June 02, 2006

Educating the Slobbering Masses

As noted by Anna here, we got into one of those long discussions about education the other evening that we do from time to time. Without getting into the subject of entitlement of students, the role of teachers and parents in motivating students, and the role of state vs. federal governement in playing with education, I decided that I was simply going to get into the idea of higher standards in education. As a result, I wrote up this pleasant little treatise in advocating higher standards:

In addressing the topic of education, it must be noted that I am somewhat torn on the subject of a "free and public education." On one hand, I do believe that public education has resulted in a betterment of society to the point where even the bottom quartile of the public is quasi-literate and suited for non-menial jobs. On the other hand, the provision of a free and public education is both expensive and somewhat socialistic: the demand that the state administer and provide partially for the rearing, training and disciplining of all children under the age of 18 seems somewhat backwards to me. Then again, having been in the public school system for 13 long years, I must say that there are some children who would be far better in the hands of "the system" than with their parents... and that's saying something.

In short, I could wax eloquent at some length about how the idea of a free and public education offends my libertarian sensibilities, but the fact of the matter is that the odds of the abolition of such a system is relatively low, especially in comparison to the likelihood of changing such a system, if only on a small scale. Now, since time immemorial, there have been two opposing camps in education: education as a vocational tool or education as a developer of individuals... otherwise phrased as education as a means to an end vs. education as an end unto itself.

As a matter of course, it is relatively difficult to distinguish between the two camps throughout much of history and throughout large parts of the educational process as it comes to implementation: especially at a more basic level. For instance: both camps have traditionally taught that it is necessary and proper for a student to have the proper tools of linguistic communication, mathematics, applied sciences, history, governance, etcetera. Likewise, both camps agree that proper thinking and reasoning skills must be learned by students and that students must be effective in listening, processing, distilling and disseminating information. In short, both camps will agree on the mechanics of an education insofar as it produces a well-reasoned, thinking, functional individual within the confines of his (and, of late, her) society.

A schism arises, however, when a subject arises that is not of tangible vocational value. Musical instruction, the arts, literature, higher-level mathematics and the sciences are all areas in which the pragmatist will argue that it is not necessary for all students to have understanding and mastery, merely those for whom these areas will have vocational value. On the other hand, the advocate of the so-called Liberal Education (Liberal Arts colleges being those that teach more than just technical expertise) will argue that education in these areas produces better people with a heightened understanding of the world around them. Beyond the potential of vocational benefit, a broader knowledge base produces citizens who are better thinkers with a greater understanding of the varied and sundry things that may have impact at a later date or may simply be knowledge for the benefit of the individual.

As I should think it has become obvious, I am an advocate of a Liberal Education. Simply put, I think that an enlightened society with a broad background in literature, the sciences, humanities, mathematics and history will be a better society with individuals who are better thinkers. Simply put, if an individual doesn't want learning, I question that individual's value to society and the quality of his upbringing that he should come to a point that he desires less knowledge and understanding rather than more. While I do appreciate that there are some areas of knowledge that come easier than others to most individuals, I find the raising of standards for society to be a good and admirable gesture, regardless of pragmatic outcome.

To paraphrase Alan Dershowitz, I find my position to be defensible across a broad spectrum of ideologies. Just as I defend higher standards from the perspective of an advocate of a Liberal Education, I expect those who favor a more technical or vocationally-oriented education to lend their support on the basis of higher standards promoting better workers.

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at June 2, 2006 03:51 PM | TrackBack