Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Education Quotes Regarding What's "Relevant" To Students

Earlier this week I received the March 2010 issue of Education Matters, the periodic publication of the Association of American Educators, and enjoyed reading Will Fitzhugh's article titled History Relevant to Them: NC debates the role of history in schools. The article itself discusses a suggestion in North Carolina that would change the required US history class to include history only since 1877 (the end of Reconstruction)--to make history "more relevant" to the students.

Two thoughts in that piece jumped out at me, and not just as they relate to history. The first was Kieran Egan's quote from Bertrand Russell, which I've posted on this blog before:

The first task of education is to destroy the tyranny of the local and immediate over the child's imagination.

Later, Fitzhugh himself makes some very lucid points:

But the task of academic work is not to appeal to a student's comfortable confinement to his own town, friends, school, and historical time (exactly the same criticism I had of Paulo Freire--Darren).

Academic work, most especially history, opens the student to the wonderful and terrible events and the notable human beings of the ages. To confine him to what is relevant to him before he does academic work is to attempt to shrink his awareness of the world to an unforgivable degree...

Our job as educators is to open the whole world of learning to them, to see that they make serious efforts in it, and not to allow them to confine themselves to the ignorance with which they arrive into our care.

Hear, hear.


mazenko said...

And then, of course, there is the State Board of Education in Texas - making John Calvin mandatory, but not Thomas Jefferson, and making the teaching of the Judeo-Xtian background of the Founding Fathers mandatory, but not the philosophical background of a separation of church and state.

Among other mandates.

Darren said...

If I recall correctly, those were for a *world* history course, not American history.

mazenko said...

True - but think about the reasoning:

"Even the course on world history did not escape the board’s scalpel. Cynthia Dunbar, a lawyer from Richmond who is a strict constitutionalist managed to cut Thomas Jefferson from a list of figures whose writings inspired revolutions in the late 18th century and 19th century, replacing him with St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and William Blackstone.

“The Enlightenment was not the only philosophy on which these revolutions were based,” Ms. Dunbar said.

Removing Jefferson as a major influence on 18th and 19th century revolutions? Dismissing the Enlightenment as an influence on the revolutions?


David said...

In A Preface to Paradise Lost, C S Lewis contrasts the characters of Adam and Satan, as developed in Milton’s work:

"Adam talks about God, the Forbidden tree, sleep, the difference between beast and man, his plans for the morrow, the stars and the angels. He discusses dreams and clouds, the sun, the moon, and the planets, the winds and the birds. He relates his own creation and celebrates the beauty and majesty of Eve…Adam, though locally confined to a small park on a small planet, has interests that embrace ‘all the choir of heaven and all the furniture of earth.’ Satan has been in the heaven of Heavens and in the abyss of Hell, and surveyed all that lies between them, and in that whole immensity has found only one thing that interests Satan. And that “one thing” is, of course, Satan himself…his position and the wrongs he believes have been done to him. Satan’s monomaniac concern with himself and his supposed rights and wrongs is a necessity of the Satanic predicament…"

One need not believe in a literal Satan, or for that matter be religious at all, to see the force of this. There is indeed something Satanic about a person who has no interests other than themselves. And by insisting that everything be “relevant” and discouraging the development of broader interests, the educational authorities in Britain are doing great harm.