More Response to Questions in Foundations of Educational Theory

Question: How are such things as personal values and living conditions connected to education? What do you believe are the implications of these connections for education in America? Please explain your answer fully.

My response:

Personal values have played a starring role in American education from its inception. The belief in a sinful personal nature drove the creation of the early mandatory school system in New England. The local, communal values of the various European settlers in the Middle Atlantic colonies resulted in a wide range of schools. I know that many parts of the Middle Atlantic colonies did not have English-speaking schools until the middle of the 19th century. And the Southern colonies tried to replicate the social structure of conservative England with their school system.

Every society uses education to create the adults it hopes for. That is the goal of education. In America, we have many intertwined threads that correspond to authoritative versus authoritarian versus indulgent parenting styles – and a few unfortunate instances of negligent parenting in education. Much of the New England model can be thought of as authoritarian. Much of the treatment of Native American and African American students in the 19th century and parts of the 20th can also be considered authoritarian, with the unfortunate twist that those cultures were not well-served by a European-style authoritarian education. Some of the Middle Atlantic styles, for example the Quaker schools, can be considered authoritative. And some of the non-standard schools (Montessori, for example) can be considered indulgent.

Because Americans have resisted a national school system, and have generally championed state and local control, these various strains have all had their days in different places and times. In poorer places, especially with large numbers of minorities, education has often been focused on a vocational track. The notion that the scarce local resources should be used to teach marketable skills that anyone can acquire can be very attractive in that circumstance, with more abstract academics considered an unnecessary luxury. In more middle class areas, schools are focused on getting students into college – where training for professional careers are more the norm. Living conditions, along with personal values, often lead community leaders to modify their educational system to address the goals and needs of locals.

I do not think we will ever see a victor in what one could think of as a contest between Horace Mann and Allan Bloom. People have remarked that America’s constantly evolving foreign policy can be seen as tension between Wilsonian idealism, Jacksonian preservation of honor and populist values, Hamiltonian protection of commerce, and Jeffersonian protection of democratic values. Much the same set of personal values are played out in American education: the Wilsonian-like desire to use education to create an ideal person and an ideal society, the Jacksonian-like desire to have education reify a common culture, the Hamiltonian-like desire to have education create commercially productive adults, and the Jeffersonian-like desire to have education create engaged citizens.

From our diverse beginning as a country, from our choice not to have a national school system, we will continue to have a system where schools have the power to succeed or fail based upon their own choices and upon their own criteria for success or failure.

My question is, how could all of these strands of American culture be served by one common, national school system?

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1 Response to More Response to Questions in Foundations of Educational Theory

  1. Pingback: What Would Be The Consequences? « Mnemosyne's Notebook

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