Mike Rose’s Why School? is a quick, but delightful read. Reading this book is in the cheer’reading category, as I knew there would not be much to push my thinking. Rather this book brought new words to the ideas I have held about education my entire life. I’m not sure that I have ever read something I agreed with more, save (maybe) Rothstein’s Grading Education.
One of my favorite passages:
To affirm our capacity as a people is not to deny the obvious variability among us. Not is it to retreat to some softhearted notion of mind. We mistake narrowness for rigor, but actually we are not rigorous enough. To acknowledge our collective capacity is to take the concept of variability seriously. Not as a neat binary distinction or as slots along a simplified cognitive continuum, but as a bountiful and layered field, where many processes and domains of knowledge interact. Such a model demands more, not less, from those of us who teach, or organize work, or who develop social policy. To affirm this conception of mind and work is to be vigilant for the intelligence not only in the boardroom but on the shop floor; in the laboratory and alongside the house frame; in the workshop and in the classroom. This is a model of mind that befits the democratic imagination.
I come from a long line of workers, farmers, mostly. The communities that develop around the work of farms, the coordination of schedules, the tenacious work ethic and specific knowledge about the profession is stunning. Rarely would I tell someone to aspire to a life of farming because of the state of the family farm in America today, but the life is something impressive to participate in and reflect upon. What I think I liked most about Mike Rose is that he gets how smart, savvy and focused people need to be in all walks of life. Some of the ‘smartest’ people I know have callused hands, bad shoulders from logging, and weathered skin.
The sticking point when we try to look at this valuation of variability is when we need to evaluate if the opportunities for those different paths (boardroom, shop floor, labratory, house frame and workshop) are open, equitably to all people. So it begs the question, do we educate everyone as if they are going to college in the attempt to not discriminate in who has the option to proceed? Is that the wisest path? Is there a better way? Is there a way to equitably open paths for students that want to pursue different careers in a way that doesn’t limit them based on SES, race/ethnicity or gender? If we think the best way to ensure that everyone gets a ‘shot’ is to continue with a more standardized curriculum, how can we make sure to foster the work of those people that choose work not typically valued, equally by society?
We live in a time uniquely suited for greater individualization/specialization of instruction and yet we move in a more standardized fashion. hm.