“Through the computer, the heralds say, we will make education better, religion better, politics better, our minds better — best of all, ourselves better. This is, of course, nonsense, and only the young or the ignorant or the foolish could believe it. ” ― Neil Postman
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the purpose of schools.
My favourite books on this is Neil Postman’s classic ‘The End of Education‘. Postman is a great thinker and writer and he attempts to redefine the role that education should be filling. Postman argues that the original ‘end’ of education was to educate citizens to participate in a democracy. As society has shifted we no longer need schools to do that and Postman suggests alternative purposes for schools, such as educating the population as environmental stewards.
In this blog post by Anne O’Brien, she points out that too often schools and education systems are expected to solve social problems and derided when they don’t. She writes “Schools very clearly play a key role in our society. But too often, we blame them for society’s ills – and then we place the weight of fixing those ills upon them.” and points to the expectation that schools can solve such deep rooted problems as poverty, drug use and teen pregnancy. O’Brien admits that schools have a role to play, but they can’t do it alone.
In my favourite undergrad. course, Peter Donnelly introduced me to the work of Richard Gruneau on culture and media. In his book ‘Class, Sports and Social Development‘ Gruneau says that culture can function in 3 ways. It can reflect, reinforce and/or resist the dominant society and sometimes does all three. This model works well for education.
Schools are reflections of the communities they serve. They reinforce the dominant social values (be on time, work hard, respect authority, etc.). There is some limited energy devoted to lifting some kids up and changing our society, but schools, as they are currently organized, are simply not agents of change. It doesn’t matter what the reason, the revolution won’t be started in public schools.