16 May 2011

Example of Conservative Educational Philosophy

Here's an example of what I would characterize as a conservative educational philosophy:
American Chronicle Article "Crisis, Education" by Tim Williams

It's unfortunately poorly edited with numerous errors, but the gist of the authors way of thinking about education is what makes this interesting.

The moral premises presented in the first couple paragraphs are all about what children lack. We are lead to believe that education is an absolutely necessary prerequisite to proper functioning in Democratic societies. The author takes the view that children are moral blank slates that must be written upon or else chaos will reign. He refers to The Lord of the Flies as a "great" portrayal of children without qualification or reference to the social situation that they were embedded within.

He asserts that parents "create" the thirst for knowledge in their children yet they are paradoxically sponges that absorb everything. He asserts that the purpose of education is moral virtue then in the next paragraph proposes that the major question in the field is jobs.

Despite his disconnected arguments, the metaphors he uses to understand the situation of education are consistent. Education is about delivering into children qualities or substances they lack. Their bad instincts must be controlled. His discussion of what is necessary in education leaves a gaping void of good things about children. His thoughts seem to be organized by the negative consequences he presumes follow from an inadequate educational system.

An extreme position in the other direction would posit only the good things about children and leave a gaping void regarding the negatives (which is sometimes done in the education circles I tend to favor). I would like to see a discussion that has room for both, although I also advocate for taking strategic action based on the the positive unless there is a clear and present threat that would prevent the strategic action from being effectively implemented.

I find that the authors assertions about children and society are mostly ridiculous, but that is partly a bias I have given my tendency to think about education from the liberal point of view. I take it as a given that children are inherently capable learners and the idea that anyone creates a thirst for knowledge and/or education is absurd.

I also take the Lord of the Flies as a great illustration of the socialization of children, exactly the opposite of his assertion that it is an illustration of what happens when they lack "definitive order or laws of civility." I would argue that the Lord of the Flies shows exactly what would happen if children are so thoroughly socialized by an adult imposed system of "definitive order or laws of civility" that they have failed to learn the foundational moral sensibilities and social skills that would enable them to successfully navigate the situation of being stranded on an island. One of the movie versions of the story made this point indirectly by portraying the boys as the product of a military academy. The screen writer chose to emphasize the contrast between their previous environment and their present one. If your view of children is that they revert to a "natural" state in the absence of adult authority then you would interpret the resulting social situation as an expression of that "natural" state. If on the other hand you assume that the social conditioning that children live with over extended periods of time has lasting effects, then the resulting social situation is an expression of the residual social conditioning. I don't think either pole of that dichotomy is a valid description of reality and neither is the Lord of the Flies. I believe that human beings as social mammals are wired for compassion though that wiring can be substantially altered by powerful social situations. It would be unlikely in my estimation for kids left to their own devices to be unable to recognize their interdependence in a dire survival situation such as a plane crash that leaves them stranded on an uninhabited island.
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