What Exactly is Education For?
The concept of education and the procedures that we use to implement it are inherently both cultural and political. Many times in years past I have been lulled into believing that they are not, that education is acultural and apolitical; the last three years have convicted me of my error.
What awakened my new insight was the Common Core Initiative. In researching and studying this phenomenon, I learned a great deal, but one of the most important things I learned was that supporters of the Common Core Initiative have a radically different view of what education is supposed to be and do than I did. To those we have come to call the “corporate reformers,” education is how we sort students into jobs. Education is all about “helping” children, beginning as early as possible (certainly in Kindergarten, if not before), find their proper spot in the world of work. There are many things wrong with this point of view in my opinion, but mainly I think that directing students to their vocations is the most minor purpose of education, and one best left to parents and the students themselves, with the help and support of educators.
So if jobs should not be the focus of education, what should be? Recently, I have been reading (more correctly, listening to) David McCullough’s John Adams. In early 1776, Adams was probably the leading member of the Continental Congress. He was nursing the nervous representatives toward their inevitable vote for “independency.” One of the steps that helped the body move in that direction was a declaration passed by the Congress in May that announced that the colonies had the right and would move to initiate their own colonial governments, not answerable to Great Britain. In connection with this idea, one of the representatives asked Adams to write a sketch of what such a government should look like. The result was Adams Thoughts on Government, in which he outlined many ideas that later were incorporated into our Constitution.
What you are asking, does that have to do with education? A great deal, I would suggest, as would McCullough. Adams was a firm believer that an education of all young people was an absolute necessity to maintain a free and independent government. Here are his words, which I found at the Online Library of Liberty: “Laws for the liberal education of youth, especially of the lower class of people, are so extremely wise and useful, that, to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.”
Read those words again–“liberal education of youth, especially of the lower class of people”–“so extremely wise and useful”–“no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.” Here I submit is the true purpose of education in a republic such as ours. Adams believed such education, most especially provided to those who could not afford it on their own, was absolutely essential to preserve what he hoped the fight that was ahead of him–and the American people–would win. They did win it and it is left to us to keep it. We cannot do so if we allow those who would subvert education to their own ends to win in the current battle for American education.
Neither should we allow our state legislatures, encouraged by shadowy business/legislative partnerships, to starve our public educational institutions by failing to provide adequate funding for public education that Adams believed “no expense should be… [too] extravagant” for. Nor can we allow policymakers and uninformed “experts” without credentials to “test” our schools, their students and teachers, into contrived failure. I think it is past time for all of us to stand up to these forces that would seek to undermine what Adams and so many other patriots “sacrificed their lives and fortunes” for. Perhaps you think I am being overly dramatic, but I see this fight as a critical and pivotal point in our country’s history.
As some who are on the front lines of the current fight will tell you, there are costs to be paid, and many of the early education “patriots” have already paid them. The corporate reformers have a great deal of power and money. So did Great Britain. It took six long years to beat her. Are we in it for the long haul? Are we ready, not just to make loud noises on social media and organize demonstrations? Are we ready to do the hard work of electing to our legislatures those who understand Adams’ view of the purpose of education? I hope so; I don’t like to think about what the future will be like for our children if we are not.