I always have. It’s very non-cynical of me (perhaps even idealistic), but I strongly believe that the more one knows, the better equipped they will be as a citizen. This is relatively self-evident, but our public schools don’t often agree. They are under a lot of pressure to raise achievement in very specific ways. I bring this up because Mike Petrilli had this to say in a recent Education Gadfly.
Mike says it much better than me and even involves our friend Sarah Palin:
But here’s why it matters: There are lots of people in America who never learn “how the other sides think, or why.” And that’s a big problem for our country, and one that’s likely to only grow worse as our education policies focus obsessively on making young people “college and career ready,” the mantra repeated constantly by government officials, major foundations, and policy pundits across the political spectrum.
Sarah Palin was ready for college (five of them in fact). She was ready for a career (in the demanding commercial fisheries industry). But is that enough? Is it enough for any of our young people, even if they don’t plan to run for higher office? Don’t they need to be ready for citizenship, too? Doesn’t preparation for citizenship entail learning the lessons of generations before us, by understanding the history of our country and the rest of the world; gaining insights from great works of literature; appreciating the potential of human creativity through exposure to majestic masterpieces of art and music; and engaging in the issues of the day so that we might all understand “how the other sides think”? Don’t we want “thoughtful” people, not just ones “ready” for college and career?
While he talks a bit about the political right in the paragraphs above, this obviously isn’t a Republican only subject. He goes on to note that this is an opportunity for Democrats to argue for a broad, content-rich curriculum for public schools, but they have always been skittish about it for various reasons.
So that’s where we find ourselves today. We have a Republican Party that continues to celebrate anti-intellectualism in its candidates and in American life. And we have a Democratic Party, increasingly led and dominated by well-educated individuals, that is unwilling to stand up for a broad, liberal education for all.
Asking our schools to do this is indeed asking a lot. Getting students to be proficient in math and reading appears to be challenge enough right now. It’s important not to lose site of this broader, more idealistic vision though, lest we end up with a “generation of students who will make Palin sound like Socrates”.