Friday, November 12, 2010

What does it mean to be well educated?

So much of educational debate focuses on how to assess whether our schools, teachers, and kids are meeting certain goals, but the goals themselves seem very narrowly defined. It sometimes seems like we are letting assessment itself drive the goals -- as if we’ve concluded that there’s no point in pursuing any goal if it can’t be measured on a test.

That strikes me as impoverishing our conception of education, so I wanted to open up that topic here. In my last post, I described one quality that I hope education will instill in my kids: healthy skepticism, by which I mean not just being able to evaluate other people’s claims about the world, but being inclined to do so.

What qualities do you think a good education would instill in a person? How do they break down between acquired knowledge, skills, behavioral traits, mindsets, and values?

(The title of this post is borrowed from a book by Alfie Kohn.)

1 comment:

northTOmom said...

Chris: These are great questions. I too value healthy skepticism, and think that an ideal education would be one that encouraged such a trait in kids. I fear, though, that schooling most often has the opposite effect. Despite the current emphasis on "critical thinking skills," for instance, I think schools actually value a kind of unquestioning, rah-rah enthusiasm, and reward the kids who unequivocally exhibit it. Kids who do not display this cheerleader attitude—towards the school, the sports teams, the curriculum, towards everything, really—are dismissed as having a bad attitude.

I'm trying to think of what a school that encouraged true critical thinking would look like. I don't have the answer but I think it would have to be a lot less institutional than your average public school, because institutions—in order to sustain themselves—require people who believe in them.

I'm very tired, and I suspect not making sense. (I've already caught a dozen typos, and I'm sure there are a dozen more I have missed--sorry!) I'll just add that my daughters have managed to find a kind of middle ground between mindless enthusiasm and outright rebellion. They appear to be good little girls at school, but at home they express a lot of healthy skepticism. I'm thankful for that, at least.