Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Rising Above, Part 6

This is the final post in a six-part series on general education issues.  I was recently invited to be part of a panel discussion after a screening of the film Rise Above the Mark, and these posts will continue that conversation.  This space will not be used for a review or critique of the film, parts of which I agreed with and parts of which I did not.  The film and the discussion it has inspired have, however, brought key education issues into a broader forum, and it is these that I will address in this series.

What is one major change in public education you would encourage everyone to support?

"If you don't know where you're going, any road out of town will do."  I heard that years ago, and there is some sense to it.  Suddenly everyone is talking about education, and of course, everyone knows what should be done to improve it.  Now, I love the movie Days of Thunder, which is about fictitious NASCAR driver Cole Trickle played by Tom Cruise.  He really does not know anything about cars, but he certainly knows how to drive them.  Yet when he switches from driving Indy cars to stock cars, he has to rely on help from the head of his pit crew, Robert Duvall, to navigate the change in driving style.  Duvall tells him, "Cole, you're the driver.  If you think it's running loose or tight, we'll give it a turn here, take some wedge out there...we'll win some races.  That's all there is to it."  Although the terminology is confusing to Cruise's character, he understands the goal.  It is to win races.

Most of the people speaking about education seem to focus on giving turns and taking out wedges.  They focus on specific, measurable tasks, and when they have passed legislation for those tasks, funded those tasks, or reported to someone somewhere that they have accomplished those tasks, they sit back and wonder why nothing is different or possibly even worse.

The one major change in public education that I would encourage everyone to support is to take a step back to see the whole picture.  Education is not about test scores.  It is not about teacher or school evaluations.  It is not about whether there is an AP program or a competitive football team.  These may be components of education, but none of them is the whole thing, and we need to reclaim our vision of the whole thing.  We must reclaim the broadest possible vision of education, which is exactly what human beings have done for thousands of years and Hoosiers have embraced since the founding of our state.

Plato devoted two chapters in his famous Republic to the topic of education and laid out a program of study that addressed the three parts of a human being; the body, the mind, and the soul.  The great philosopher knew that any curriculum that failed to addressed the complete person must fall short in preparing that person for all he or she could become.

We must resist the temptation to reduce education to nothing more than skills training.  We must resist the temptation to see education as merely a ticket to a high-paying job.  Education, of course, includes preparation for a career, but those who founded the state of Indiana knew and codified the idea that education is much more, a grand object, as they called it.

I encourage all Hoosiers to remember the high ideal of what a well-rounded education can be, one that addresses the bodies, minds, and souls of our citizens.  It is the kind of education that continues to flourish in many schools across our state, and all Hoosiers must work to promote this deep and broad understanding of education, which is nothing less than the most humane and human of enterprises.

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