Monday, June 01, 2015

"Upon the subject of education... I can only say that I view it as the most important subject which we as a people may be engaged in." - Abraham Lincoln

I'm interested in how hard it can be to have a thoughtful, candid discussion about education--not schooling, not testing, but education as in learning. Since it feels like it's often all I talk about, I'm always surprised when I have a good, deep conversation with an educator about learning and he or she will say, "I haven't had this good a conversation in years." Does it tell us something that many teachers don't have opportunities to talk about learning much?

In some ways, there's a premium right now on "going along."  Question something--even carefully and thoughtfully--and people will say, "I just can't think about that right now, I'm too busy just keeping up." In most industries, we have a word for those who question or expose unhealthy or inappropriate behavior: a whistleblower. It's a word that should have a connotation of courage, but now is more often a pejorative.

Just ask questions about the value of mandatory or compulsory schooling, and you'll be surprised at how quickly a conversation can die. Shouldn't we have good justifications for a system that produces hurt or pain or confusion for so many? Shouldn't we be have an ability to weigh the positives and negatives of our cultural practices in so important an area? (Of equal shallowness are our conversations--or lack thereof--about the prison system. I'm not going to connect the dots there, but you can...)

One dilemma is that public schooling, the way we do it now, is such a powerful force for mass impact that even those who disagree with certain aspects of it don't want to kill the goose that lays such golden propaganda eggs. Progressive efforts often actually see education as a system to help them leverage and accomplish their goals, making it hard to see clearly the negative role of schooling when you depend on it for your own political purposes.

The conversation about education and learning should be taking place with all our people, at all levels. How, what, and why we learn are not esoteric topics only to be decided by experts; they should be an integral part of our the dialog in every community we are a part of.

If we can't trust regular people to talk about education, then we obviously haven't done a good job on that very task, have we?

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