Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Good Education: substance or symbol?

... people can engage in trade-off reasoning. They do in all the time -- every time they stroll down the aisle of a supermarket or cast a vote ...We expect competent, self-supporting citizens of free market societies to know that they can't always get what they want and to make appropriate adjustments. -- Philip E. Tetlock (1999) "Coping with trade-offs: Psychological constraints and political implications."
Public schools face conflicts that both private and parochial schools, so long as they have sufficient budgets, can avoid. These conflicts are based in religious and other value differences.

Religion is always a controversial item in the public school context. Although religious indoctrination is officially not permissible in a public school, what constitutes religious indoctrination is often vague. Consequently, school practices are not uniform from one district to another.

Public schools give lip-service to pluralisms of various kinds, preaching equality of treatment across ethnic, religious, racial, sexual, gender and, even age boundaries. This often bumps up against local, and even broader, traditions. (See Trading-Off "Sacred" Values: 
Why Public Schools Should Not Try to "Educate")

In spite of these problems, public schools are expected to provide each child in them a good education. What this consists of is often highly controversial. So it is, in our pluralistic society, that perceived employability and status become the common yardsticks of judgment.

What counts, in public education, as a school benefit, or cost, is a matter for debate. This debate is dampened to a great extent by informal agreements to understand every school undertaking as being “preparation for the world of work.” Even the honorifics of academic achievement are lead back to some notion of “developing intellect in order to enhance economic productivity.”

Not that it has been working! Grade inflation, wide-scale academic dishonesty, graduate unemployment and an “over-qualified” workforce are four indicators that something is amiss.

To find further references for exploring these issues, see Dissecting School Benefits: a typology of conflicting goals

--- EGR