Ken Robinson starts his compelling talk on Paradigms in Education (see a whiteboard video of that talk here) by stating rightly that education around the world seems locked in a cycle of constant reform. Educators are hard to please. They have quantified the human soul (or so they think) so now let’s get the “numbers” headed up. This, coupled with the misguided assumptions of Progressive thought, means that yesterday’s answers are never useful for today’s issues. But I beg to differ.
First, it has been very convenient for modern education to constantly be in a state of flux. Let’s take something that is known to be fairly standard: standardized testing. Most insiders know that if there is one thing Standardized tests are not, it is stable. I know the “standard” is referring to the fact that it is the same test for everyone. But should it not also be roughly the same test today that it was ten years ago? Otherwise any discussion of how students have performed over time is irrelevant. If the test is changing regularly, it is not the same measurement as it was formerly. And my perception, unauthoritative though it may be, is that the tests have not even changed for the better, but rather that the same score today indicates less proficiency than ten years ago. So if a school’s test scores are holding steady, they are getting less proficient. If they are getting better, they are holding even with the change curve. Prove me wrong and I will admit it; but part of the issue here is how hidden all this is form the surface of the pond. These things are happening deep in the ever changing currents of modern educational waters.
Second, not all change is equal. I will try to state this clearly, and it will thus seem too bold. If humankind is fundamentally different today than in the past (no matter here the rate of change; the simple fact of fundamental change is the point), then all that has to do with education must be in constant flux. But if there are aspects of humankind that do not change, then we can have principles that hold true to all education, even when changes occur. So there is a fundamental assumption that needs declaring before any real discussion can be had. Two people who come down on opposing sides in this question can still have good debate, but in the end they will still be across the “pond” from each other. I hold to the notion that man has a nature, and that nature (though not what it was when initially formed) is still what it was a long time ago. This means I can find principles throughout man’s conversation about education that still apply to what I am doing today.
If by change we mean that each generation shifts its focus, or its predilections, or its tastes, etc., then it is necessary for a teacher to exercise the principle that states the teacher must meet the student where he is and then lead him to where he needs to be. That is a principle that seems to hold no matter the context. Educators must connect with the student. Such principles then need only be applied to the desired ends the educator has in mind and means (which may change with changing contexts) will fall in line. I am not saying the ends justify the means, but I am saying there is no way to discuss whether means should change without discussing the ends.
So that brings me to my final question or contemplation about change. What “things” can change in education without changing the definition of education? If the ends are different today than, say, fifty years ago, then we can discuss whether all ends now are better than then, or if some were better then, or thus forth. This discussion of ends then becomes the key to the question. So it seems that a robust discussion of what the ends of education should be, and then what path would get us to those ends is really the determinate of what changes are good or bad.
And that is my plea here. When I interact with the professional educator world today, much is made of means. The ends of education, I am told, are so self-evident as to be a silly discussion. And yet I find most of the hot button issues of today’s educational debate to be ones that would be moot if more time were spent on why we educate rather than how.
So let me write down, for the umpteenth time, what is the motto of this blog and my teaching career:
Education is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue in the soul of a human by liberating effects found in the constant contemplation of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Period.