The problem of goals

The knowledge and skills taught to students in our schools originate from an age-old struggle between four competing conceptions of what students should know and understand when they leave grade twelve. Two conceptions of schooling —the civic (Dewey, 1916/1966) and vocational (Bobbitt, 1915)—view schools as the “principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment” (Brown vs. Board of Education). The other two conceptions of schooling—the “cultivation of humanity” (Nussbaum, 1997) and creation of an authentic self (Greene, 2000; Morris, 1966) view schooling as a place where young people learn “how to be a human being capable of love and imagination” (Nussbaum, 1997) and how to accept “personal responsibility for the authorship of one’s own values” (Morris, 1996).  In the ideal republic the community would support a way of life —the civic and instrumental goals—that would give full expression to an individual’s search for meaning and a greater understanding of the world around them —the goals of cultivating humanity and the authentic self.

      Underlying the struggle for the American curriculum are two views of knowledge that support the pursuit of each aim of education. Those who view schooling as a process of socialization perceive knowledge as the acquisition of power to control the environment, society, and one’s self (Knowledge as Power). Those who view schooling as a process of cultivating humanity and an authentic self-perceive knowledge as a process of interpretation (Knowledge as Interpretation) that equips young people with methods of inquiry and systems of theories and ideas, that lead to better understanding of the self and the “particular struggles over identity, citizenship, politics, and power” (Giroux, 2000).

      Thrown into the traditional struggles over what sort of student the public wants schools to graduate are the administrative goals of schooling and a myriad of legislative mandates requiring schools to fix the latest social ill. The easiest solution to the problem of goals is to pursue the outcomes most favored by the public and policy makers—in today’s society that would be vocational goals of schooling (college bound curricular belong is this category). A more difficult option, but one which is still attractive to most school administrators, is pursuing a “shopping mall” (Powell, A. G., Farrar, E., & Cohen, D. K., 1985) curricular where different goals are found in different parts of a school building. Within limits, which are becoming more constrained by the day, students are free to pick from a goal her and goal there.

      The final option, and the most complex one to apply, is viewing the goals of schooling as mutually enforcing rather than mutually exclusive. This is the view Dewey adopted in his writings and one which is lost in facile understandings of curriculum and instruction. For Dewey, and other contemporary curricular theorists (e.g. Eisner, Katz, Meier, Noddings) the optimum curricular configuration is one in which a child’s personal ways of developing meaning find expression and full realization in vocational and civic undertakings. The “meaning of life” in such a curriculum is employing private interests and talents in public ways of making a living and contributing to the common good.

            Strong Instructional Leaders recognize the struggle over different perceptions of what it means to be “educated” dominates the politics, pedagogy, and curriculum of schooling. They have inherited schools where past school leaders favored one perception over another or tried to achieve peace between the perceptions by allocating different ratios of time, space, and credits to each perception. He knows from first-hand experience that institutionalizing one school goal over all others disenfranchises the interests, talents, and abilities of large groups of students. He also knows that creating a shopping mall curriculum, while satisfying most faculty, violates the first law of curriculum and instruction which states that deep understanding of subject matter is wholly dependent on “instructional program coherence” where course sequences and instructional programs are “guided by a common framework for curriculum, instructional, assessment, … and are pursued over a sustained period” (Newman, et.al., 2001). A strong component of their philosophy of education and instructional agenda is devoted to formulating administrative goals, pedagogical practices, and organizational configurations which dissolve the perceived differences between personal ways of knowing the world and public ways of expressing them.

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