One of the most intriguing journal articles I’ve ever encountered is David F. Labaree’s “Public Goods, Private Goods: The American Struggle over Educational Goals.” I cited it in at least half of my graduate essays. I just couldn’t stop thinking about it while I was studying education. Labaree outlines three main goals that America has historically held in educating its young people: democratic equality, concerned with bringing up well-informed, patriotic citizens who are smart enough not to elect a walrus to the state legislature; social efficiency, concerned with producing well-fitting cogs in the industrial machine; and social mobility, concerned with aiding the most skilled and hard-working individuals to get ahead in the workforce and become your boss before they’re old enough to rent a car.
Labaree’s main argument is that our educational system is increasingly shifting toward supporting social mobility and away from a seemingly ideal balance of these three goals. Based on this, I’d like to pose a couple of questions:
Is Labaree’s argument accurate? Is our education really shifting toward a means to individual ends? Or has education always been this way?
And the big question: What should our goals for education be?
I have my own opinions, and so does everyone else. Please feel free to weigh in!
Labaree, D. F. (1997). Public Goods, Private Goods: The American Struggle Over
Educational Goals. American Educational Research Journal, 34(1), 39–81.
It’s a term that we’ve been hearing a lot lately. It’s a term that I’ve used myself. But I never thought twice about it until I was in one of my master’s classes last year. The course was entitled “The Social Context of Schooling.” Usually we discussed the social environment in which teachers run their classrooms, administrators run their schools, and policy makers shape our education system.
That day, however, we turned the lens on ourselves as educational thinkers. We all know that many, many schools are struggling. Struggling to give kids the education they deserve. Struggling to meet the expectations that have been put upon them by AYP and the policies behind it. Many of those schools feel that they are on the chopping block, bound to close, be turned over to the state, or be turned into a charter school.
This limbo is undeniable, but what are the implications of labeling a school as failing, even if that term is informal? My professor urged us to consider the impact that our language can have on our own thoughts and behaviors, along with those of others. She also wanted us to think about how we would feel if the school we worked in or sent our children to had garnered that label. What’s the likelihood that we would feel any power to turn that situation around? Probably pretty slim. What’s the likelihood that we would throw in the towel and accept that if those around us have given up on our school, we probably should too? Probably pretty high.
Talking about the challenges that schools face is essential, particularly in this era of standards and accountability. However, my professor was absolutely right in asserting that we need to show compassion in our thoughts and words. Education is all about building people up. Everyone deserves to feel like his or her school has a fighting chance.
Ever try to explain charter schools to a Canadian? It’s . . . difficult. There are so many things about the American education system that make it a very weird animal. And just as unique as our one-of-a-kind educational landscape is the educational experience of every single student, parent, educator, and policy maker in America. We all have a story.
I’ve seen a lot of the American educational landscape. But so has just about everybody else in America. That’s what I love so much about education. Try bringing it up at a dinner party sometime, and everyone will have something to say. Or rant. It’s as ubiquitous as the weather and can elicit as much debate as sports, politics, or religion. It can lift us up. It can leave us out. It can give us hope.
Even within a single family, experiences can be incredibly diverse. From my mother’s one-room-schoolhouse to my father’s Catholic seminary (which obviously didn’t work out as planned) to my own urban high school, there are a lot of stories to be told.
There are few forums for the recounting of those stories, though. I want to change that, even if it’s just a little bit. For all of the books and articles and lectures on education, narrative is rare. In a field of practice and research, numbers and data are almost always privileged over personal accounts.
My goal is to bring more voices to the discourse about education. Luckily for me, everyone has something to say.