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Ian Morton's picture

Jessica and Rebecca

Jessica and Rebecca,

I am glad you two have begun this conversation, as I think it is crucial for any discussion of critical issues in education.

Jessica, I think you make a good point to have us consider how we might be applying our own ideals to the education system, and even to society at large. While many of us believe that it is universally better to be educated, this only reflects a value we have come to adopt throughout our lives. Why do we value education? Because we believe that education opens up more and more opportunities, education allows for greater individual freedom, education stimulates intellectual growth, education teaches us how to be critical thinkers etc. However, we cannot say with any certainty that these are “good” for everyone. Despite this stipulation, I hold the position that education is valuable for its ability to promote an individual’s growth. It is through education (be it education through an institution or through conversations) that one is able to better think about the world and one’s relation to that world.

Rebecca then introduces to this discussion the importance of not overlooking the sociological issues underlying the education system. Agreeing with Rebecca, my education (including formal education, personal experience, and discussions with others who have worked in and gone through various institutions of education) has lead me to believe that the current education system serves in part to maintain the social structure, a structure that does not equally share its resources and opportunities. While a discussion of how the education system functions to maintain our social hierarchy is beyond the scope of this post, I would like to briefly suggest a few so as to relate to Rebecca’s inquiry into the role of autonomy. First, inner city public schools are far more likely to stress the importance of following directions, while private institutions are more likely to encourage individuality, personal achievement, and even “honor.” Second, inner city schools are at a financial disadvantage, which in turn poses consequences for the resources available, including teachers. Third, as Liz mentions, there is the concern of the NCLB act and teaching to the test. While public schools are at risk of following a strict curriculum that offers a narrow academic perspective, private schools are far more likely to promote the development of creativity and critical thinking. Fourth, one shouldn’t forget the forces at play beyond the school itself such as the images of wealth a power achievable through drugs and violence as apposed to education. Additionally, I have heard several accounts of academic achievement being viewed as non-masculine. One should consider who makes it out of the inner city and into a place like Haverford. If one does, one will see that it is mostly women who are able to successfully make this incredibly difficult transition.

My point here is that I do not think we are necessarily showing a bias against “lower occupations,” but rather against limiting people to “lower occupations.” That is, I agree that there is nothing wrong with someone who is satisfied with being a janitor, but I do think there is something inherently wrong with conditioning someone to believe he or she should aspire to nothing other than those job’s deemed undesirable by the upper class; there is something wrong about limiting one’s ability to chose another path. One may be tempted to say that we are the ultimate source of our actions, but such a view is idealistic and shortsighted. Not only are most of the decisions we make everyday arrived at non-consciously, but also one should not deny the profound influence one’s environment has on shaping how one will live his/her life. An environment that doesn’t come with a guarantee that you’ll go to college, that doesn’t tell say that you’re “honorable,” that doesn’t have sufficient resources, that doesn’t encourage creativity and individuality, that doesn’t value education, that doesn’t encourage critical thinking etc. will undoubtedly influence one’s decision as to whether or not he or she will pursue a career that demands higher education. Again, I am not saying there is anything wrong with occupations that don’t require a stacked resume. I am rather saying that the way society and education are currently structured have a profound influence on important life-decisions we all make. I am saying that a man growing up in inner city Philadelphia who chooses to become a janitor was not the sole determiner of his fate and that his career choices were severely limited due to the disadvantages inherent to the education system.

I believe this discussion brings us to one of Paul’s points that to change the education system requires that we change society. Yet a change in society requires a change in education. To make significant a change we would have to address policy makers, teachers, and parents alike. So where do we start?


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