Musings on education
Something new each week starting soon
On the heels of the recent US election, some voices are bemoaning the state of US democracy. Some decry the choices of those they call the "uneducated", asking how these people could make such "uninformed" choices. "What has happened to our education system?" and "Why have civics classes disappeared?" they moan.
Before pursuing this sensitive topic any further, I would like to stress a quotation from Mark Gerzon, cofounder of The Common Enterprise, an organisation working to bridge ideological and partisan gaps between citizens, as quoted in this ASCD InfoBrief on public education:
“Democracy is a process, not a product. It is how diverse constituencies coexist. It is the fabric of our civil society. What keeps the United States from disintegrating into the Divided States is our fragile yet enduring compact as fellow citizens.”
So in this compact, what is the role of public education?
According to a report published by the Center on Education Policy (downloadable here),
"Public education in the United States emerged in part from the goals of democratic society: to prepare people to become responsible citizens; to improve social conditions; to promote cultural unity; to help people become economically self-sufficient; and to enhance individual happiness and enrich individual lives."
Let's distill these points.
Public schools serve three primary functions:
For the third point, I am going beyond the materialistic, interpreting "to enhance individual happiness and enrich individual lives" as:
3. To teach young people ways to enrich their intellectual lives, becoming both knowledgeable and intellectually discerning.
US public schools seem to address the first two points with varying success.
For (1) "societal norms", from Kindergarten forward, students are taught methods of coexisting, dealing appropriately with conflict, and what it means to be a citizen. How well students are indoctrinated in these norms varies widely, but overall people grow up believing in a democratic union.
For (2) "skills", students are given the tools to access the job market - the tools have changed over the years, but the concept remains. Even so-called "21st Century Skills" were created by the OECD to meet the projected needs of employers. Nothing has really changed since the advent of public education two centuries ago.
However, it is the third point which may not be addressed fully, if at all, by public schools. And it is this third point, becoming both knowledgeable and intellectually discerning, that is fundamental to a well-functioning democracy.
Thomas Jefferson famously wrote "wherever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government".
We must ask if being well-informed or nurturing the "intellect" is being addressed by public schools.
Are students given the chance to become intellectually discerning by facing well-constructed arguments that go directly against their own opinions and beliefs?
Without such point and counter-point in the public school system, how can the electorate become well-informed and discerning? It is only through debate that one can become knowledgeable and intellectually discerning.
Liberal or conservative.
Take a moment to ponder this: Are you open to listening to ideas that run contrary to your own?
Or, if not, is it fair to say you are contributing, perhaps unknowingly, to the current rise of anti-intellectualism?
Is it possible to pay school administrators too much?
OK, it's a catchy title meant to hook you, but follow my logic. I started thinking about this possibility while reading articles on CEOs' pay and the role of incentives in Harvard Business Review. I then wondered if the ideas held validity in schools.
Research shows that money ranks 5th or even 6th for people in management when asked "What do you care about?"
W. Edward Deming famously declared that "pay is not a motivator". (He also said "Forces of Destruction: grades in school, merit system, incentive pay, business plans, quotas.")
Dan Pink went further in "Drive" by saying "The best use of money as a motivator is to pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table: Pay people enough so that they’re not thinking about money and they’re thinking about the work. Once you do that, it turns out there are three factors that the science shows lead to better performance, not to mention personal satisfaction: autonomy, mastery, and purpose."
Simple enough: enough money takes money off the table.
However, is it possible to pay people so much that the potential LOSS of their high salary puts money back on the table?
In other words, if they are paid above market value, do they fear losing that incredible salary?
What would you do if you really wanted to keep your job because of the salary? How would this affect your actions, your decisions?
In any school, policy is set by the Board and then carried out by the administration. There is ample room for risk-taking, starting new endeavours and leading as long as policy is followed. For example:
However, let's say an administrator becomes risk-averse.
How could risk-aversion affect decision-making?
I wonder if these musings are at all valid. In the abstract form, they seem possible, but I wonder what people's experiences / thoughts may be. Looking forward to any comments you may have.
Until next week.