooling activities fail us when we are not clear on what being educated even means. If your instruction is designed to pass a test on Wednesday, but you don’t end up with and substantial understanding, your activity has actually been a failure.
By a substantive concept of education we mean one that highlights the essential components of education, consequently one that has clear implications for how we should understand “the educated person” and how we should design the educational process. They illuminate essential intellectual standards. They define essential intellectual traits (the personal characteristics that, when acquired, direct the right use of the mind). This is to say that we can define education in terms of intellectual standards and essential intellectual traits.
I won’t get into it here, but the authors in their document then share what they believe to be the essential components and intellectual standards necessary for being/becoming educated. But again, the authors are revealing their own way of thinking about education by the metaphors they use: components, process, fragmented, standards, etc.
Regardless, I hope you agree, it is worth considering what we mean by education. If I am trying to educate, and I am using school as the contextual environment in which to do my educating, I should at least have some clarity on what I mean when I say education. Just imagine, you are in a school staff meeting and someone is proposing some instructional practice that does not seem right to you. You contribute to the conversation by asking the question: “Before we adopt this practice, could we ask how this practice contributes to educating our students?” In a lot of cases (at least in meetings that I have participated in) this simple question alone can re-focus the practice toward an educational agenda when the agenda was initially clearly political. In some cases, the reaction you get almost seems as if you have jumped up and given someone a noogie.
If nothing else this should at the least begin a good conversation and contribute to clearer reasons for the adoption and implementation of practices. Or maybe it will just get you fired. Depending on where you work, it might be best to just keep a lid on it. But that’s no fun.
When you are a teacher and you want to make yourself real popular at a staff meeting, begin asking some of the questions posed by Paul and Elder on pages 16 and 17 of their Educational Fads Guide.
Questions You Should Ask Every Reform Enthusiast
by Paul and Elder in A Critical Thinker’s Guide To Educational Fads
What is your concept of education?
What is your concept of an educated person?
What abilities must persons develop (to be considered educated?)
What intellectual standards must they acquire?
What intellectual traits?
How does one go about educating a person?
What intellectual structures are present in all content and how should that content be presented?
How should students learn content?
How should we understand the fundamental goal in teaching any subject?
(the list continues on p. 16)
These are the sorts of questions all teachers should be asking. These are the questions that anyone interested in schooling and education should be asking. But, when you do ask, you are more than likely to run up to some resistance. Perhaps that is nature of institutions (any institution). Don’t ask questions that might threaten the status quo. Don’t ask questions that challenge the current narrative. Keep in mind, Socrates was sentenced to death for essentially being a pain in the neck. So if you do ask these questions hold your head high, but don’t be a fool.
Apparently, drinking hemlock was not the only punishment that found its way into Greek culture. I heard the Greeks invented the noogie.
So we question. We question to the death! Okay, maybe not to the death, but I hope we question.
The Three Branches of Government
Perhaps we need to start by trying to differentiate between education and schooling. I have asked lots of people in the past what the difference is between schooling and education. Try that sometime. You might be surprised at the variety of answers you get.
Here is my schooling-education example.
A number of years ago I asked my daughter, who was in second grade at the time, what she learned that day in Social Studies. She did not have her regular homeroom teacher, so I was curious. She informed me that she learned about the three branches of government. Now this did not surprise me. To my dismay, I have observed student teachers of mine try to teach first grade children about the three branches of government. They would have to do this after being told that their students would be tested in third grade about the three branches of government.
“Here is our worksheet,” my daughter said as she pulled the work sheet out of her backpack. Sure enough: lovely dictionary-type definitions of the three branches of government. “What are the branches?” I asked. She spouted off the three branches, almost matching word-for-word the definitions she had printed on the worksheet.
“The legislative branch has the authority to make laws for the nation . .. . the judicial branch is empowered with judicial powers . . . . etc.”
I know my daughter well enough to know that she didn’t understand the vocabulary, but I asked her anyway. As suspected, she didn’t understand what the terms legislative, judicial, etc. meant.
“What does legislative mean?” I asked. A shrug. “What does government mean?” I asked. “What is a government?” Not much more than a blank stare. “What do branches mean?” I continued.
“You know Dad, like branches on a tree.”
“Do you mean groups of people when you talk about an assembly? Is that what you mean by branches?” I probed.
“No,” she responded. “You know what a branch is Dad!”
Then I had to ask, “And what will you be doing with this? Why is this important for you to know?”
“Well,” she responded, “the test is on Wednesday. So we have to know it by then.”
My daughter is one of the lucky ones. She memorizes easily. She did well on Wednesday’s test. I should mention, though, two months later, she didn’t recall the branches of government. Interestingly, in a sad sort of way, she did recall that the tests were on Wednesday.
We are aware that this happens. Teachers, professors, students, will tell you that material is memorized for a test, only to be quickly forgotten. We talk about the theory of learning, but seldom talk about the theory of forgetting. This is not new. We have been doing this for years. Smith reminds us of this on page 55.
And, of course, there are many examples. Some not so obvious. The piano student who is technically proficient, but would be incapable of telling you much about the music. The math student who will do very well on timed math drills but would be incapable of explaining how one would go about representing groups of objects using a different number base, or explaining what is going on when one fraction is multiplied by another.
Why do we do this? Worse, why do we do this when we know it may not be the best model to follow?
Second Question Set
9. Why do we continue on pretending that we are learning things in school, memorizing for tests, when we all know full well that much of what we learn will not be remembered?
10. When we learn something for a test, but then forget it, should we even call that learning, or should it be called something else?
Jacob Bronowski, in his book (lecture series) The Origins of Knowledge and Imagination, provides a wonderful example of how science evolves. One necessary aspect is that scientists are honest. Honest with themselves and others. Scientists don’t try to promote an idea that they know has been disproven. That would be politics, not science. Can we learn something from this?
Anyway, what is the question we might ask when considering the three branches of government story? Was the child being educated? Was the child being schooled?
Education, according to analytic philosopher Robin Barrow, is the achievement of a depth and breadth of understanding. This is what he says in The Philosophy of Schooling:
It may be argued that schooling, . . . should concern itself with the whole man, but that is a different point, which we shall consider later. What I am suggesting here is that education, far from being concerned with all dimensions of the personality, is essentially to do with the mind and is purely cognitive (to do with knowledge, understanding and perception). To put this claim to the test is a matter for introspection: what on reflection strikes one as intelligible? “Surely it does not strike one as intelligible to reckon whether a man is more or less well educated by reference to such things as his physique, his athletic prowess, his capacity for love, his moral stature, his emotional maturity, his imaginative powers or his creative capacity. The fact that somebody is morally repugnant to me does not in itself show him to be uneducated. The fact that somebody is emotionally immature is likewise not an indication that he is uneducated, and the fact that somebody has a great capacity for love, though no doubt admirable, is not to the point either.
What, then, do we look for in estimating whether a person is more or less educated? We judge him by his understanding and his capacity for discrimination. To educate a person is to develop such an understanding and such a capacity, and schools, if they are seeking to educate, must contribute to such development. I deliberately say “understanding” rather than “knowledge” because the word “knowledge” can imply mere possession of a stock of information, and that does not seem appropriate. A walking Guinness Book of Records or a Mr. Memory is not, as such, an educated man. Peters is correct when he says that we expect the educated man to have understanding of the reason why of things or a grasp of the underlying principles, and not simply know-how or a collection of pieces of information. The fact that you know that Franklin D. Roosevelt was re-elected President of the United States for the third term of office on November 5th 1940 . . . does not reveal to us whether you are relatively well or poorly educated. Nor would the fact that you also know the election dates of all the other American Presidents suggest any the more that you are an educated man. But if it becomes apparent that, besides knowing the date of Roosevelt’s third term, you also have some sensible things to say about how and why he won it, you are beginning to show the sort of signs that we look for in judging whether people are more or less educated. (Just to be on the safe side, let me stress the phrase “the sort of signs.” I am not suggesting that knowing about Roosevelt is a necessary condition of being educated. I am using Roosevelt as an example to illustrate the sort of thing educated people, by definition, should have the understanding of: explanations of political success rather than dates.)
That example brings me to another point on which Peter’s early work on the concept of education was surely convincing. Education implies some breadth of understanding, rather than narrow specialism, however profound or erudite that specialist knowledge might be. A brilliant historian or a front-rank scientist is not necessarily an educated man, and if a man’s historical nous or understanding, or his scientific know-how was all that he had, we should not take him as the epitome of an educated man. Furthermore not only is deep knowledge, if confined to a very limited sphere, not sufficient to constitute education, but such exceptional specialist knowledge is not a necessary condition of being educated either. Being educated is not synonymous with being clever. One might be a well-educated person and not very brilliant in academic terms, and one might be extremely clever in some particular field such as science or history and yet not very well educated, since that term suggests a wide range of understanding. Breadth rather than brilliance, good sense rather than genius are characteristics of the educated mind.”
. . .
Education is like beauty . . ., all beautiful people must have something in common, in order to earn the same epithet, but nonetheless their beauty may take many different forms. In the same way any educated person must, by definition, have a breadth of understanding, but different people may arrive at a breadth in different ways: a scientist who knows no history, but knew something about literature and bee-keeping might reasonably count as being to some extent educated, whilst a theologian who was also something of a botanist and a philosopher, though having little specifically in common with the scientist, might also. (Implicit in everything I have so far said is the obvious truth that education is a matter of degree. People are not simply educated or not, they are to a greater or lesser extent educated.)
Does what I have said entail that any breadth of understanding, never mind what items it comprises, makes a man educate? Not quite, I think, for I now want to argue that there are certain elements (more specific than the formal necessity for breadth) that are necessary to being educated. Firstly, an educated man must have some awareness of our place in the totality—awareness of the cultural and historical tradition to which we belong and of rival traditions, and in addition awareness of man’s place in relation to the wider story of the universe. . . .Secondly, an educated man is by definition one who appreciates and is alert to people as individuals and to the power of individuality. . . . A third and vital aspect of being educated will be the ability to distinguish logically distinct kinds of question. . . . .it is undeniable that there are logically different kinds of question, and it is important to recognize them as such, even if we do not have a definitive account of their differences to give. There are empirical questions, there are aesthetic questions and there are moral questions (and there are others and also hybrid questions). Educated people should be able to recognize such distinctions, as well as basic logical distinctions such as those between explanations and justification or cause and correlation. Finally there is what I call the capacity for discrimination, by which I mean the ability to think in terms of precise and specific concepts rather than blurred and general ones. The possession of precise and particular concepts gives one discriminatory power by which phrase I refer to the control, maneuverability and penetrating power in thought that the ability to make fine discriminations provides. What I say here is simple and important. In discussion about matters as diverse as whom to vote for, the merits of Evelyn Waugh as a novelist or the acceptability of capital punishment, one’s contribution will be the more significant and illuminating, one’s thinking will be the better, in so far as one is in possession of more, clear and specific concepts. If you cannot get beyond broad and general concepts (communist/capitalist, comic/realistic) you cannot contribute much. We must remember that it is a question of both clarity and specificity.” pp. 38-44.
Rightfully or wrongfully (perhaps conveniently) he makes the distinction between knowledge and understanding. One might know something, but not understand it. Also, someone possessing a good deal of information does not suggest that they have a depth of understanding or are in any way educated.
I think what Barrow says is interesting. If our concern is to educate, then, according to Barrow, our responsibility is to help students achieve a depth and breadth of understanding. So we might ask, with every pedagogical activity we undertake, are we helping our students achieve a depth and breadth of understanding?
This seems simple enough—am I fulfilling my responsibility as an educator if I am educating my students? Am I helping my students achieve a depth and breadth of understanding?
But what is understanding? We know that understanding in not simply knowing something. For example, I may know the three branches of government, and be able to state what those branches are, but that is no indication that I understand anything about legislative, executive, or judicial workings. I think we could say that Barrow believes that understanding has to do with a re-cognition of causes. Understanding is based on language and reason. Understanding exists within a context. Simply put, if I have an understanding of something, I can give reasons why things are the way they are. If a child understands the three branches of government, presumable that child can say something about the reasons why we have three branches, the reason why we have a legislative or judicial branch, reasons why we have governments.
So what does this mean for us? I am an educator. My job is to educate students–I think. Education is the achievement of a depth and breadth of understanding–perhaps.
We should now recognize that schooling and education are not identical. Schooling is, hopefully, something that is meant to help people become educated–though we know that is not always the case. It is clear to us that one does not need to attend school to become educated. And yet it is also clear that school can be a very powerful place for some individuals to become educated.
There is probably an important lesson for us to learn right from the beginning–i.e. “Never generalize.” (Actually, that is a generalization on what we aren’t supposed to generalize on. But be that as it may.) Of course we have to recognize that while we can listen to many theorists, researchers, teachers, critics, students, etc. that which is said may not be applicable to our own situation. But, it would behoove us to listen carefully and look for themes that do emerge within our own contexts.
When we think of the extent to which we might become educated, it seems obvious that the context of education far surpasses what the context of schooling would be able to accomplish. In other words, education is not limited to what is available in schools. I think that’s fair.
If we accept that one’s education can far surpass what might be made available in schools, then we begin to recognize that a good deal of what people are critiquing when they speak about education is whether schooling does in fact help develop the educated individual (an individual with a depth and breadth of understanding). Furthermore we, and the critics we encounter, also ask what effect schooling has on our lives in general. How does schooling affect our personal narrative?
Second Question Set
11. What is the difference between education and schooling according to Dr. Barrow?
When talking about being educated, we might find it difficult to state exactly what we mean. I don’t even know, to begin with, that we would know it when we see it.
But I think it is usually obvious when we know someone is not educated. And we see it a lot.
Consider this. You might know of the comedian and ex-talkshow host, Jay Leno. He used to do something called Jay Walking. Here is an example”
JayWalking Citizenship Test
He made fun of the “common knowledge” that people didn’t seem to possess.
Here is another example:
Why we need to teach geography.
The questions were questions about things we should have learned in school.
Jay Leno’s Science quiz
The fact that so many people don’t remember the things they were taught in school might be thought to be problematic. It certainly will be if you become a teacher. And it certainly is if we take seriously the idea that we understand new things in the context of things we already know. In other words, there is a good deal of research to show that you learn new things by connecting to what you already know. If you start with nothing, it is difficult to connect to it.
We also know that the more we know, the easier it is to learn and remember. Without background knowledge, we just don’t have to much to thing with or about.
And, without a depth and breadth of understanding, it is difficult to convince others that one is educated.
We will continue with the questions regarding education and knowledge further, but I will leave it here today.
I have a lengthy documentary for you to watch next, so I am keeping this lecture short.