Under The Sun

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Must ... control ... Fisk of Death ...

"Is shared planning time an efficient way to produce challenging lessons? It may be, but an ethic of care stipulates that rigorous intellectual exchange among trusting colleagues enables them to examine their own practices. Will student disruptions diminish if kids have a few individual moments with teachers each day? Possibly, but an ethic of care finds advisory programs warranted when they help teacher and student know one another more fully. When school practices are guided by an ethic of care, individuals and whole schools emphasize growth, empathy, response, and community."
--Becoming Good American Schools[*]

[*: I'm pretty sure it's this book, but my source (personal correspondence) quoted without proper citation, so I'm not sure. The Fisk of Death doesn't care.]

Actually, I really do have to control the Fisk of Death, because upon further review, this passage isn't fisk-worthy; it's merely wrong.

I initially thought it was fisk-worthy because I thought it was taking pot-shots at potential allies by seeming to dismiss their concerns: "we don't care about improving lesson-planning or improving classroom discipline", instead of "we hope our methods improve lesson-planning and classroom discipline but even if they don't...". Such a faux pas, needlessly alienating even the most forward-thinking educational conservatives (like me), would indeed be fisk-worthy. But after further review, I think that interpretation misses the authors' point.

In fact, I think, the authors really do mean that schools are not (as we educational conservatives hold) institutions for sharing ideas; they are institutions for growing human beings. Lessons (well-planned or otherwise) and discipline really are beside the point; the point is growing good human beings by imparting self-esteem and sociability.

This is wrong, obviously: growing good human beings is the point of life, including schools, yes, but also families, friends, churches, summer camps, and even total strangers. (Learning how to deal with strangers is a vastly underrated component of growing up.) But schools have a particular role in that process, which is to, yes, share ideas: a certain subset of ideas, the "basic" ideas that our society deems to be of universal value. Schools may, and indeed should, do more than that: religious schools on one hand, or high-school art programs and shop classes on another, broaden the curriculum to, hopefully, good effect. But the basic purpose of a school is to teach the universals; if they fail in that then they fail, period.

To argue, then, as Becoming Good American Schools does, that the point is not to share ideas but to "care", is to miss the point. Schools care by doing their job. If the application of an "ethic of care" on the micro level is a way to do the job better--if caring about teachers will make them better teachers and caring about students will make them better students; which, of course, it will--then we forward-thinking conservatives are all for it. So the authors might in fact stand a good chance of getting what they want if they were willing to play a little politics. But if their square one is to thoroughly reconceptualize the role of public education in society, then they can't win and don't deserve to--and wouldn't even if their reconceptualization weren't itself wrong.

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