"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Musings on Mr. Rogers, Achieving the Purpose of Your Being, and Human Capital

We are following up on our post from Sunday night, examining what's happened to the definition of education from 1939 to today. Seventy years ago it focused on the individual and "achieving the purpose of your being"; now it is focusing on preparing students to compete in a global society.

Continuing from Dr. John S. Brubacher's book "Modern Philosophies of Education", page 93:

This does not mean that individuality is to be unconfined in education. Basically, the pupil becomes in time what he eternally is. The child is not to be educated for self-expression, to express the self he now is. That self may be a weak, narrow, unlovely self. Rather is he to be educated to become the self which he was meant to be. To realize such a selfhoood will require much denial and restraint of the present self. Yet the discipline so imposed is not an end or measure of education, but only a means or a result. Only if the child's nature were in the order which obtained before the fall from grace and the exit from Eden would self-expression be a satisfactory aim of education. If the child is an immortal spirit, it is his eternally progressive soul-life that is to be cultivated. The soul instinctively strives for perfection and rejoices in its attainment. Moreover, it is as a soul and not as a citizen or worker that he is to be permanently known. He is to be educated for himself, just because he is educable. In Kantian fashion he is to be treated always as an end in himself and never as a means merely. His powers are to be developed because that is their destiny. Of course, there will be political, economic, religious, and social consequences of his education, but these will be effects and not objectives.

I think about tributes to Fred Rogers when he died in 2003. NPR replayed a conversation previously recorded with him in which a woman called and talked about the difference he had made in her autistic son's life. She indicated Mr. Rogers was the first conduit to the "real" world in her son's life. Mr. Rogers had the wonderful capacity to turn compliments from himself onto the other person, and he complimented the caller for the wonderful work she had done as a parent.

He then said something so profound that I remember it as if was yesterday, sitting in my car, listening to the radio. He said, "Children need to be allowed to be the people they are meant to be in the time they need to become that person". As Dr. Brubacher wrote in 1939: "Rather is he to be educated to become the self which he was meant to be".

I wasn't able to find the transcript of that interview, but I did find a link to a couple of others which expresses the 1939 idea of education and the emphasis on the person. Tom Juneau, a writer at Esquire Magazine told NPR after his death:

"He figured out quickly what people needed. He had a radar into people's hearts and souls and with his death, a light had gone out of the world. He was a power of goodness and personified grace....he tried to humanize each person."

In this additional interview Mr. Rogers said:

"So much what is spontaneous is what is truly inspired and all that I've done that is truly good has been inspired".

Reading about common core standards and reducing children to "human capital" and data sets is completely antithetical to what was written in 1939 and what Mr. Rogers lived. Can a computer that spits out the same assessments to multiple students nationwide capture the joy and caring of a teacher like Mr. Rogers....or a beloved teacher from your past? Nothing spontaneous can come from teachers in that framework. Inspiration and innovation can't exist in such a contained system and set of expectations and mandates. However, if the state and federal educational goal is to supply the workforce, rather than to "be the person you were meant to be in the time you were meant to be that person", I suppose the evolution of the spirit is a moot issue.

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