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Author Topic: The Purpose of School  (Read 5066 times)
Kasmira
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« Topic Start: April 25, 2011, 12:47:56 am »

So, I was reading through the TN Passes "Don't Say Gay" Bill thread and the direction that the conversation has taken (particularly, the post below) got me thinking about what we consider the purpose of education to be. Namely, should school only teach art, science, math, history, etc. or should it also teach "how to get along in the world". Because, as I would constitute the teaching of "how to get along in the world", that includes (at least somewhat) the teaching of basic morality, how to think about situations, how to weigh options, etc. Unfortunately, such an education inherently includes bias. On the other hand, not teaching any of that seems to me to be avoiding a large part of the purpose of education (what's the point of giving information without at least somewhat of a framework within which to analyze it).

From my perspective, a fairly acceptable (by which I mean bias minimized) would be to teach basic argument formation and debate plus good practice for searching out reliable additional information and then let kids figure out the rest for themselves. However, I recognize that my extremely evangelical uncle would consider that alone to be coming from an extremely biased position because faith, not reasoned argument, is what's important for him. Now, I personally think that's bull (as much respect as I have for faith when it is allowed to stand beside and in complement to reason). However, who says I'm the one with the correct perspective here?

My question, I think, is a) can education be simply about the relaying of facts without also helping students construct somewhat of a framework for their processing? And b) is it really possible to teach such a framework in a way that is not extremely problematic from someone's perspective?

Since my own answers to these questions are pretty much "no" and "no", I feel like there is somewhat of a catch-22 involved here and I wonder if anyone has a reasonable solution to it.

The short answer, here, is YES. Any and all teachers who are teaching morality instead of reading, writing and arithmetic need to be canned. NOW. Any teachers out there teaching their own ideologies need to be canned. NOW.
Any and all teachers who are not teaching our children to be able to survive in this world and taking away from their basic education to teach them things that have nothing to do with education should be CANNED. NOW.

Teachers with tenure who doing any of what you described need to NOT HAVE TENURE. EVER.

Maybe when our schools start to can these bozos and hire teachers that are really there to teach the kids how to get along in the world, we'll see less drop outs, illiterates and bigots.

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« Reply #1: April 25, 2011, 03:34:21 am »


My question, I think, is a) can education be simply about the relaying of facts without also helping students construct somewhat of a framework for their processing? And b) is it really possible to teach such a framework in a way that is not extremely problematic from someone's perspective?

Since my own answers to these questions are pretty much "no" and "no", I feel like there is somewhat of a catch-22 involved here and I wonder if anyone has a reasonable solution to it.


I've always felt the education system here could do with Philosophy as a subject, at least from High School onwards. Teaching students about the way ideas, beliefs and science have developed and encouraging them to think for themselves and consider Big Questions without necessarily providing answers.

I don't feel that it would be possible to teach about religion or ethics in the current climate, because the majority is simply not tolerant or open minded enough on these subjects to address them objectively. In an ideal world, I'd love to see comparative religious studies as a high school level subject too, but it is not an ideal world.

This doesn't actually answer your questions sorry, but I'll ask another one instead; Can you teach someone 'how to get along in the world' in a school setting or is that something one can only learn through experience and exposure?
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« Reply #2: April 25, 2011, 05:43:08 am »

My question, I think, is a) can education be simply about the relaying of facts without also helping students construct somewhat of a framework for their processing? And b) is it really possible to teach such a framework in a way that is not extremely problematic from someone's perspective?

Since my own answers to these questions are pretty much "no" and "no"

Agreed.

And it's worth bearing in mind that the factual subjects, like science, are still constructed based on theories. (Yes, I know this is usually a point trotted out by creationists, but I'm not using this point that way.) The point is that there's always some evaluation - 'bias', you call it - involved. So if it's always there, the question is whether it's reasonable.

Quote
, I feel like there is somewhat of a catch-22 involved here and I wonder if anyone has a reasonable solution to it.

I don't have a full opinion, but my starting point has always been this quote from Doris Lessing (found in the preface to The Golden Notebook):

[...]Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this:

‘You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be. You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetuating system. Those of you who are more robust and individual than others, will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself — educating your own judgement. Those that stay must remember, always and all the time, that they are being moulded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this particular society.’


Quote
From my perspective, a fairly acceptable (by which I mean bias minimized) would be to teach basic argument formation and debate plus good practice for searching out reliable additional information and then let kids figure out the rest for themselves.

I would go further and give people 'basic' views about most topics relevant to their community, while reminding them that it's OK to have different views.

So - although, obviously, I'm not American or English so very much IMHO - I would actually be OK if it was compulsory in Anglo-American education to learn basics about Christianity. Because it's so relevant to and gives an enriched understanding of the Anglo-American community's history, philosophy, arts, cultural references, etc.

Speaking as a non-Christian foreigner, basic knowledge about Christianity and other Anglo-American touchstones has helped me 'assimilate' considerably, so I can only imagine how much more valuable and even necessary it is for people who are actually raised in this culture and have to interact with others within it all the time.

In other words, I almost never see the provision of knowledge as problematic. What's problematic is telling people they have to follow it.

The line between providing knowledge and indoctrination, when it comes to things like religion and morality, can be fine. But basic rules of thumb would be: talk in the third person ('Christians believe that...', not 'We...', or heaven forbid, 'You should...'). Never go beyond the minimum it takes to give someone an understanding of the historical/philosophical/artistic/cultural/etc. subject matter at hand. And always remind people there are other views which they're free to explore.
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« Reply #3: April 25, 2011, 05:58:55 am »

Can you teach someone 'how to get along in the world' in a school setting or is that something one can only learn through experience and exposure?

I don't think there's any substitute for real experience but school learning can at least give you a starting point for handling problems in real life.

I don't have as much life experience as a lot of TC regulars in backing this up, but I can give a personal example: sex. No amount of reading is a substitute for the kind of feelings that arise when someone asks you whether they can not use protection. But having read about situations like this before, you can at least identify some of those feelings (eg, feeling pressured because you don't want the other person to think you don't trust hir), and that does give you a leg up in handling the issue.

Also (though this isn't applicable to sex ed, obviously!), some subjects can be probably be made more relevant through 'experiential learning' techniques.
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« Reply #4: April 25, 2011, 06:11:03 am »

Can you teach someone 'how to get along in the world' in a school setting or is that something one can only learn through experience and exposure?

(replying to this because it is a better jumping off point than the op)

I'm of the opinion that 'how to get along in the world (in the context of this thread)' isn't really something that can be taught.  It is something that can only be picked up through experience and exposure.  I think that this sort of thing is probably more of the parents' responsibility than a teachers.
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« Reply #5: April 25, 2011, 06:16:09 am »

Namely, should school only teach art, science, math, history, etc. or should it also teach "how to get along in the world". Because, as I would constitute the teaching of "how to get along in the world", that includes (at least somewhat) the teaching of basic morality, how to think about situations, how to weigh options, etc. Unfortunately, such an education inherently includes bias. On the other hand, not teaching any of that seems to me to be avoiding a large part of the purpose of education (what's the point of giving information without at least somewhat of a framework within which to analyze it).

Good question and I thought about it too when reading the posts (even when I was one responding.)

I think I do want schools to teach basic morality. But mostly it has to do with the Social Contract, focussed on those edges where behavior of one infringes on the rights of the other (either in the class room or the society we live in). I'm thinking of basic rights like integrity of body, respect to property of others, no abuse... I think behavior that does not violate any rights of others doesn't need to be judged let alone condemned by teachers.

Teachers can however help by pointing out various standpoints on other issues - they can inform without judging or promoting certain moral values on those.

Quote
My question, I think, is a) can education be simply about the relaying of facts without also helping students construct somewhat of a framework for their processing?

No, not completely. However, 'helping students construct' is different than teaching a certain way and ignoring other view points.

Quote
And b) is it really possible to teach such a framework in a way that is not extremely problematic from someone's perspective?
No. As a society though, the frameworks that are chosen are those of a democratic government that is separated from religious power, based on a constitution with certain rights and liberties, and I think those can be used as guideline. And you can still include teaching about other concepts without promoting (or condemning) them.

 
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« Reply #6: April 25, 2011, 06:40:27 am »

I think that this sort of thing is probably more of the parents' responsibility than a teachers.

Ideally I think you're right, but the more pressure society puts on parents to work 24/7 then the more society needs to teach children this sort of thing through other ways (eg teachers).
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« Reply #7: April 25, 2011, 07:13:42 am »

(replying to this because it is a better jumping off point than the op)

I'm of the opinion that 'how to get along in the world (in the context of this thread)' isn't really something that can be taught.  It is something that can only be picked up through experience and exposure.  I think that this sort of thing is probably more of the parents' responsibility than a teachers.

I have to agree. The way the US trys to teach us to get along in schools is making things worse. It seems the more groups that want to ensure & detail how schools teach kids how to get along with various groups, the worse things get.
 
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« Reply #8: April 25, 2011, 07:37:08 am »

I have to agree. The way the US trys to teach us to get along in schools is making things worse. It seems the more groups that want to ensure & detail how schools teach kids how to get along with various groups, the worse things get.
 

For that I'd say it depends on which system/group/teacher etc.

Teaching children to listen to their feelings and find appropriate ways to act on them - good.  Teaching them that they're all special snowflakes - bad.

As far as schools preparing people for adulthood, I wish there was a better mandatory civics section in high school.  With prep leading up to it through the social studies curriculum.  We REALLY need to understand how it's OUR government, not *theirs* - and so much of how government is taught comes across as *them*.
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« Reply #9: April 25, 2011, 08:10:39 am »

<snippage>
As far as schools preparing people for adulthood, I wish there was a better mandatory civics section in high school.  With prep leading up to it through the social studies curriculum.  We REALLY need to understand how it's OUR government, not *theirs* - and so much of how government is taught comes across as *them*.

^^ This. Yes.

This, along with teaching general "Don't be a douchebag" methods of interacting with those around one--which, to me, means morality. It's become painfully clear to me, at least, that parents around here don't bother--so someone needs to. It's perfectly possible to teach those kinds of lessons without religious trappings; basic morals needn't be framed with religion to be effective.
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« Reply #10: April 25, 2011, 11:13:36 am »

I have to agree. The way the US trys to teach us to get along in schools is making things worse. It seems the more groups that want to ensure & detail how schools teach kids how to get along with various groups, the worse things get.
 

That's because it usually has nothing to do with teaching, and everything with sending mixed messages (usually along the lines of "yes, I think it is a weird kid too so only hit him when we can't see.")
That's not teaching. Teaching is leading by example, sharing viewpoints and approaches, pointing out nuances and providing tools. I have never seen those things actually make things worse when they were used by engaged people. (It is sad however that in today's community, neither the teacher nor the parents usually are able to and allowed to engage on such level. They are limited, mostly by the belief that nothing can or should be done, by practical issues as too many students and not enough time (as for parents, as treekisser points out), and sometimes by actual rules and regulations too - when teachers are actually disallowed from addressing threats over the internet and things like that.)

With animals, it's a very easy way to get them aggressive and untrustworthy: allow excitement and frustration to build and build, then when things get ugly shout at them and pull them away from each other,  and do nothing to resolve the situation except worsen the adverse emotions.

But, once again, that's not teaching.
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« Reply #11: April 25, 2011, 11:47:16 am »



So - although, obviously, I'm not American or English so very much IMHO - I would actually be OK if it was compulsory in Anglo-American education to learn basics about Christianity. Because it's so relevant to and gives an enriched understanding of the Anglo-American community's history, philosophy, arts, cultural references, etc.



In the mid 1970's a required class in the section of the University of California at Santa Cruz that I was attending was called "Western Civilizations".  The text for the book was the (then rather new) Jerusalem Bible (chosen, I believe because it was a closer translation than most or all available at that time).  Class discussions and papers were all about Christianity's influence on western civilizations.  Very interesting class.
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« Reply #12: April 25, 2011, 11:51:46 am »

(replying to this because it is a better jumping off point than the op)

I'm of the opinion that 'how to get along in the world (in the context of this thread)' isn't really something that can be taught.  It is something that can only be picked up through experience and exposure.  I think that this sort of thing is probably more of the parents' responsibility than a teachers.

Very much a parent's responsibility.  For example, my children were encouraged to get driver's licenses as soon as they were old enough.  Then they were expected to get places like the orthodontist and such without my help - and to make their own follow-up appointments.  these things are life skills.  My SO's children were always protected from such things by their mother - who convinced them NOT to learn to drive before they left high school - and suffered later for it.  Part of raising a child is teaching them to live in out society.
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« Reply #13: April 25, 2011, 07:55:12 pm »

This doesn't actually answer your questions sorry, but I'll ask another one instead; Can you teach someone 'how to get along in the world' in a school setting or is that something one can only learn through experience and exposure?


I don't think it a a matter or either or but both. It is unrealistic to assume that children aren't in the real world when they are at school as it is such a huge part of their life from the ages of 3 till 18 or so. Ideally lessons on how to get along in the world start at birth and continue until the young person is a fully independant (or interdependant) adult.

This can be taught at home, in out of home care settings, at school and other places that kids are. That way if one area is doing an inadequate job the others can help pick up the slack and the child will suffer less for it.
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