(Guest post by Greg Forster)
I argue that the education reform coalition is coming apart because we don’t agree about what we want from schools:
The movement was well served in many ways by its various edifying impulses: to “close the achievement gap,” to “put parents in charge,” etc. But it has been haunted for decades by a growing awareness that these moral impulses do not always cohere easily.
The question, “What do we do if putting parents in charge doesn’t, by itself, close the achievement gap?” has been debated at every education reform conference I’ve attended. Such debates were lively and interesting intellectual exercises, so long as not much hung on them.
We lack consensus on what we want from schools because in a pluralistic society with religious freedom, we want to respect diverse opinions about the highest questions in life. But this leaves us with an incoherent education policy:
Our freedom to disagree about transcendent things does not mean that public policy can escape the responsibility to ask what is good, true and beautiful. In fact, the very assertion that it is good to have the freedom to disagree about transcendent things is itself an assertion about what is good, i.e. about transcendent things.
The challenge of pluralism is also an opportunity for us to discover a fresh vision of human potential that embraces the freedom to disagree about the highest things:
School accountability should be grounded in an understanding of human potential aimed at building up free communities, open to pluralism under the rule of law and respect for human rights, where people achieve and appreciate the good, the true and the beautiful in the midst of their differences over those very things.
I outline how we can understand educational goals for the head, the hands and the heart in ways that point toward the possibility of coherence in a pluralistic society.
Coming in two weeks: Part 2, looking at how teachers and schools actually carry out the task of educating students in the midst of our uncertainty about the highest goals of education. It is here, I will contend, that we will find clues to how we can hold schools accountable more effectively. Stay tuned!
As always, your comments and feedback are greatly appreciated.