Friday, November 11, 2011


Sojourner Truth said, “It is the mind that makes the body. This concept is applicable in just about any area. Even in law enforcement when you want to destroy a criminal organization, you don’t worry about its soldiers or followers, you take down the boss, the head, the “brain”. If she is right, and I believe she is, then we’ve got a big problem. That problem is that “education” today isn’t spending a lot of time on the development of the mind. There is very little examination or analysis (better known as thinking). Lessons are designed to fit into ten minute “bytes” in which very little, (if anything at all), can occur. Don’t believe me, let’s look at the 2008 presidential campaign. Throughout the campaign, McCain and Palin billed themselves as “the candidates of change”. When pressed on this issue in debates with Biden, she’d preface her remarks to Biden and the audience by saying that there was no need to talk about the past if you are about the idea of change. With all of the coverage of the campaigns by the campaigns by talking heads and political experts, not one of them examined, (thought about), the inanity of her statement. Not one of them made the point that, in fact, there can be no change without the past. Of necessity, whenever change occurs, something different is occurring now than whatever it was that occurred before –that would be the past! In addition to the previous point, here’s another point to consider (think about). How can anyone identify or tell that change is taking place without any knowledge of what had previously occurred?
Perhaps this “criticism” is picayune or unimportant, but I think it speaks to the issue loudly and clearly that analysis and examination are not seen as important or vital to the society at large and to education specifically. It was important to Thomas Jefferson who contended that in order to have a successful and a strong democracy, the electorate had to be educated. I didn’t live in the time period of Jefferson, but given his potency as a writer and speaker, as well as the fact that he was quite a philosopher, it is safe to infer that Jefferson’s use of the word education includes examination and analysis.
The present day concept of education as a test driven, statistics based situation fails to do what education is supposed to do. Cornell West, the preeminent scholar, speaks of paideia when he speaks of education. To me, paideia is the blueprint for education’s role, for education’s purpose is not only to instruct (so tests can be passed), it is also to inspire, to drive, to challenge, to ask one to reach for his/her best and then to pour that best back into the society. Passing tests and amassing knowledge is only a part of education’s role or purpose.
This may be news to business people, politicians or the “experts” who believe that everything can be quantified by some percentage or number, but educators know this fact. Marva Collins, Mary McLeod Bethune, Benjamin Mays, Dr. Lorraine Monroe, Frank Mickens, Joe Clark, Professor Fred Bornhauser, Harold Wright, Harold Keller, Jr. and a long list of other educators I have had the privilege to work with throughout my career know that education is much more than just a grade or passing tests. They understand that the ability think, to weigh ideas that are different, to break them down, to explain them or add to them, to inspire , to challenge, to ask someone to rise higher than he/she ever thought he/she could rise is the what education’s role must be if education is to work and succeed.
Very simply put, until and unless we return to Sojourner Truth’s axiom as it pertains to education, nothing else we do, no other configuration we create, no other philosophy we embrace, (i.e. smaller schools, charter schools, horseshoe shaped classrooms, etc), will allow education to do what it was designed to do- create analytical, incisive people who can think for themselves and who can improve their society through the utilization of that ability.

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