Friday, November 19, 1999
Guest commentary: The new millennium: Setting the goals for education
Two articles in a recent edition of the Mosquito inspired me to reconsider how we might educate the children of Carlisle so that they are prepared for the challenges of the future. We must be willing to examine the past to look for the mistakes that can serve as guides. What if we had been charged with setting the goals for education at the beginning of the 1900s, the dawn of the industrial age, all the while knowing what we know now?
We would see the significant failures as well as the wonderful advances in the past centurythe natural beauty of the Earth becoming both despoiled and polluted, and the most advanced and well-educated nations on the planet fighting in two great wars and afterwards raising the threat of nuclear annihilation. Without casting blame, what should have been the goals of education for the children of that time? Should they have been taught merely to become leaders of the industrial revolution or should compassion, understanding and love for the Earth have been the focus of their education?
This exercise is important because it is not theoretical. The coming millennium will bring changes as great as any brought by the preceding era, complete with potential downsides. Human isolation will grow at a rate we cannot yet imagine. We have begun to see this in the growing violence committed against the self as well as against others. At the same time, the gulf between those who have wealth and power and those who don't will widen. The potential consequence of this will be nothing less than the greatest of all wars. It doesn't take much to see that this, too, has already begun.
We have to decide whether we want to teach our children to be the captains of industry and commerce, good hearted indeed but with their eyes on success, or will we educate so that the goal is to enhance the inherent goodness within each individual. If we decide to choose the latter, we will need to create a curriculum that fosters this goal in everything taught. I will cite two possibilities as a way to stimulate thought about how this could be done.
Consider this: we seem to pride ourselves on the homework our children receive, though I don't fully understand why. My years as a student, as an elementary school teacher, as a parent and as a pediatrician have shown me that little else about school causes so much discord, with so little return. If, however, we insist on giving homework as we presently do, how could we target it to further the goals suggested? How could assignments be used as a way to touch the lives of those who are elderly, alone, ill, or the victims of tragedy? We'd find that leadership and insight in this arena might very well come from those students who don't ordinarily excel in academic subjects.
Written assignments could be expanded to include field work. Not far away children go to schools that lack the most basic of supplies. How could our children directly and regularly connect with those who have less so that each would gain from the experience? The lessons learned from such activities could last a lifetime and their ripple effect could be enough to turn the tide.
These times warrant radical change. Martin Buber, the Jewish educator and philosopher, began his book on education with this simple statement that should be central to our educational goals, "Education worthy of its name is education of character."
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito