Saturday, February 06, 2010

Educational Mainfestos....a response

This reply via email from my father....

I have been reading your explorations fo educational manifestos the last few days and found a couple of them interesting and even understandable. I like the portion off Hirsch’s manifesto you provided. I also appreciated John Holt’s ideas; however, I can’t help but think that most home school parents either have some special skills or are committed to the belief that education of their children is their primary responsibility – not that of the state or the school board or any other institution to whom they choose to delegate that responsibility. The problem I have with Holt’s idea is that we have largely skipped at least a generation where parents by necessity made things, worked with and solved problems that had to do with survival and getting on to an improved although more sedentary life. Back in the first half of the last century when America still had a significant rural culture, Holt’s idea may have been more workable, but I’m not so confident that our present society could with single parent families and questionable work ethics handle Holt’s ideas.

Not surprisingly, I find a lot to agree with in my dad's thinking. Hirsch has something important to say, but I'm disheartened by the way his ideas are so often hitched to the test score bandwagon. I don't think that teaching content and teaching children are mutually exclusive propositions, yet this seems to me to be the rhetorical dividing point when it comes to Hirsch sympathisers.

As for the point about Holt, I'm intrigued but not necessarily persuaded by the notion that the disappearance of skills and habits of mind that were part and parcel of rural culture have in some meaningful way depleted the home school educational repertoire of parents...more handicapping in my opinion are the societal and legal barriers that have been erected preventing a child's access to the adult world of experience, both work and social. The great loss in the passing of rural culture is not so much the specific skill sets that are gone; rather, it is the disappearance of an alternative life path for young people who cannot flourish in a classroom. Without romanticizing the life of kids who left school early in the era of my father's youth, I can't help but feel like we've traded freedom and striving for shackles and compliance.

Children since time immemorial have been put to work or sent to school. Abraham Lincoln was literally an indentured servant to his father, and it was his most fervent hope to one day be delivered from that bondage. He seized upon learning, something his father derided, as his ticket out. I wonder if perhaps both worlds, the world of work and the world of school, need to be open and permeable in order for young people and people in general to better appreciate each one for what it is and what it could lead to.

Perhaps Holt's ideas are unworkable in a society that has so thoroughly institutionalized its people, but Hirsch's ideas seem premised on accepting this institutionalization and focused on shaping and defining its character rather than on loosening its grip on us.


Blogger Chas. said...

I read in Friday's Observer that one of the beauties of the upcoming 7-period day schedule was its EFFICIENCY -- so that spurred me to check your blog to see if there might be a comment on the immense sagacity & omniscience of that statement. Alas, nothing yet, but it was fun to read the 7 manifestos (teach one each period some day next year??)

You and your father's thoughts on the consequences of the demise of the rural lifestyle brought to mind something I heard Ted Brown mention years ago: that the recent (then) growth in homeless/ill-adapted men in Portland (and other urbanscapes) was partially fueled by the loss of farmhand/ranchhand jobs -- jobs that could absorb men of all ages, men of limited social and emotional experience or capabilities. Ted's comment brought back memories of meeting such men in my early youth while hunting on far-flung eastern Oregon ranches with my dad. The loss of such rural employment, room, and board surely has taken its toll.

6:46 PM  

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