To the Editor:
While I usually disagree with Alfie Kohn’s distaste for competition (“Against ‘Competitiveness,’” Commentary, Sept. 19, 2007), he makes a vital point that the mission of schools is far broader than producing employees who can add value to private businesses.
The late Paul Gagnon suggested that schools in a democracy have three aims: preparing young people for (1) work, (2) citizenship, and (3) private culture. Within this framework, schools empower citizens to participate in the economy, to serve the community and have an informed voice in public decisions, and to enjoy a rich personal life nourished by the freedom to choose from all that the world has to offer.
In a democracy, public schools, at least, have the obligation to offer a first-class program of studies to every student. There are no second-class citizens, so there can be no second-class schooling—no mere training for worker bees, no Delta indoctrinations from Brave New World.
Those first-class studies are, of course, liberal education. In a 2003 address at Fordham University, Vartan Gregorian, the president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, spoke of liberal education as “the soul of democracy” and said: “At its best, liberal education prepares intellectually curious young men and women to appreciate the difference between making a living and actually living; to cultivate more than a passing familiarity with ethics, history, science, and culture; and to perceive the tragic chasm between the world as it is and the world as it could and ought to be.” Making the world a better place is, or ought to be, the most cherished function of any school.
Master of Arts in Teaching
Webster University-Kansas City
Kansas City, Mo.