Teachers, past, present and future, and students, it's time to blow the whistle. Complaints and confessions are needed. Name any problem--crime, depression (economic and psychological), sexism, racism, drug abuse, the breakup of marriages and families, etc, etc--and someone has already proposed that "education" is the solution. Does anybody ever stop to consider what these specialists (politicians, administrators, sociolgists, ecologists, psychologists, pedagogues and functionaries) mean by "education"?
The world renowned literary theorist and educator, Northrop Frye, described education as the process of getting rid of old myths, in order to replace them with new ones. Frye was a great believer in "myth," so his declaration isn't quite as cynical as it sounds. So let me play the cynic, although as you might guess, like most cynics, I'm really just a slightly bruised idealist.
Everywhere I look at what passes for "education," I see one group of people trying to impose their thoughts and beliefs on another group. (Liberal-minded educators will object to the verb "impose," but whatever verb you choose--"transmit," "share," "pass"--the end result is the same.) "Education" too often means simply replacing one set of ideas with another set that the educator likes better. Unfortunately, whenever you ask someone why one set of ideas is better than another, you very quickly find yourself running in a circle, trapped in a tautology, exhausted by a conversaton that never quite takes place. 'My ideas are better because they correspond to my values. My values are better because they correspond to my ideas.'
Lots of university programs in the Humanities and Social Sciences pretend to have solved the problem by flashing "we teach critical thinking skills" on their web sites. The sad truth is that much of what gets taught as "critical thinking" is anything but. Far too often, what passes for "critical thinking" in universities is slavish, dogmatic adherence to the loosely reasoned ideologies of armchair socialist and armchair feminists. (I speak as a socialist and feminist with a longstanding commitment to his armchair.) But think about it, really, if there was any commitment to "critical thinking" in universities, would we still be forcing students to read the bogus diatribes of junk theorists like Lacan, Kristeva, Derrida, Bhabha and their ubiquitous spawns as if they all made perfect sense?
Students cannot be called upon to effectively exercise critical thinking skills until they have amassed a bank of uncritical thinking skills and knowledge. This is a problem that universities do not want to address, and which we need to talk about.
Since this is my first posting, I guess I should explain what I think this blog is about. It is dedicated to speaking openly and frankly about education without having an agenda or a dogma to defend. Education is too important to be left in the hands of specialists. Education is the passing on of knowledge, skills and attributes from one person to another. It is carried on everyday by millions of people, many of whom have never thought of themselves as teachers or as students. Its practices are as diverse, unique and personal as are the relationships of all those people involved in the process. Our collective knowledge of the field is boundless. Everyone has something important to contribute, if we have the courage to write the truth, and the respect and sagacity to read with an open mind.