Friday, April 01, 2005

A State of Education

I attended a discussion a few days ago with some alumni of Middlebury and the education department at the college. It was great to see so many people involved in teaching and clearly committed to the goals of helping young people. The views they espoused were admirable. However, I was taken aback by several of the comments and the general tone of the debate.

There is nothing wrong with saying that someone has produced a better paper or artwork than another. Accomplishment is valuable and results do matter they are the foundation of progress. However, the criterion used to judge what makes something better then another must the clear and logical. However, the person living in the slums of Mumbai and the mansions of Beverly Hills both have equal value as human beings. Their works might have a different monetary or aesthetic value, but as human beings they are equal in the fundamental right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If education has any value it lies in the ability to unlock the potential of a human being to produce great works and acts that benefit humanity but during the course of our discussion, one of the professors made the argument that it was ok if some people did not learn algebra. As if there were a certain class of people whom this was too difficult and that its usefulness was negligible. How on earth can a person survive in the world of the 21st century and not learn about solving for an unknown variable? We are all engaged in the search for unknowns and in using our free will to make choices about how to live and what we value. What other skills might they deny the common people because they feel that they will not benefit from them? People who advocate that only a certain kind of person can benefit from the highest learning have a bit of the tyrant in them. They do not treat people equally, but reserve special status and privileges to those who fit the 19th century definition of accomplished. Rather they seek to become the arbiters of good task and right knowledge. That elitist view is becoming all to common in our institutes of higher learning. With the conversations that I have had over the past month with professors of my alma mater, I am starting to believe that elite institutions of learning are more interested in keeping their positions of privilege rather then helping furthering the real goals of education and the liberal arts.

Here I stand, a teacher at a small private school, attempting to free one mind at a time. To expect more is just hubris, and to expect less is unjust.

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