Friday, February 15, 2013

Who’s the Utopian?

We had an interesting discussion of E.D. Hirsch going in this comment thread, which I hope will continue (in the usual slow, on-again-off-again way of this blog). I can understand why people want to defend Hirsch, not just because he seems to genuinely want to improve life for the most economically disadvantaged students, but also because I think he’s probably right about a number of things, such as the importance of early vocabulary development. What I don’t share is his (and so many people’s) confidence that the good of imposing a worthy idea on all public schools and all children will necessarily outweigh the bad. Trying to force or coerce people to adopt a particular educational program against their will inevitably requires treating children, families, and communities like objects rather than like people—depriving them of any meaningful say over what goes on their schools. It also means treating teachers like workers on an assembly-line. Education, for many “reformers,” is mainly about telling other people what to do.

Here’s one thing our schools appear to be teaching very effectively: It’s always okay—in fact, necessary and commendable, something to be proud of—to impose your will on other people, as long as you think it’s for their own good. And it produces only the intended consequences!

I certainly have my own ideas about how schools should be run, but if I ever suggest that they should be imposed by law on every kid in every public school in America, or even Iowa, I should have my head examined.

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