On the Reformers’ Perspectives

Now that I have shared some of my biases and background, I would like to briefly explore what I feel seems to the filters or lenses with which some reformers are viewing education. Education is seen as an economic concern: it is to help the individual and society compete economically (Covaleskie, 2010). It is based on this myth that education is blamed when the economy is poor or the United States appears not to be competing well globally (Covaleskie, 2010; Berliner & Biddle, 1995; Bracey, 2001). Though education is measured and judged by these economic standards in poor economic times, it does not receive a comparable amount of praise when the economy is doing well or the United States role the global marketplace is growing. It is understood and generally accepted that more education means more earning capacity. It is based on these limited and erroneous worldviews that many reforms are currently being put forward and many wrongs and injustices in our society blamed on education (Covaleskie, 2010).

Critics of education claiming some authority use the media to express their views. The media thrives on bad news, giving pundits attacking education a forum to influence the thoughts and attitudes of large numbers of people. However, most of the troubling external reform efforts are coming from politicians who are influenced by these pundits. As education is primarily a government supported, controlled and sponsored activity, their educational reform decisions and influence is felt very directly. They control the funding and laws regulating education, including the curriculum. This trend seems to growing rather than diminishing.

Philanthropist on the other hand exercise influence through the ability to finance and promote educational reform. As such, their impact on education is more benign, however, because of their position in society, can greatly affect public perceptions and opinions. The worldview and agenda of many philanthropists, like many pundits and politicians, reflects an economic, paternalistic, materialistic and capitalistic bias. Bottom lines, profits, productivity and competition are generally valued ideals among these parties. Economic and market considerations tend to trump human and moral concerns. The public good, which is ostensibly their purpose, is sometimes sacrificed for expedient and private concerns.

I appreciate the philanthropic efforts of well-meaning people, but their efforts reflect their biases and philosophies, not necessarily the best of what we know about education. Their capital infusions in ill-conceived reform efforts will play out and the results become apparent as have earlier efforts. It is their money and using it to try to fix what is wrong with education a noble endeavor. However, being successful in making or inheriting money does not necessarily mean one will be successful in other endeavors, such as reforming education. Humility by all parties, including the educators and scientist, is needed for progress.

For example, other noble and important causes to solve relatively simple and straightforward problems, such as providing clean water or eliminating a disease, involve many complexities. In more successful ventures, not only are the best experts consulted, but those affected by the reform effort as also involved. Adjustments are made to accommodate to local and changing conditions and knowledge. If these same benefactors fail to follow a similar process, do their homework; consult the experts, change agents and those affected by the changes; and wisely plan and implement when it comes to much more complex educational reform, they will limit their chances for success. If they rely on anecdotal accounts, limited information, personal beliefs and biased experience to make their decisions, they will at least get more anecdotes, knowledge and experience to draw from in the future efforts.

Unlike some other endeavors, the education of human beings involves complexities beyond the reach current science to accurately determine and measure. It involves at a minimum the hearts, minds and wills of an uncountable number of individuals set in multifaceted communities and institutions that all are connected and affect one another. You cannot expect to reform one without the other. Solutions that may work in one area may not translate well into diverse educational settings.

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About rodclarken

Dr. Rodney H Clarken is professor emeritus, School of Education, Northern Michigan University.
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