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What Is The Purpose of Education?


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Webinar sponsored by Nipissing University to explore your views on the purpose(s) of education, November 4, 2010

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What Is The Purpose of Education?

  1. 1. What Is The Purpose of Education? Webinar, November 4, 2010 Kirsten Olson, presenter
  2. 2. Welcome!
  3. 3. Carlo
  4. 4. Kirsten
  5. 5. Who Are We? (Please complete poll)
  6. 6. Purpose: To understand our own values and ideas better
  7. 7. Ground Rules • Recognize the expertise of others • Listen deeply, with a sense of non- defensiveness • “When the going get’s tough, turn to wonder” • Believe that it’s possible to emerge refreshed from this conversation
  8. 8. My Background • Been teaching about this for years • About deepest values, purpose of life itself • People have difficulty “naming” educational purpose • Often assume greater agreement than there is • Discourse very quickly goes to judgment, moral positioning
  9. 9. What we believe is intimately related to... • Own educational experiences • Emerges out of our own unique “surround” • Social class, racial identity, gender directly influence “purpose” ideas • “All education is political” (Paulo Freire) • Becoming more aware of ourselves helps us hear others better
  10. 10. Questions? Comments?
  11. 11. Philosophical Roots • Plato • Rousseau • Dewey • Freire • bell hooks
  12. 12. Contemporary Taxonomy • Functionalist (secure economic foundation of citizens and country) • Conserving (cultivate systems of belief, make connections to a shared, valued past) • Reproductive (reproduce power and privilege, often under the guise of meritocracy) • Democratic (sustain shared values of justice, equality, freedom)
  13. 13. Where DoYou Fit?
  14. 14. To Learn Particular Skills And Competitive Attributes As a Matter of Equity: “I want my three teenage sons to be able to ace the SATs.” -Ronald Ferguson, author of “An Unfinished Journey: The Legacy of Brown and the Narrowing Of the Achievement Gap” Phi Delta Kappan, May 2004. Quote from an Achievement Gap Initiative meeting June, 2005. -Purpose of school is to provide skills and promote achievement that so that students can be successful in a highly competitive society -Attainment is in itself social justice -KIPP Schools -Harlem Children’s Zone Schools
  15. 15. Stabilize, conserve, and reproduce particular knowledge and values “Schooling, by definition, must be conservative. It is naturally dependent on an older generation’s level of knowledge and sense of values.” -Leon Botstein, Jefferson’s Children: Education and the Promise of American Culture, 1999 -E.D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge Schools -By knowing our past we are better able to grasp our present and future -Students must have important things to think about to think well
  16. 16. From the St. Paul’s School (Concord, New Hampshire) Humanities Program: “The study of humanities forms the core of the School’s approach to the liberal arts. The integration of English, literature, history, and religious studies affords opportunities for students to learn the arts of reading, writing, and critical thinking. Also incorporating aspects of philosophy and the arts, the humanities curriculum invites students into an interplay of imagination and intellect. Students learn to cross over the boundaries between traditional disciplines by viewing the wholeness of human experience.” Humanities III Full Year “Humanities III follows central ideas in the Western tradition through literature, religion, and history. Chronologically, the course begins with the Greeks and ends with medieval Europe. Students read poetry, drama, and prose from both literary and historical perspectives, and they learn to recognize universal themes while making connections between ancient and modern texts, or between texts and film, visual art, or music.”
  17. 17. 17 Critique of both Functionalist and Conserving views What we are taught to “think about” almost always privileges those already in power Education explicitly reproduces inequalities of class, race and gender 17
  18. 18. •Education is a means of providing students with knowledge and theory to “learn their way out” of their current situation and to transform their own lives and the lives of others. •Conscientization: education must develop consciousness for transformation •Critical pedagogy helps students see connections to power and privilege embedded in educational experiences Transform individuals and society for greater social justice
  19. 19. Strengthen Democratic Ideals and Morals “Education must…train one for quick, resolute and effective thinking, but with moral purpose. The late Eugene Talmadge, in my opinion, possessed one of the better minds of Georgia, or even America. Moreover, he wore the Phi Beta Kappa key. By all measuring rods, Mr. Talmadge could think critically and intensively; yet he contends that I am an inferior being. Are those the types of men we call educated?” -Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Purpose of Education,” 1948, Morehouse College -Opportunities for “voice” by all community members -Flatten typical hierarchical power relations in school -Powerful learning experiences are co-created and designed in relation to student’s experiences -School Within A School, Brookline High School, Brookline MA -Jefferson County Open School, Lakewood, CO -Purple Thistle Center, Vancouver, BC
  20. 20. Learn To Question “A good education teaches you how to ask a question. It’s knowing what you don’t know; the skills of critical thought.” -Ted Sizer, founder of the Coalition of Essential Schools, 2001 -Coalition of Essential Schools
  21. 21. 21 Teaching meaning-making, broaden our sights  "What you want to do as a teacher is to make people aware of the complexity of experience, of the complexity of the world--that our little corner is real and very important, but it's not the whole. And we should make the effort to understand as much of the rest as we can possibly manage. This is not a threatening position: it is an enriching one. If we can do it, we will be richer, we will be better. This is what education should aim to do: to draw out from us what is there so that it can interact with what's outside."  -Chinua Achebe, author of Things Fall Apart 21
  22. 22. A fundamental paradox?
  23. 23. Both liberatory and democratizing and reproducing social and economic inequality.
  24. 24. “I can remember my first experience with tracking. It was in second grade math. All the working class and minority kids had been put together. I thought we were all dumb. Like me.”
  25. 25. Schooling is colonizing: “The children before me found it natural and automatic to accept as normal the schools’ structural inadequacies and to incorporate them, as it were, right into themselves… It was a triumph of pedagogic brainwashing… The result was that too many children became believers in their own responsibility for being ruined and they themselves, like the teachers, began somehow to believe that some human material is just biologically better and some of it worse.” -Jonathan Kozol, Death At An Early Age, 1967, pp. 59-60
  26. 26. 26 Symbolically redefine us... “Schools symbolically redefine people and make them eligible for membership in societal categories to which specific sets of rights are assigned.” (Kamens, 1977) 26
  27. 27. Provides tools for liberation... “The educational movement, guided by passion and principle, [can] help students develop consciousness of freedom, recognize authoritarian tendencies, and connect knowledge to power and the ability to take constructive action.” –Henry Giroux, 2010
  28. 28. What’s (Actually) In The Discourse Now? • Functionalist discourse has become pre- eminent since 1983 • Tremendously flattened sense of purpose
  29. 29. “Purpose” in contemporary discourse... “What’s the ultimate goal here? It’s not to nourish curiosity, help kids to fall in love with reading, encourage critical questioning, or support a democratic society. Rather, the mantra is ‘competitiveness in a global economy’ -- that is, aiding American corporations and triumphing over people who live in other countries. The biggest fans of standardizing education are those who look at our children and see only future employees. Anyone who finds that vision disturbing should resist a proposal for national standards that embodies it.” -Alfie Kohn, 2010
  30. 30. Questions for you • Where do you fit? • Is your point of view being represented?
  31. 31. Text Which # Best DescribesYou?
  32. 32. Discussion
  33. 33. Is your point of view being represented? (Complete the poll)
  34. 34. How was this for you?
  35. 35. “[My view] is that the goal for public schools should be real and meaningful gains, across a wide range of desirable student outcomes, with greater equity in those outcomes, in a way that builds and supports positive morale among all those involved in schools and also supports high levels of public confidence in public education.” -Ben Levin, former Deputy Minister of Ontario Education, and author of How To Change 5000 Schools