Thursday, January 15, 2015

Why American Public Schools Have Struggled

Why American Public Schools Have Struggled: American public schools today seem concerned about almost everything except education itself. From Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) to 504 plans to English-language learners (ELLs), how are teachers expected to educate "all" children to high standards? And how did it get to be this way? To answer this question, one ought to examine the emergence of Progressive education in the early 1900s, when the very definition of "school" was entirely up-for-grabs. According to education historian Diane Ravitch, when the American high school curriculum started to become standardized in the 1890s (in preparation for college admissions), it opened the door for a series of "experts" to assess how knowledge transferred from teacher to student. These "experts" largely possessed backgrounds in child psychology, and included people like G. Stanley Hall, Henry Goddard, and Edward Thorndike. For Ravitch, these "experts" represented a kind of "anti-intellectualism," which diverted attention away from the process of teaching a traditional curriculum and toward the process of satisfying student needs. Unfortunately, American educators simply forgot how to say "no," as every conceivable student need started to seep into the once revered curriculum.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

On the End of History

On the End of History: Ideologically speaking, the end of history is not the same thing as the end of time. Whereas the end of time has a kind of religious connotation to it, the end of history is merely philosophical. With that being said, there have been a variety of philosophical viewpoints put forth on this topic from thinkers like Kant, Hegel, and even Nietzsche. Yet the two philosophers who have probably made the biggest impact on "end-of-history" thinking are Karl Marx and Francis Fukuyama. For Marx, the end of history would arrive once communism had replaced capitalism as the sole socioeconomic ideology in the world. This meant, in effect, that social classes would cease to exist, that private property would be abolished, and that the state would become the primary source of socioeconomic engineering (jobs, education, healthcare, etc.). But Marx could/did not foresee the rise of labor unions, which often served to mitigate/reconcile tensions between capital and labor (bourgeoisie and proletariat). For Fukuyama, who's writing roughly 150 years after Marx, the end of history coincided with the end of the Cold War. In a sense, the absence of a legitimate communist threat meant there was no longer any major ideological obstacles for Western-style liberal democracy to overcome. However, in the time since Fukuyama first published his thesis (1989), the globe has seen a significant rise in Islamic fundamentalism that frequently seeks to destroy Western democracy.