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Coalition of the Willing, & the Sherman Dorn Presidential Challenge

There's an interesting conversation starting in the comments below, to which Robert Pondiscio has added a longer post at Core Knowledge. The central issue: Is the goal of public education to educate the willing, or to convert the unwilling?

In other events, Sherman Dorn has issued a presidential challenge (not the kind with the mile run and pullups - but if you'd like to know how out of shape you are, click on the thumbnail above), writing:

Eduwonkette, if you're reading, I challenge you to nominate the most interesting and eclectic panel of questioners at a hypothetical fall education debate for the candidates.

Given my existing level of poop-out on the "why don't the candidates talk about education?" question, I have no good answers off hand, but will conjure one later. Anyone else want to take a swing?

Let me take small issue with the way you frame the question, EW. There's no one who wouldn't agree with the idea that the goal should be both A) educate the willing and B) convert the unwilling. But fond as we both have historically been of the facts on the ground it's important to acknowledge that the emphasis on B has limited the achievement and future prospects of A, resulting in unsatisfying outcomes for both.

I believe -- and I'm guessing Michael Goldstein will agree -- that we can do a bang-up job on A right now. And by vastly improving the outcomes, I think the problem of B starts to erode organically. If on the other hand we continue to neglect A, we guarantee more and more Bs. To put it bluntly, if schools failed your parents and you, what would motivate you to make education a priority for your own children?

I have to be frank: As a teacher, this is head-slappingly obvious to me.

I support Goldstein's and Pondiscio's positions, but I also realize that puts me in an untenable position similar to that of NCLB supporters. The difference, I hope, is that I acknowledge reality. I think Goldstein's idea would be a great ADDITION to what we're already doing, as long as it didn't provide an excuse for giving up too early on our challenging kids. But I realize that it would be human nature to give up more quickly on those kids. I can't visualize a way around that issue, but still we need to explore Goldsteins approach. The honest fact of the matter is that immaturirty is crucial, and just because we failed in middle school and early high school doesn't mean that we can't persuade older kids to return to school. College kids in their early 20s get plenty of help from society.


Haven't read associated posts, so forgive me if I'm missing the point here, but I wonder if anyone under age 16ish can truly be "unwilling." I mean that in the same sense that statutory rape assumes that anyone under a certain age can't really give consent. Patronizing, but possibly valid. By the way, as kids approach the age of drop-out/education consent, I'm all for the "unwilling" being advised into part-time paying jobs as early as possible (14) to help them gain a sense of what their options are.

I believe the presidential candidates are steering clear of education for two reasons: (1) There are more pressing issues in the country today; and (2) Whenever a candidate clarifies their position on an issue they run the risk of alienating pockets of voters on the other side.

America today is facing some relatively challenging issues, not least of which are: the economy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, terrorism, the energy crisis, immigration, the sub-prime mortgage debacle coupled with the unprecedented number of foreclosures, the value of the dollar, the price of a barrel of oil, the world's perception of the US in matters such as torture and our treatment of political detainees at GITMO, Washington’s gridlock, etc., etc., etc.

As educators, we'd like to believe our profession is important as well. To John and Mary Smith living on Main Street, education is important but it probably does not rise to the same level of scrutiny as many of the issues listed above.

If any of the three remaining candidates solidify their posture(s) on issues such as NCLB, merit pay, charter schools, vouchers, student testing, paying students for test sores, AYP versus growth models, etc., not only do they run the risk of alienating many voters with different opinions on these issues, they run the risk of alienating the 3.2 members of the NEA, the 1.3 members of the AFT, and the spouses and other voting family members of all these union constituents. It’s probably not in the best interest of the three remaining candidates to come down too firmly on one side or the other of any of these contentious matters. I would go so far as to say, unless cornered, the three remaining candidates will attempt to continue to be as vague as possible on the topic of education right up to the election in November.

The main goal of education is neither to educate the willing nor convert the unwilling. The goal of education is to provide people with a common experience so that the country may have social cohesion.

I worry that the candidates are just gun-shy--they wrap the issue around "against NCLB" or for it, and so don't talk about the range of complex issues facing our schools.

This is an area where I'd like to see a candidate roll out some big ideas--what about supporting smaller learning communities? What about supporting teacher professional development? What about considering that schools have many dedicated professionals that could use a positive hand? What about supporting the role of embedded technology in education(Bush keeps cutting or trying to cut funding)?
What about more support for libraries which are proven to affect and improve student achievement? What about the crumbling infrastructure of inner city schools and declining school budgets? Those aren't as controversial but are important "big ideas" that I'd like to see candidates talking about.

This is of course a simplification, but my point being, education is an idea that affects other things--the economy and jobs specifically--but many other things on down the line.

Just my two cents worth ;)

It is clear to me that quality education in a post NCLB environment is neither a clearly Republican or Democrat issue, making it something of a sticky-wicket. It is especially so for Democrats where loyalties are divided. On the one hand are the unions who have taken a stand against NCLB, accountability measures, choice and testing. On the other hand are various minority and civil rights camps who recognize as imperative the need to close achievement gaps (which have to be measured by some transparent means--like testing), and equitable access (which implies some degree of choice).

Just wanted to give a shout-out to Ms. Frizzle for advocating the role of adult responsibility for kids as old as 16. I started hearing the "doesn't want to learn" excuses when my child was in kindergarten--which is an absolutely frightening abdication of adult responsibility. I'm interested in knowing whether the legally mandated age of schooling is a/the critical factor. In Japan 90% of students continue a full year past the end of mandatory schooling. In the US, curiously, less than 90% are still present one year prior to the (average) end of mandatory schooling (17). In my oldest child's case, high school completion was assisted tremendously by going to a (charter) school that put a solid emphasis on preparation/transition to life after school--whatever that might look like. In my child's case, it was a well-thought-out interruption to schooling that in the end was an excellent preparation for college.

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Margo/Mom: It is clear to me that quality education in a read more
  • Carolyn Foote: I worry that the candidates are just gun-shy--they wrap the read more
  • Corey: The main goal of education is neither to educate the read more
  • Pau Hoss: I believe the presidential candidates are steering clear of education read more
  • ms. frizzle: Haven't read associated posts, so forgive me if I'm missing read more




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