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David Anthony Colarusso - Sadly not Havoc Dinosaur
Intermittent musings on the law, science, education, technology, design, and life. Also, I build things: furniture, software, reasoned arguments... To learn more about that, click a persona below for my eponymous website.

An educational philosophy: What are schools for?

by David Colarusso - April 22nd, 2007

In the past two year’s I’ve had the “pleasure” of contributing to the mission statements of two “learning institutions.” Unfortunately, these statements always seem to fall short of asserting any strong educational philosophy. More often than not, they are meaningless exercises in window dressing. So I decided to give it my best go. Below you’ll find my mission statement for public/state education. Tell me what you think.

Public education should aim to provide students with the skills and experience necessary to individually and collectively construct, acquire, evaluate, and apply robust emotive, descriptive, and predictive models of their world.

Noting these tasks are most often performed within the context of a community and recognizing its role as a public service, schools should aim to assure that individual learners understand their role in the healthy operation of society and that in an ever-changing world, a deliberative democracy is most healthy when comprised of individuals holding a diverse set of beliefs.

Update: 2006-04-29. That last sentence is too long and needs some clarification.

Entry Filed under: General Observations, Society At Large

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Matt D  |  April 27th, 2007 at 8:27 am

    Interesting. But I’ve a few comments. First, I’m not quite sure what a ‘deliberative democracy’ is. I suspect that if I don’t, others probably don’t. (There aren’t many areas with respect to which I would make this claim, but I think I can here.) Second, it’s not clear to me that a democracy functions best when there is a diverse set of beliefs held by the demos. It really depends on which beliefs you’re talking about. For instance, I think that a democracy functions better when there is general agreement about basic human rights and values (that they exist and what they are). So, sometimes disagreement is healthy, but never as end in itself, I think. It is instrumentally good–good only as a means of getting at the truth of a position or an issue.

    More generally, though, you’re right about the function of education in a democracy. It serves the purpose of giving citizens facts about the society in which they live and the world in which they live, and the critical thinking skills to evaluate various arguments that are given for different worldviews and systems of values. This makes education sound as if knowledge is only instrumentally good. I don’t think this at all, though. I think that Aristotle was exactly right about knowledge being a part of human flourishing. Too often in a race to acquire money and other goodies we don’t stop to ask questions about what makes a life a good life, and part of this is–I think, at least–acquiring knowledge. So instilling a love of learning for the sake of learning also is an educational goal.

    I think that a mission statement can at least be meaningful, even if it doesn’t inspire others to action. On the other hand, it can do that. Here are the words written in front of the Administration Building at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I find them quite inspirational:

    “Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere, we believe that the great State University of Wisconsin shall ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth may be found.”



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