Why school? – an American perspective

Posted on 11 augusti, 2014 av

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”Little boxes made of tricky-tacky” was the refrain of a popular song in the US from the 60’s. It lamented the decline of housing diversity in sprawling American suburbs of the time.

We might profitably borrow the concept as we ponder the question, posed by the #skolvåren Initiative: ”Why School?”. In a recent discussion with Professor Lee Stuart, Helena Roth and I asked Dr. Stuart for his views on the direction public education is taking. He offered regrets at the reduction in diversity of curriculum content and associated this trend with the decline of local community control over education decisions. As control of critical education decision-making becomes steadily more centralized in state and federal government officials, important traditional subjects of study (such as art, music and the social sciences)  are being lost in deference to the STEM Curriculum: science, technology and mathematics.

This concentration of power, reinforced by mandatory standardized testing, has made school decisions more easily dominated by a wealthy few, especially represented by Big Business, which has long tried to make public education a tax-supported training ground for future employees. The purpose of school, in this view, is primarily economic. Public education should prepare the next generation to be effective workers. Coincidentally, such a shift also potentially relieves industry of a substantial part of the cost of employee training.

Diversification of educational decision-making, by returning power to local communities, would weaken the Business voice and reintroduce the strength of diversity in curriculum and teaching methods. There is no ”One Best System” of education. Curriculum and instruction should reflect the learning values at the local level. Industrialized testing is the power tool of centralization that must be deleted. The idea that national education systems, controlled at the center, are vital to our economy and national welfare is bogus and must be defeated.

Why School? The purpose of school should be to strengthen and renew our diverse human cultures. Education should nurture the minds of a diversified population by broadly diversifying the structures and processes of teaching and learning, as determined by local communities. That is the source of cultural renewal that will preserve us from concentrated power and the collective insanity to which our species is periodically prone.

Max Riley
/Retired after a 35-year career in public education in the States, as a school psychologist and administrator, serving as school superintendent in several school districts.