The Real Purpose of Education

Jul 7, 2011 by

David Clemens – My bookshelves are groaning from the weight of books about education’s ills: Waiting for Superman, Higher Education?, Disrupting Class, Save the World on Your Own Time, One-Party Classroom, Not for Profit, Academically Adrift, The Five Year Party, Education’s End, et al. Many failings are documented, some reasons are advanced, few remedies are supplied. As if surveying this critical abundance, the best such book I have read lately imagines the education discussion as a vast ocean, and “the bottom of this sea of school-consciousness is covered with the remains of school commentators and critics. They form the ooze, and nothing but volcanic disturbances will ever bring them to any light again.” Ouch!

The author deplores the “inertia of school-administration,” and certainly all around us we see inertia married to a managerial obesity where college administrators are coming to outnumber teachers. The problem this bloat creates for teaching is that

School-administration has become a branch of technical training, and it is perfectly amazing to see the deadly complacency with which the school administrator goes about his task, and accepts responsibilities of whose real nature he knows nothing, and which cannot even be explained to him because he has no faculties with which to cognize these imponderable things.

How cognize indeed when our careerist school managers are not drawn from the teaching pool and often are allergic to the classroom.

Administrative disconnect is one problem but some of those who enter teaching do not escape criticism. And you of the cold eye and colorless habit of life—shall you attempt its mission? Shall you, for a living, take the hands of class after class of little children, and lead them into places clammy with routine and barred with efficiency tests, and stale with the taints of modern industrial competition…

The cold-eyed retort would be, I suppose, “We must insure that there is no child left behind in the race to the top” or some other political sloganeering.

What drives this book is the author’s white-hot core of anger and conviction. He insists that educating is utterly, and in some cases literally, in the hands of the teacher facing the class. He says,

The great thing about a teacher of youth is not at all how much he knows of the science of education, the laws of learning, the administration of a school, or of the particular subject which he teaches. The important thing is his personal radiative power as an illuminant along the pathways his pupils have to travel. One could weep, one must weep, to observe how, in place of this, something manufactured is substituted.

All the substitute, manufactured, technologies of the “smart” classroom (the videos, iPads, clickers, PowerPoints) are just electronic props that mediate and dilute the “radiative power” of the teacher. So does ed school theorizing about teachers being the “coach” or the “guide on the side” or the techno-ringmeister. Together, tech and theory have only produced a pedagogy of gadgets. Real teaching involves the “confronting of an illuminative personality by combustible material” which results “in a lighting of those lamps in the mind and in the heart that shall eventually show the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Only teachers can light the “lamps in the mind,” not the appliances that have become the crutches of the profession.

Anticipating his readers’ reasonable objection, the author writes, “If you say, `How fanciful this all is: there are not enough teachers as you describe to answer for a single city school-system – and a small city at that,’ the answer must be that it is necessary to discover such teachers…” Ed schools, he says, “should make it their particular business to select the fit from the mass and return the unfit with great care to a life involving less disaster to themselves and others.”



seem to subtract more than they add with “seat time” classes and ideological mandates which grind out a standardized product.

via The Real Purpose of Education David Clemens.

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