Well, we’re entering budget season here in Belmont and, with money tight, one of the inevitable questions that’s going to get asked a lot is “what?” “What services do we want our town and schools to provide?” “What level of financial support do we, as a town, feel able to give to support those services?” And, should cuts in services be inevitable, “what services are absolutely necessary, rather than just ‘nice to have’?” In the context of schools, these “what” questions often boil down to programming and curriculum – “What do we offer now?” “What additions or subtractions may be necessary given the mandates and (budget) limitations we have to work within?”
I say this as a kind of long-winded way of wondering whether “What” is the right question to ask at all, and point you to a great discussion I heard this weekend on Speaking of Faith, a public radio show that explores issues surrounding faith. This week’s show was titled “The Meaning of Intelligence,” and I think it should really be required listening for anyone who’s interested in the question of how to improve education in the U.S. in the 21st century. The focus of the show is an extended interview with UCLA professor Mike Rose who teaches in the graduate program in Education and Information Studies. Rose, whose background is in Cognitive Psychology, has written extensively about education, poverty, the nature of effective (and ineffective) pedagogy,and so on.
Instead of asking the “What” question about education, Rose asks a lot of “Why” questions? “Why do we need education in a democracy?” “Why do discussions and debate about the value of an education tend to fall into the same patterns/ruts: abstract vs. practical, Ivory Tower vs. School of Hard Knocks, manual versus “intellectual” labor, East/West Coast vs. Middle America?” Most of all, he talks about the importance of education to our democracy, and how our discussions about educating a “21st century workforce” tend to give short shrift to the other things we need (public) education for: educating the next generation of citizens and voters, artists and writers and poets. Talking only about producing future workers, Rose argues, really leads to an impoverished discussion of education, itself. Rose’s most recent work, appropriately is entitled “Why School?,” where Rose takes on, among other things, the impact of the No Child Left Behind legislation on learning and the way that testing tends to narrow the scope of what happens in the classroom.
Its a really fascinating talk with a guy who doesn’t shy away from asking the big, important questions about the role of schools and education in our democracy and how the way we do education in the U.S. might be changed so that students can reach their fullest potential. Check it out!