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In reading the articles that we have covered in class, there is one question that comes to mind. Why? What is the purpose of schooling and why do we study it? The answer to this is not very simple and it requires a body of work from many different authors to try to answer fully. But alas, this is what I seek to do with my essay in which I will compare and contrast several articles written by prominent experts on Education such as Alfred Kohn, Philip Jackson, Patricia Carini, Barbara Rogoff, and John Dewey. There are many people who often assume that Education is an artificial thing created for reasons that are out of our control. But through the use of these articles and my own pertinent experience, I seek to demonstrate that learning, and schooling by extension, are not at all artificial and form a significant part of our development as humans; the purpose of schooling is therefore to aid in our already natural process of learning and contribute to it meaningfully.
Let us thus begin by analyzing each author's main points. Carini argues that through observation we can come to see the role that education plays in the lives of children. She therefore says that children should be, "Understood as active and open-ended, [like] us at any moment in our lives, and in all taken together, a complex [picture] of failings and virtues, of strengths and vulnerabilities. It seems to me that this is what makes us interesting and what makes education (and not training) a possibility" (Carini, 64). It is important to note that she highlights the difference between education and training, something that most people often equate school to. The next author, Rogoff, attempts to show us how school is a natural continuation of learning that begins from birth by giving us various examples from various cultures to drive the point home. She says that, "The propensity to seek proximity to and involvement with their elders assists young children everywhere in learning about the activities of the person who is followed" (Rogoff, 289). This quote shows us how some children learn, through participation and involvement with other members of their family. These first two authors focus the majority of their respective articles on analyzing why schools exist and how this affects the children in it. They ponder mostly upon the purposes of school in general. Herein we will discuss what this means.
These two authors are in essence making the same point while arguing from two different points of view. Rogoff argues that schooling is the right and natural continuation of learning and although schools must adapt to each child's method of learning, it nonetheless emphasizes intellectual development in a faster and more structured way, as opposed to the cultural methods she mentions. Her main point is also borne out of her view that just as children learn through guided participation in cultural endeavors, so too must this method be used when it comes to structured school learning. It is the most natural method of learning and creates schools that simply mimic natural processes of learning. Therefore, schooling in her mind is just a more structured way of going through the process of learning which already occurs naturally. The argument made by Carini is that of observing children and seeing how they act both in and out of school, to accurately see a picture of them as individuals and more importantly, scholars. Schools are therefore just a normal continuance of society for Carini, a place in which children should be watched and dealt with in a specific manner according to how they learn and develop. Consequently, it becomes clear that the point that she tries to make is that of analyzing children properly in order to see their skills and aptitudes highlighted in terms of learning, so that they may become better individuals. This then leads us to our next three authors whose articles attempt to not only analyze the relationship that kids have with school and why schools exist, but also the specific methods of education.
One of the first authors who begins to analyze the role of schooling is society is Jackson who in his article attempts to analyze the classroom, seeing how such a great part of our day as children is spent there. He summarizes the main focus of his essay like so: "In three major ways them - as members of crowds, as potential recipients of praise or reproof, and as pawns of institutional authorities - students are confronted with aspects of reality that at least during their childhood are relatively confined to the hours spent in classrooms. Admittedly, similar conditions are encountered in other environments" (Jackson, 10-11). The important part of this quote is the fact that the three aspects mentioned by the author are as he said, "aspects of reality". As a result, we can begin to see his main point that classrooms prepare the youth of our nation for the real world. But undoubtedly as education continues, the process becomes more complex and thereby leads us to the next author, Dewey. This educational expert argues that schools degenerate in a sense from places where learning is the sole goal to places of competition and standards. This he explains by saying that, "This mental habit which reflects the social scene subordinates education and social arrangements to stratifications based on average gross inferiorities and superiorities" (Dewey, 20). He shows us by extension that this is the reality of school as it stands but it is not, by any stretch of the imagination, the actual purpose of it. This then leads us to the third author that grapples with this issue, Kohn, who also highlights a deficiency in the school system which undermines the whole purpose of its existence. He says: "The truth is that the problem is not just punishments but also rewards, not bad grades but the emphasis on grading per se. Anything that gets children to think primarily about their performance will undermine their interest in learning, their desire to be challenged, and ultimately the extent of their achievement" (Kohn, 159). All these points form a basic argument clarifying what the purpose of education is, an argument that we will further analyze in the next section.
What do these author's theses have in common? In Jackson's except we see what the author sees as the purpose of schooling but the other two authors address the topic differently by emphasizing the faults with the current system and how this is incongruous with what the goal of education should be. Jackson toys with the idea that classrooms are a simulacrum of real life that slowly diffuses this fact to the children through the years and therefore helps to prepare them for life. This is an idealized view of education because as Dewey and Kohn point out, the system has gone awry. They point out the flaws in the system and how this has changed the current educational goals and affected us negatively through the use of extensive grading, excessive testing, extrinsic motivations, and ranking systems. What then do all these author's arguments imply?
The first two authors focused more on the reason why schools exists and should, while the last three authors we covered tended to focus more on how the educational system runs and should be running and how this affects the students. For that reason, the implications of their arguments are significant. They show us how school should ideally be and then portray the actuality of it and what that inspires in me, and hopefully all the readers, is disgust. We should be absolutely mad and appalled with the current state of our educational system which has become increasing politicized and has lost its global edge. I can speak to this as a product of this very same system, which got increasingly more oppress0ve and mind numbing as the years went on. But that should not be the way it is, because education is our future and by changing the system into this more regulated and standardized from of its previous self, we are doing more harm than good. This essay and these articles should be seen as a call to action in order to reverse this absolutely infuriating process and to reform the current purpose of schooling which is now an artificial creation. The main arguments made by these authors can sum up the purpose of schooling as a natural approach to learning in a structured environment that fosters learning, creativity, imagination, and discovery and does not focus on methods which emphasize nothing but conformity to mediocrity.
To better understand how influential this new purpose of schooling would be, I must reveal a bit about myself. The fact of the matter is that I did pre-K to 1st grade in Colombia and when I came to the United States, things were radically different. For starters, things in Colombia were as usual, structured for basic core classes such as Writing and Math but in every other class we had a very wide range of freedom that I could only compare to my recent visit to Far Hills Country Day School. This private school sets itself apart from most public schools by offering a different method of learning for the students which includes giving them greater freedom to move about and talk and interact with things in the classroom while still maintaining discipline. To be honest, I really enjoyed watching those kids because it reminded me greatly of my schooling in Colombia which was set up in a very similar fashion with a lot of cultural enrichment programs. But as a point of comparison, I can only conjure up memories from my first two years of schooling in the United States. Things were very different for me as I had grown up in a model that allowed me greater freedoms. I now had to have a hall pass, and a bathroom pass and sign in and out of the classroom in my typically large second grade handwriting and had assigned seats fro the whole year and to be in classes with a very rigid structure that made me miserable for the first few months. Although it did not stifle my English language learning as that was essential for social interaction, it did have a negative impact on my mathematical skills seeing how I was not used to this rigid system. That summer I had to even go to summer school. Furthermore, I can say that second grade in the U.S was the first time I was introduced to a system of standardized grades for the lower grades and even a system of honor roll; I was completely alienated. Therefore, I must say that I highly agree with the authors here who suggest that learning and school should be founded upon more natural and innate methods of learning which allows for greater freedom and thus a better scholastic performance for kids.
In conclusion, what we have seen is how several different authors analyze what the purpose and importance of school is in our modern society. And it is through the lens of their articles that I have analyzed my own school experience and have come to agree with them in what the purpose of school should be. I agree that school should not be so rigidly structured and that the purpose of schooling is to mimic the natural process in which a child learns because this will heed better results. What does this imply? To take action! Our current educational system is quickly being eroded and replaced by something that some years ago, authors such as George Orwell or Aldous Huxley would have called tyrannical. We must take action and fight against the current system that seeks to make school more structured, more rigorous, and overall, more artificial. An antithesis to what a real education should be. The purpose of schooling is to inform and to inspire and through this essay I hope I have done nothing less but to fuel your anger against the current system of incompetence and bureaucratic mediocrity and to make you realize that learning and education is not a chore; its purpose is to make you a better individual.
Carini, P. (2000). A letter to parents and teachers on some ways of looking at and reflecting children. In M. Himley & P.F. Carini (Eds.), From another angle: Children's strengths and school standards, pp. 56-64. New York: Teachers College Press.
Rogoff, B. (2003) The cultural nature of human development. Chapter 8 "Learning through guided participation in human endeavors. Oxford University Press.
Kohn, A. (1999). Punished by rewards. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Pp. 142-159.
Dewey, J. (1922/1966). Individuality, equality and superiority. In J. Ratner (Ed.), Education today. (pp. 171-177). New York: Macmillan.
Jackson, P. W. (1968/1990). Life in Classrooms. New York: Teachers College Press. Chapter 1 (3-37).
My own experience.