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Education Opinion

Summer Reading

By Deborah Meier — July 30, 2007 3 min read

Dear Diane,

One nice thing about writing you regularly has been that it sharpens my daily reading! Here’s some of the stuff I’ve been reading about lately that seem critical to future educational policy, in no particular order of important.

What does it mean that so many policy makers seem content to have teachers who only teach for 3-5 years, not to mention those who accept it as inevitable?

How important is it to really figure out whether the alarmist talk about the connection between America’s economic future and schooling is true or false? Myth or reality?

Connected to that: what about the data that suggests that if one just compared those above the poverty line, the US system comes in near the top every time? The trouble is we have more poor—and less social mobility. If that were true, what would be the policy implications?

How many white Americans accept the gap between rich/poor and white/black as “natural"—a la Charles Murray of The Bell Curve? To what extent do folks think the gap reflects the natural talents of different subgroups of Americans? In short: How alive and well is racism?

Does society as a whole have an obligation to assure that spending for those with fewer advantages should make up for what more advantaged families spend on their children’s afterschool, weekend, or summer educational experiences? (Not to mention inequalities in their health?)

Is support for democratic habits, values and assumptions an essential priority for our public education system, and if so does it rank higher or lower than “academics,” or job preparedness?

If it’s true that we can’t be experts on everything, does that have implications for how we run a democratic society—and an educational system? When should nonexperts have a voice in making decisions versus when should it be “left to the experts?” And even if we “left it to experts”—who classifies as an expert? Teachers? Parents? Kids?

Plus plus plus: the role of play in human development (see InDefenseofChildhood.org)? Should all educational research be designed like medical research? What are the boundaries between public vs private schooling and how far have we breached them?What other kind of data, besides test scores, could serve us well?

To quote Lawrence A. Cremin, writing 30 years ago, and republished by Teachers College Record’s Special Issue, July 2007, in discussing the connection between democracy and schooling,: “How do we achieve the educational balance between individualism and community….? I have a very simple starting point, to which I think there is no alternative. We talk.”` What’s missing is that “great public dialogue about education,” he argued. In a small way, Diane, that’s why I enjoy writing you regularly.

Meanwhile, tomorrow, I’m trying to figure out how to weigh in on the current Congressional debate over NCLB—including it’s name. When we resume our conversation in the fall, Diane, maybe we’ll be a few steps toward a saner policy? Probably not, but maybe. So now is the time for readers to weigh in.

And,, readers, over the summer, if you haven’t read everything written by Diane and me—do it! Try Cremin also. And look for Mike Rose’s The Mind at Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker , and, on another subject altogether, my cousin Judith Larner Lowry’s The Landscaping Ideas of Jays. Actually there’s a lot about landscaping that helps us think about schooling, including about being good observers, attentive to each individual species (child), and careful to attend to how one thing impacts upon another. Even gardening is a matter that benefits from a public dialogue.

Deb

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