What is below is a short essay on what I feel the purpose of education is.
I am always happy when given an opportunity to share my philosophy of education; this is my passion. I am seeking a school where I will have the support to pursue what I consider an ideal classroom experience for my students. My goal is to foster their innate desire to know by providing them with opportunities to ask questions and find answers.
Today more and more education has been driven by the goal of passing children on artificially developed tests, in this situation the students are short-changed a good education and true learning is forgotten. This summer I first learned from a colleague about highly structured curricula wherein the teacher has no creative or adaptive power but simply follows the step-by-step directions for teaching a class. The goal is that all students in the school at a given level will be covering identical materials at any given time. I learned more about this schooling method by reading “Still Separate, Still Unequal: America’s educational apartheid” by Jonathan Kozol (2005). Kozol discusses the trend in inner city schools to follow a program called Success For All (SFA) inspired by the scholarship of B.F. Skinner. As I understand it, this program serves the sole purpose of manufacturing students to pass high stakes tests, not to stimulate true learning or a passion for life-long scholarship; it is designed to cheaply graduate the masses.
Further understanding of the current trend of high-stakes testing in education brings us to No Child Left Behind (NCLB) the legislation which was first published in 2001 requires that annual state assessment be given to children in grades 3-8 on the subjects of math and reading, stating that this will ensure goals are being met for every child. The program has effectively placed far too much emphasis on testing by using high-stakes tests as a yardstick to measure school success, then rewarding “exceptional” schools with extra funding and interfering in the control of “failing” schools while taking away their funding.
The modern educational system is a descendent of over a century and a half of educational reform in out country. Some of what we see today is in direct response to mistakes made in the past and some is the ongoing repetition of mistakes that we have not yet removed from our system. The public school system is set up to be highly secular, this is a reaction to the common schools which were exclusively Protestant. The creation of tracking occurred around the turn of the eighteenth century, and although it is much scrutinized has not been removed. Tracking brought the beginning of high stakes testing, when a test was used to determine what program a student would pursue in his or her school career (Nasaw, 1979).
The proper purpose of education is to foster students learning and to create life-long seekers of knowledge. This is my firm belief. The ideal classroom must be one where students are encouraged to take ownership of the curriculum. Barbara L. Brodhagen (Apple, 2007 p. 83-106) describes a class where this happened when the students were given the power to control what they would learn. The teachers’ goal in this classroom was to let the students experience a democratic approach to school. At the start of the year the whole class developed and signed a class constitution and discussed questions they were interested in finding answers to. Units were created around those questions and the students teamed with the teachers as they sought their answers. Many teachers today are afraid to take this type of approach for fear that the students will under perform on state assessments or will not have covered all of the standards set by the state and federal governments. Brodhagen said they were backtracking to the standards and the result was that everything that needed to be covered was, while the students took more away from the year in this class then in any other; they also performed at or above the average on assessments. This is a model classroom because the students learned not just content, but also discovered that learning could be a great benefit to them.
It is an absolute fact that every child is capable of learning, but as Nel Noddings points out in The Challenge to Care in Schools, it is not always the case that every child will learn the same materials, or will learn in the same way. This is important for me as an educator to keep in mind, as my goal is to offer challenges to all my students, but not to ask the impossible from them. This requires some extra work on my part to offer a differentiated curriculum wherein every student receives the maximum benefit from his or her work. Although there is a broad range of topics that students need to master to some degree, a teacher must recognize that each students will have special skills in some, not all topics. This is why the curriculum must be planned in a way that is cross-curricular. Brian D. Schulz (Apple, 2007 p. 62-82) tells the story of a class that sought to change the community through seeking a new school building. In this class something has been identified which is important to every student, so as they work to get a new building they cover many topics, and work to perfect the skills, understanding that it is important to do so in order to achieve their goal. For every student there is something that is important to him or her, and if that topic is integrated into other topics the student will have an authentic motivation to perfect all related topics. This is why units must be cross-curricular, when a student is passionate about sharks, he or she can read about the shark and be done, or the shark can become the topic of writing, presenting, and mathematics, all important to the student because the topic of sharks is important to him or her.Students need a teacher who is concerned and interested in them as a person. I am committed to recognizing the needs of my students, and creating an environment where diversity is valued. Barbara L. Brodhagen (Apple, 2007 p. 83-106) discussed the choice made in her class to take time every Monday morning to allow students to share about themselves, their weekends, what they had learned, or other topics that were important to them. This created an awareness of the differences that existed in that class and sent a message to the students that they were important as a whole person, not just as students. An educator needs to look for opportunities like this to care for the emotional needs of his or her students so they will be more at home in the classroom.
Apple, Michael W., and James A. Beane. Democratic Schools, Second Edition Lessons in Powerful Education. Chicago: Heinemann, 2007.
Frasen, James W., ed. The School in the United States: A Documnetory History. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2001.
Kozol, Jonathon. "Still Separate, Still Unequal: America's educational apartheid." Harper's Magazine Sept. 2005: 41-54.
Nasaw, David. Schooled to Order A Social History of Public Schooling in the United States. New York: Oxford UP, USA, 1981.
"No Child Left Behind: President Bush's Education Reform Plan." ED.gov. 19 Jan. 2005. United States Department of Education. 8 Aug. 2009
Noddings, Nel. The Challenge to Care in Schools: An Alternative Approach to Education. 2nd ed. New York: Teachers College P, 2005.