When I was in 1st grade, I got to make pudding at school. In the classroom. Real food that a person could eat. This blew my 7-year-old mind. How could anyone ever possibly be allowed to cook in a school? Kids have rules upon rules set before them with the explicit intent of keeping them from having a good time. But not this time. This time my pint-sized world got turned on its head.
I’m not sure that my teacher thought herself to be a mastermind based on a box of powdered whatever and two cups of milk. Or perhaps the simplicity of it was the genius part. Like cats and a laser pointer. She totally won at teaching that day.
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.