Saturday, May 15, 2010

On education

Apologies for a very nonspecific title, but seeing as I haven't had the time or proper focus to write a post like this in quite some time, please bear with me. My sources are Hobbling Charter Schools (Review/Outlook) and Why Liberal Education Matters (Berkowitz), both in today's WSJ. As today is graduation day at my school, education is a fitting topic.

What is the central purpose of education? And who has it right?

Berkowitz focuses on the first question, in particular higher education. Liberal arts, he says, should be at the core of any bachelor's degree. I find it interesting that the situation is opposite of what it was around 140 years ago: in 1867, sciences needed to be ushered in to the liberal arts degree, whereas today, we spend inordinate sums on science education, at the expense of student knowledge in both fields. Many sources note the lack of correlation, positive or negative, between per-student funding and actual knowledge gained. Other factors are more important.

But I digress. The central purpose of education, according to Berkowitz, is to infuse liberal arts knowledge to prepare a student for democratic citizenship. That's a mouthful right there, about which you can do your own reading, since I will by no means tackle analysis of that statement.

Who has education right? That is, who teaches effectively so that children learn, retain, and use knowledge pertinent to citizenship, vocation, and career? Review/Outlook says that idealized, unfettered charter schools do. Charter schools are a whole other discussion topic, so I will merely compare them to home schooling, for reasons you already know if you've browsed my archives.

Charter schools ask for "exemptions from the staffing, curriculum and budget requirements of traditional public schools." So do home educators. In place of administrators who may not know a child beyond GPA and select test scores or athletic achievements, home schooling is by definition primarily parental (secondary options include co-ops, where parents of other children team up). Having brought up their students from birth (or near birth in the case of adoption), the "administration" of a home school is utterly qualified to know what each child needs to learn best. Discipline and admonishment can also be administered promptly, enabling sounder moral training in addition to academic material.

Second, "[t]raditional public schools mus usually implement a fixed curriculum and use specific textbooks, while charters can adapt both based on specific needs." From personal experience, this is also definitely true for home schools. While workbooks may be the easiest form of text to grade, some children just don't learn well from them. My parents saw this and allowed me to read great books, retell orally their contents, and do independent projects based on the material, even in early grades, as can be seen from our archived science journals. In this way, I had many years to practice being at least a semi-independent learner, an invaluable skill thus far.

Finally, "[c]harters must already operate with less money, on average, than district-run schools, and they must often find their own buildings." I view this from a more positive angle: home schools already have a building, the home (and backyard if one is lucky!); personalization and lack of levels of bureaucracy in said school allows for vast educational savings. Why pay for the newest geology textbooks when you can, on your own time, raid the library and walk through a rock-laden park nearby? Other examples abound, as Cheryl and Elephant's Child know well.

I am inestimably thankful that my parents brought me up the way they did. Their foremost training focused on imparting to me good moral character and a sensitive conscience; only then did they focus on academic skills. Now I sit here, ready to step to the next phase of education (for one never stops learning), and thank God for them.

Soli Deo gloria.


Cheryl said...

You do indeed have parents to be thankful for. And there is no doubt you have made their hearts glad in the fine adult you have become. Congratulations on your graduation and best wishes on your continued academic endeavors!

Hannah said...

Thank you very much! The same to your fine children as well. :)