Monday, February 21, 2005

The Myth of an Equal Education

I am finding alot of the reading over at News, the Universe, and Everything interesting. I am always intrigued by differing theories because it challenges and sharpens my own thinking. His recent post on Equal Education was very thought provoking. He writes:

What is an equal education? It comes down to whether all students should get the same presentation or should learn the same material and skills. The traditional view holds that schools should place students into similar-ability groups to allow teachers to teach to a specific level. The progressive view holds that every class should have students with diverse abilities so that the very able can help the least able.

"From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs." -Karl Marx

While I find Marx on the whole misguided, I think the second half of this motto is rather wise when applied to education. To achieve an equal education, each person must receive instruction tailored to his needs to arrive at the same educational goal. Aside from private tutoring, which would be impossible for any school to provide every student, grouping students with similar abilities in classes is the best way to instruct each according to his needs.

It is the statement, "to achieve and equal education, each person must receive instruction tailored to his needs to arrive at the same educational goal," that I would like to focus. If I understand this correctly, it is okay to tailor instruction but only if they arrive at the same educational goal.

Who defines the "educational goal"? Before we can ever begin to think about how we are to teach a child, we must decide why we are to teach a child. What is a "well educated child"?

I had a mother call me sometime ago. She had received my name from a mutual friend and she wanted to home educate her son. He was currently enrolled in the local public school. Her first question was what she needed to buy to home educate. Before answering, I asked her a few questions. My first question was "Why do you want to educate your son?

She responded with a series of reasons on why she no longer wanted him enrolled in the local school. "Okay, so you are dissatisfied with the public schools", I replied, "But that doesn't answer my question. Why do you want to educate your son?"

She then replied with the some of the benefits of home education and how they do so much better that the public school. I responded again, "I am glad you want to home educate but you still haven't told me why you want to educate your son?" She was getting a little frustrated so I rephrased the question this way "Move past the method of education and ask yourself Why do you care that your son knows anything about anything?"

She paused mementarily and then said, "Well, I guess I would like for him to make a good living for himself so that he can afford to do the things that he wants to do and to be happy. And a good education will do that won't it?"

"Sure it will, but let's take that and move forward about 30 years. Your son is now a famous millionaire who can afford to travel the world. You are back here in Michigan sitting in a nursing home. He pays all your bills but only visits sporadically. He is happy but you are ignored and miserable. Would you consider yourself a success at the education you have provided?"

"No", she admitted. She began to realize that academics was only a part of a well educated adult.

She then turned the tables on me and asked me why I educate my children.

I responded, "My children's success is not determined by a degree or a dollar. That a well educated child is one who knows and loves the Lord their God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength, and loves their neighbor as themselves."

She acknowledged that these were not her goals but that she didn't really know what an well educated child would be for her. This is sad.

The point of this story is not to convince you that my educational goal should be this mother's educational goal but to illustrate that the goal must be defined before the methodology can be determined. I could have given her a list curriculum to buy but she probably would have found it unworkable for her (maybe even offensive!).

An equal education is a fallacy because we will never all have the same educational goal. Thus, what one may call a success another would call a complete failure. This is the great dilemma of the public schools. "Equal education" only works with a uniform goal. A goal which works well for the state but usually leaves the individual out in the cold.


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