Wednesday, May 16, 2007

standardizing american education

I would like to introduce you to William Torrey Harris. David H. Albert, author of Homeschooling and the Voyage of Self-Discovery calls him "the individual who is probably single-most responsible for the standardization of American Education." Harris was the U.S. Commissioner of Education from 1889 to 1906.

This "interview" is adapted from the Philosophy of Education, published by Harris while he was the Commissioner.

Me: Mr. Harris- Many people see a connection between establishing the appropriate school environment and student performance. How should American schools be set up to achieve the purpose you have defined for them?

Mr. Harris: "The great purpose of school can be realized better in dark, airless, ugly places."

Me: And what is that purpose?

Harris: "It is to master the physical self, to transcend the beauty of nature. Schools should develop the power to withdraw from the external world."

Me: I'm not sure I understand the benefits of withdrawing from the external world. Creating an artificial environment, isolated from reality seems to set itself against meaningful learning. How would you describe the students that emerge from this environment?

Harris: "Ninety-nine (students) out of a hundred are automata, careful to walk in prescribed paths, careful to follow the prescribed custom."

Me: So schools turn out good little citizens. Obedient to leaders. Unquestioning of social policy. Content to do what everyone else is doing without rocking the boat. Is that what you believe education is for?

Harris: "This is not an accident but the result of substantial education, which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of the individual."

Me: So you wish to eliminate the uniqueness of students. Eliminate their individual strengths. Perhaps even dumb classes down to teach to the lowest common denominator. Turning now to another source of online info, not necessarily the most reliable, here is Wikkipedia. What information do you have about William Harris and his effect on education?

Wikkipedia: "Throughout time, his influence has been only momentarily recognized, disregarded and misunderstood by historians. Harris’ extreme emphasis on discipline has become the most glaring misrepresentation of his philosophy."

Me: So you believe Harris has been misunderstood and maligned by his detractors. Yet you provide no supporting quotes to substantiate this claim.

Wikkipedia: "On the surface it seems that Harris is a proponent of self-alienation in order to better serve the great industrial nation of America. In fact, it can be found that quite the opposite is true of Harris when you are able to go beyond the surface of his educational philosophy.

Me: Without any quotes by him to support that claim, what do you know about Harris?

Wikkipedia: Harris, a devout Christian, is quite concerned with the development of morality and discipline within the individual.

Me: The discipline of a dark, airless, and ugly place. That kind of stark and austere environment sounds rather bleak doesn't it?

Wikkipedia: Harris believed those values could systematically be instilled into the pupils, promoting common goals and social cooperation, with a strong sense of respect for and responsibility towards one’s society.

Me: Wouldn't it be better to teach young minds how to think and reason for themselves? To eliminate mysticism and irrational beliefs? To instill a love of discovery and a life long pursuit of knowledge? What is so important about "common goals"? Why should people want the same things? And I get the heebie-jeebies when people start talking about "social cooperation".


Crazyman Bob said...

Wow, this dude sounds like he would get along really well with Dewey!!

And be really fun at parties too.

Sean the Blogonaut said...

When I was fresh out of teachers college, i was asked by a potential employer(principal) what teaching was all about.

I replied - encouraging students to learn, getting them to fulfill their poential.

He told me that it was about control.

Needless to say I didn't get the job.

Fiery Ewok said...

WOW! Scary to have it confirmed that bluntly.

What really bothers me is that I still sometimes feel like my mind is enveloped in cotton and I just can't break free of it.

The brain is a muscle. It needs exercise. After 13 years of public school and 5 years of college I think my brain atrophied.

How do you teach yourself to think?

King Aardvark said...

Scary stuff. I would have hoped that by now, in our enlightened culture, we would be well on our way to the goal of stretching and fulfilling each student. What we have in reality sounds like the dark ages.

Part of the problem to me is the straight memorization out of textbooks. You need some of that to provide a foundation, but this needs to be tempered with giving the students the chance to create and to make positive change, something that lets them know that it isn't all futile and the goal is always to be able to apply what you learn instead of just regurgitating.

Fiery Ewok said...

I agree that textbooks are part of the problem. Especially rote memory work from them.

Students would be much better off studying original source material documents, rather than the regurgitated, politically correct utterly homogenized textbooks that have been written and approved by educational committees.

Tone said...

I think it is also a lack of parental involvement in education, to the point of "whatever, just don't make my kid have homework".

My degree is in education, when I was in my final years one of my professors said, "don't bother giving them homework, they won't do it and their parents will get mad at you."

Needless to say I didn't go on to become a teacher.

Fiery Ewok said...

I wish I had a school that didn't believe in homework. We got it all the time. Including over christmas break and spring break. ARGH!!!!

An additional huge problem I've noticed in schools is the inability of the school to follow through on reasonable IN-HOUSE consequences.

For example- when I was in highschool '87-91 there was this one mom who would CONSTANTLY show up to bail her kids out of trouble. She wouldn't tolerate them getting detention, sent to the principal's office, or anything in the way of discipline or punishment.

It was a joke and I bet she averaged an appearance of once per week.

My Dad was always horrified because when he was in school- if you got in trouble at school, you'd get it triple at home.

Schools have now gotten there shorts in a "no tolerance" bunch will call the cops on a kindergarten boy with the charge of sexual harassment for pinching a little girl's bottom. Bull Shit!!!!