I came across a valedictory speech that seems to be getting a lot of rave reviews. The speech was delivered by Erica Goldson, valedictorian of the class of 2010 from Coxsackie-Athens High School in New York.
You can read her speech here: http://americaviaerica.blogspot.com/
It’s not a bad speech, and there is certainly reason to be critical of the way public education is structured today. Rather than cherry-pick quotes from the speech, I’ll leave it to you to read it in its entirety.
My question is this: what would it look like if she got her way?
What if teachers quit “teaching to the test,” and we weren’t so worried about grades, and we didn’t try to make everyone take the same subjects? What if teachers focused on encouraging students to pursue their passions, question authority, and spend their time being creative and innovative? What if school was less about “training” and more about “expanding the mind”?
Particularly in the context of American public education, what would that look like?
I think it would be a miserable failure. At least in our culture of entitlement and tolerance, I do not believe this approach would work. There would be some students who would thrive, but the overall level of education and competency would drop significantly.
When objective facts are “too restrictive,” then we are left with subjective experience. If someone doesn’t like something, isn’t interested, or wants to do something different, then who are you to tell them otherwise?
We have a society of adolescents who want life handed to them on a platter. Do you think they are all going to buckle down and pursue their dreams if we just stop “oppressing” them with our ideas of what they should be learning?
Developing passion, exercising creativity, and implementing creative solutions are best developed under a mentor, not via classroom instruction. Our American public educational system is not going to abandon classroom instruction, because it cannot afford to. You can’t hire enough teachers to spend six hours a day with a few students. Especially when it is expected to have programs for every activity someone thinks is worthy: sports, art, music, theater, etc. The kind of interaction that helps children develop into thinking, passionate adults comes from parents, not a teacher in the front of the classroom.
So, rather than taking Erica Goldson’s critique as an impetus for (the wrong kind of) change in our education system, look at the home, and think about the values that parents should instill in their children.
(P.S. For extra credit, write your own essay explaining the viewpoint that Ms. Goldson expresses when she compares workers to “slaves of the system,” decries the “inhuman nonsense of corporatism and materialism,” and describes schooling as “brainwashing techniques in order to create a complacent labor force working in the interests of large corporations.”)
(P.P.S. For even more extra credit, write another essay discussing the following questions: Are humans “basically good,” or are humans inherently lazy and selfish? Should we expect great things from people if they are simply encouraged to develop and pursue their interests? Should a foundational element of education be instruction in past human failures and successes, and the benefits of knowledge and diligence?)