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Posted at 11:40 AM ET, 05/ 5/2010

Goodlad: Straight Talk About Schools, Part 2

By Valerie Strauss

This is the second of three articles by influential education theorist and reformer John I. Goodlad. In the first piece, he asked whether we are ignoring 50 years of school reform.

Goodlad, author of more than three dozen books, is president of the Institute for Educational Inquiry in Seattle and has held professorships at Emory University, the University of Chicago, the University of Washington and UCLA, where he was dean of the Graduate School of Education from 1967-1983. His1984 book “A Place Called School,” is often credited with launching research efforts on school improvement.

By John I. Goodlad

My father’s father was the wisest man I ever knew.
Sixty years of education and seven years of school.

Lee Thomas Miller & Bob Regan,
“The Family Bible and the Farmer’s Almanac,” recorded by Randy Travis

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Schools are not our major educators. Adding hours, days, and even weeks will not make them so.

In their book, “Tinkering Toward Utopia,” to which I referred in the first of these three articles, scholars David Tyack and Larry Cuban neatly referred to the detailed ways and means of providing schooling (curricula, pedagogy, classroom management, etc.) as the “grammar” of schooling. It is the near totality of this grammar being the whole of schooling that causes it to be a much weaker player in the education of the young than it could and should be.

Ironically, given the core of this grammar over recent years, it has, unwittingly, been providing strong support for both doing away with school and for prioritizing it. If the grammar of schooling and schooling are one and the same, then the message to reasonably observant parents of children in public school is that schools’ major function—not mission, purpose, or goal—is child care.

Several acquaintances of mine have made this observation, expressing relief that their children attend private schools after learning about what their friends’ children are doing in public schools. The fact that it took so long for major concern over No Child Left Behind to surface is both disturbing and indicative of the need for the daily functioning of our schools to get back to local communities.

The late Theodore Sizer caught my attention one more time a decade ago when he wrote that the National Commission on Excellence in Education (that produced the report "A Nation at Risk" in 1983) had concluded “that the public and the polity, for whatever reasons, were largely satisfied with the existing shape and routines of the familiar placed called school” (“Back to A Place Called School,” in The Beat of a Different Drummer, 1999, p. 112). The Commission had sought expert advice and concluded that sweeping change was needed but chose not to disturb “the ways the American middle class shaped its [school] experience.” It simply urged doing better, much better, with the “existing apparatus.”

As I wrote in the first article, given the Annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitude Toward the Public Schools over several years, and given that there has been little to no good news about our schools for half a century, it is not surprising that the public believes there to be many thousands of bad schools “out there.”

But most Americans give the schools they know and the ones their children attend surprisingly high marks. Consequently, those schools do not need reform. And, furthermore, since such a large percentage of us have these highly rated schools, WE do not want to hear any more about eliminating or privatizing them. What is needed is to improve those bad schools “out there.”

Go ahead and fix them, Mr. Secretary. And, dear reader, let’s stop thinking, reading, or writing about the fact that there is about the same percentage of parents and their neighbors “out there,” polled or not polled, who gave or would have given high ratings to the schools they know or their children attend. Let’s keep it a secret and then we will not have to worry about the feds monkeying around with OUR schools.

Furthermore, Mr. Secretary, we know that many of these schools really are in bad shape, and so you might need to go deeper than the grammar into the deep structure and cultural context of schooling.

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When one considers in its length and breadth the importance of the nation’s young, the broken lives, the defeated hopes, the national failures, which result from the frivolous inertia with which [education] is treated, it is difficult to restrain within oneself a savage rage.
Alfred North Whitehead, The Aims of Education, 1929

Alfred North Whitehead was one of the leading philosophers of the first half of the twentieth century. The sentence above is one of the harshest he ever wrote; it is not about the grammar of schooling. He was writing about what education is, our failure even to try to understand what it is, and the resulting consequences.

His contemporary, philosopher John Dewey, agreed that education has no ends beyond itself; it is an individual process of becoming a unique self—not, for example, preparing for kindergarten or college. As British philosopher R. S. Peters wrote later, such preparation is training,not education.

When addressing various audiences a few years ago, I usually opened with a little word game. I asked people to speak the first word that came into their minds when I said “education.”

Almost always they responded “school,” and others nodded. I then said the word “school.” The responses were all on the “soft and caring” side, with frequent references to “the whole child”—three words that became almost taboo back in the intellectual wars over “progressive education” and have remained so since.

I said the word “schooling,” and almost all the responses were bureaucratic, hierarchical, and impersonal in character.

Over a century ago, at the beginning of the twentieth century, philosopher William James cautioned us to maintain a balance between the soft and tender and the hard and tough fabric of the American culture. The clash between the two always surfaces in eras of school reform.

Even though most of us go too far in equating education with schooling, we have an awareness that education is somehow more encompassing than schooling. There is something both spiritual and moral in the ecology of education that holds us together and makes for the strong and good society. I like philosopher Mortimer Adler’s idea of education’s preparing everyone to discharge the moral obligation to lead a good life and make as much of one’s self as possible (in We Hold These Truths, 1987, p. 20). But he notes that our schools do not serve this mission very well. Should they? Can they?

Nearly two decades ago, colleagues and I created a nonprofit entity, the Institute for Educational Inquiry, to address questions like these that pertain to the relationship between education and democracy and the implications of this relationship for schooling. We already had created a kind of “proofing” ground of school–university partnerships for testing hypotheses gleaned from three decades of research on educational change, schooling, and the education of educators.

More recently, we put together a small network of elementary and secondary schools that were and still are struggling both to teach democracy and to demonstrate what it is. Both networks are still alive but severely daunted by the near-counter agenda of No Child Left Behind.

A few years ago, we identified and brought together a group of scholars variously engaged in the education–democracy relationship. It soon became evident to us that the traction, both substantive and political, necessary to creating and sustaining the schools we should and can have is far more likely to be found outside of schooling than within.

No matter what the fixing and reforming of today or tomorrow, it is our seriously addressing the agendas put aside over reform eras of the last fifty years that promises a new day for our schools.

These unfulfilled agendas are beyond those of the grammar of schooling, but our failure to take action regarding them accounts in large measure for the tinkering that has and still does characterize so-called school reform. Colleagues and I chose four domains that have powerful implications for schooling, on one hand, and the well-being of our democracy, on the other. What Alfred North Whitehead, John Dewey, and R. S. Peters saw education to be tells me that constructive action regarding these four domains would not only advance the obviously necessary changes in our schools but also bring them closer to what education is.

I need to make clear that the realities of the context of schooling and both its conduct and deep structure are not my primary topics in what follows below. They need to be addressed, but my purpose in article three of this Washington Post trilogy will be to describe some changes in schools that would significantly reduce the present negative impact of the realities I will now briefly describe. Not to do so would arouse, I think, the ire of the gentle Professor Whitehead.

I draw extensively from the documents of my colleagues and thank them for their good work. (Please see AED Scholars’ critical issues papers at http://www.ieiseattle.org/AEDScholarsCriticalIssuesPapers.htm.)

Domain One: Inequities
The necessary conditions of a strong and good society are wise and healthy people and a culture that sustains both wisdom and health. These have been widely believed to be part of the promise of The American Dream. This belief does not, however, extend to the expectation that initial inequities will be righted to the point that everyone has an equal start. But there is widespread belief that the opportunity to attain equity and beyond is available to all. The unfortunate consequence is that non-attainment is too commonly viewed as failure, even by the individual or group who tried.

The irony is that many of the necessary conditions for a strong and good individual are embedded in our culture but not equally distributed. Not to worry—education is the great equalizer. Unfortunately, in policy, family, community, the marketplace, institutions, and more, it turns out not to be. Compulsory schooling is both a mockery and a challenging opportunity for equity. At little financial cost, this mockery need not be.

Domain Two: The Educative Surround
I began this writing with the statement that schools are not our major educator. Yet we behave as if they are. Also, most of us regard education as a good thing. Actually, it is a neutral concept; if we want it to be good, we must make it so. Philosopher Jane Roland Martin does a wonderful job in her book Educational Metamorphoses (2007) of showing us not only how ubiquitous education is but also how powerful an educator our surround is. The child’s journey from nature to the non-intentional educating of culture to the intentional educating of school, whether good or bad, is astonishing from the time he or she became a problem solver during the first hour after birth.

During the preschool years, children are well on their way to developing the cognitive styles (and many other behaviors) they will have by the age of eighteen when college looms. Some of them will have what they need to get into college and graduate, but that does not ensure that they will do well in their later work. Our schools will get a large part of the blame for young men and women not having the credentials for college admission. While excellence in elementary and secondary school teaching makes a positive difference, it is dwarfed by the economic, social, and educational capital of the school’s educative surround.

Domain Three: Humankind
Perhaps it is because the United States of America became a major player in the world so quickly and recently that we have not managed as a nation to become as well educated as we have become much schooled. This is in part because we are so ready to stereotype in such a wide array of domains—especially humankind. My dictionary provides precisely what I am trying to say about stereotyping: a standardized mental picture held in common by members of a group and representing an over-simplified opinion, affective attitude, or uncritical judgment. People more qualified than I express concern over what they view as a serious and growing problem.

Ironically, the advancement of education and schooling has continued to suffer from racial prejudice even as the courts flattened the field. But the problems extend into subtleties arising out of a limited understanding of the world’s cultures and the extraordinary diversity in humankind.

Would-be school reformers, including practitioners, are too ready to credit their introduction of some innovation in pedagogy for the rapid academic progress of an “immigrant.” But where did the immigrant come from and when? If from Kenya, for example, the child will be speaking three languages, will probably have parents who hold university degrees, and might have plans to be a physician specializing in neurology.

Having world-class teachers and schools in the U.S. calls for much more than having producers of high standardized test scores.

Domain Four: Vision and Mission
In article one of the three, I wrote of the response of behavioral scientist Ralph Tyler, icon of educational leadership throughout the second half of the twentieth century, to the question of what schools are for. Without hesitating, he said that they are to provide whatever educational is not being taken care of in the rest of our society.

This means that there must be a vision that encompasses both what education is and what of it is necessary to the renewing well-being of our culture. There must also be a compass that warns us quickly when missions that claim fulfillment of the vision are off course. There was a period from the mid-1980s well into the mid-1990s when virtually all proposals for schools of the coming millennium claimed “it’s all for the children.” I could not find anything that was.

The need now is not for the federal government to tell us what our schools are for. Nor is there a need now or in the future for the president to appoint a representative commission for the development of a national mission of schooling for policymakers, educators, educational organizations, unions, and community leaders.

There is, however, a growing need to bypass the political establishment and bring together a small group of our most respected wise women and men to develop a self-renewing vision of education in a democratic society.

There is urgent need also for the federal government to fund regional centers that provide comprehensive renewing inventories to assist local schools and communities in selecting from the richness of this planet what is important and compelling for the educational trajectory of the young.

In the meantime, there are some things we can do to put aside repetitive school reform and advance our progress a little toward the myriad expectations for a new day in schooling. I will introduce you to a few of my expectations in the third article.

Here is Part 1: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/john-goodlad/goodlad-straight-talk-about-ou.html

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By Valerie Strauss  | May 5, 2010; 11:40 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Bloggers, John Goodlad, Race to the Top  | Tags:  Guest Bloggers, John Goodlad, NCLB, National Standards, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top | Tags: John Goodlad, goodlad and a place called school, goodlad on school reform, guest bloggers, john goodlad and school reform, no child left behind and goodlad, race to the top, school reform  
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Comments

While all of what Mr. Goodlad says is deeply true, and has been for the 30 years I have been involved in schools at the ground level, I would like to add that we do not so much need to bypass government as to influence and absorb it. That is possible with our new connectivity and propensity to pay attention to "grassroots" opinions--and, don't forget, voters.

Even relative beginners in school reform like Bill Gates soon noticed, as he said a couple of years ago, that a "lack of public will" to create change in schools has effectively made it impossible to create large-scale reforms, a wall that serious reformers ran into decades ago, as Goodlad recounts here. Thus, I would like us to copy the populist approach that was so successful for President Obama and begin rallying the troops out here on the ground who agree on so much and yet continue to fight each other for pre-eminence.

Let's imagine a great UNITY of the splinter groups that surround the school reform debate: teachers, administrators, parents, homeschoolers, charter school advocates, systems thinkers, researchers, analysts and more. Let's imagine a cessation of arguing and blaming and, instead, a voicing of what Goodlad suggests here, a new purpose and vision for "schooling." Wouldn't we all be saying, at base, the same thing? A new school SYSTEM with goals that go far beyond child care (or pointless testing)--for ALL of our kids? Here's a modest proposal for doing exactly that: www.ChangeTheSchools.ning.com. Please join in and speak up, since changing the schools CAN change the world.
Patricia Kokinos, Ventura, CA

Posted by: changemkr | May 5, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

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