Schools are mirrors of social belief, giving back what citizens put in front of them. But they are not fixed in one position. They can be moved up and down and sideways, so that at different times and in different venues, they will reflect one thing and not another. But always they show something that is there, not of the schools' invention but of the society that pays for the schools and uses them for various purposes. (From Neil Postman's "The End of Education: Redefining the value of school." pg 59-60)
So what are schools reflecting now? What purposes and motivations are driving American school reform efforts? What are schools being USED for now?
In Neil Postman's book he describes different purposes that play a role in influencing American education. One of the most obvious purposes in today's educational world is what Postman calls Economic Utility. In this view, the main purpose of schooling is to provide an economic benefit to society. Postman says...
It is a passionless god, cold and severe. Addressing the young, if offers a covenant of sorts with them: If you will pay attention in school, and do your homework, and score well on tests, and behave yourself, you will be rewarded with a well-paying job when you are done. It's driving idea is that the purpose of schooling is to prepare children for competent entry into the economic life of a community. It follows from this that anything that takes away from this is a frill or a waste of time. (Postman)
Postman would argue that using schools for economic purposes takes the view that America is not so much a culture as it is an economy and that our nation's economy rests upon high standards of achievement and rigorous discipline. He would consider this a fairly narrow view of schooling.
My opinion? Of course parents are hopeful that their children will have gainful employment that will keep them from hardship. Yet I can't help but feel this only represents a minimum of what parents truly hope schools will help provide. I believe most parents want their children to get along well with others, to be happy, to feel a sense of accomplishment and purpose, to be empathetic, to be compassionate, to be a contributing member in our democracy, to be civic minded, and YES to read, write and do math. Postman would say that it is these deeper things that have created and sustained what it is to be American.
Postman also argues that one of the greatest traditional benefits that schools provide society is teaching children how to behave in groups.
You cannot have a democratic - indeed civilized - community life unless people have learned to participate in a disciplined way within a group. (Postman)So why has America gone down the road of overhyped standardized testing, ranking and rating schools and overbearing curriculum standards that are too voluminous to be taught at any grade level?
Is it not because America is captivated by what is easiest to measure? Could it be that the murky world of psychology, motivation, soft people skills and human interaction is more important but harder to measure and is therefore being ignored or at least just given lip service?