ESCANABA - "For what shall a man be profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and forfeit his life?" Matthew 16:26
We have been traveling down the road of high stakes testing and forced march curriculum for several years now. President Bush (W) and Sen. Ted Kennedy started with No Child Left Behind. Michigan followed with the Michigan Merit curriculum. These trends were not been driven by educators, but the Education President and the Education Governor.
A serious discussion about public education's purpose never took place. Officials tell us that our county/state/nation must be competitive in the world economy and students must be "employable."
Michigan adopted the Merit Curriculum requiring every high school graduate to successfully complete Algebra II. School districts push square pegs into round holes. It costs money and that money must come from programs that the state curriculum implicitly finds "discretionary," fine arts and athletics.
Children work hard to meet state requirements. But state requirements do not take into consideration the differences in temperament, ability, and living circumstances of the students. Teachers can be frustrated watching the difficulty some students have with the one size fits all system.
Knowledge can be unsettling. The Stepford Wives were satisfied with their lives and learned Abraham Lincoln was troubled and depressed. He knew the seriousness of the times and his actions.
Ancient Greeks did not educate their children for a job. They prepared them to take society's leadership roles.
Liberal arts education in ancient Roman focused on subjects that Romans felt were necessary for free people to be effective citizens. Completion of liberal arts studies, i.e., grammar, rhetoric and logic, prepared citizens to take their place as as citizens of Rome. The "liberal" in liberal arts referred to a free person not whether the subject leaned to the left of center. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberal_arts .
Education programs build values. I attended to a Catholic school for 12 years. The school taught more than religion one period a day. The entire day emphasized Catholic values. Wearing starched headdresses that looked like a halo, habit clothed Sisters of the Holy Cross taught the basics. Those familiar with a liberal arts education would have been in a familiar environment.
Citizenship was an important component of those 12 years. The election of a Catholic president reinforced that dedication to our community.
The Escanaba girls basketball game last Friday demonstrated the shortsightedness of high stakes testing. The student athletes worked hard, but beyond the court were students cheering, a pep band playing and grandparents, parents with little brothers and sisters watching. Public schools build that same cohesive atmosphere at concerts, plays and in the classroom.
A few years ago China found that its educational system did a good job at teaching to the test and accountability. The Chinese felt they were missing something, the creativity coming from an American education. China shifted its focus from testing and accountability to creativity.
The Sept. 1, 2007, Beijing Review, a Chinese news magazine, noted that"(t)he public expects the reforms of the Chinese educational system to help develop children with imagination, creativity, curiosity, and playfulness which are not only essential to the child but to the society as a whole." Ironically America moved in the opposite direction.
Presently, teachers must obtain the same result from different students. It would be similar to requiring a manufacturer to build bicycle using metal or wood or rock. Not all materials can be forged into the same design.
Schools are handicapped by national and state governments. With ever decreasing revenues and restrictions on curriculum schools cannot also provide the as creative environment as they did before meddling from federal and state government.
The federal and state government should relinquish control of the curriculum to local school boards. Local schools could then decide the purpose of education for their children.
Is the goal of education providing skills for a fulfilling life, a happy life or a productive life? Let's begin the dialog before we lose creativity and a generation.
EDITOR'S NOTE - Richard Clark, Escanaba, practices personal injury law throughout the Upper Peninsula. He can be reached at uppermichiganlaw.com/richard-clark.html