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E.M. "Mac" Swengel, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Education
School of Education
United States International University
San Diego, California

  “Under One Roof”
THE BENIGN SCHOOL
by Edwin M. Swengel, Ph.D

6

Members of every known culture, going back to the Neanderthals and the human species that may have destroyed them, showed curiosity about life, its origin, meaning, purpose, and values—philosophical questions we still wrestle with today. Poets, philosophers, dreamers, and mystics in every culture have offered answers to these questions with myths and legends and “lessons of life”—proverbs and homely adages. Those which people of their own and succeeding generations found appealing, satisfying, and practical, endured and became their cultural values and beliefs. People internalized and tried to live by them, accepting them as being true and right—but repeatedly testing them to see if they still fit a changed and ever-changing world.

We of the human species, unlike members of all non-human species, are born with almost no instinctive patterns of behavior, no innate knowledge of what to eat and how to prepare it to be tasty, how to keep warm and dry, how best to defend against enemies, how to cure or at least alleviate illness and pain. Thus it seems we have to learn everything we need to know to survive and to enjoy life. Human nature is an astonishingly rich collection of potentials that must be properly nurtured to be useful, protective, and rewarding.

We have to learn a lot to make life pleasant and meaningful. But the most important things we have to learn—and how best to learn them—are not now and never have been the central or major part of the public school curricula and teaching/learning methodologies.

Since individual life cannot continue long without the care and support of others, the fate of society is tied to the survival of its individuals. The quality of social life affects the quality of individual lives. The mutual interaction between individuals and their culture leads to the inescapable conclusion that “a society is its individuals writ large; individuals are their society writ small.” This two-way interaction can be both benign and malign. Ruling tyrants at all levels of life can squelch individuals’ enjoyment and growth--even without inflicting physical pain. High-minded, warm-hearted persons, dedicated to justice and equality for all, can and do upgrade the quality of their society, at all levels.

Knowing all this, why haven’t educators, politicians, philosophers, poets, and all who try to shape their society to fit their beliefs, devised an educational system that equips all its members with the knowledge, skills, and values they need to achieve worthy goals, personal and social, within their reach?

It is much easier to imagine great and beautiful things than to create them, to turn theory into practice, to make dreams come true. Especially difficult is trying to make fundamental, basic changes in long-established, traditional societies and systems—in religion, politics, medicine, government, economics, and entertainment. Even science, allegedly the most open system of thought and practice, has entrenched basic beliefs—theories and standard research protocols—that often prove difficult to challenge and change.

Worldwide, both public and private school systems are tradition-bound, strongly resistant to basic, radical, fundamental structural change. The traditional state-supported school system has been in operation for less than two centuries. Ironically, it has during that time proved so unsatisfactory in achieving its worthy goals for all students, that well-intentioned educators and others have continually been trying to reform it. The education brotherhood is notorious for climbing on and off bandwagons that roll in from religion, business, social and psychological science, politics, the military. Most reform efforts, however well intentioned as most are, have failed to make lasting, across-the-board, significant changes in student learning and behavior.

The basic problem of most reform efforts is that they are piecemeal. They look at problems one-at-a-time. What to teach? When (at what grade levels) to teach it? (Rarely is it seriously asked why to teach some subjects or parts thereof.) How to get kids interested in learning? (In learning “school stuff,” that is. They get very interested, and often quite competent in learning lots of other stuff.) How to fairly evaluate their learning? How to determine who is accountable if pupils don’t learn well? How to discipline them (how to get and keep “control of the class”)? How to get parents meaningfully and creatively involved? How to satisfy employers and post-grad professors? How to get public financial support from taxpayers, philanthropists, and foundations? How to recruit, up-grade, and retain competent teachers? ……….. (Any teacher or principal can fill in the empty space. I could have just added “ad infinitum.”)
 

 
  (Continued)

Treatise - Parts:  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12 
 
 

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Copyright © 2010 by E.M Swengel