The conference focused on the goals, means and outcomes of education today, and explicitly noted different ways that this was possible. But at the end of the day, what do all these mean?
The first thing to realize when it comes to education and talking about education policy is the profound affect it will have, not on just the government, but the students in the system.
Education policy must reflect short-term goals to mitigate current education gaps and simultaneously promote long-term projects to keep the system from stagnating. Policymakers are often too quick to jump to Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian theory of doing the most good for the greatest number. This creates an education cop out, where politicians focus on helping the most people and stop trying to help everyone – or, stated succinctly, they start only helping those in the majority or as Alexis de Tocqueville would call it: “tyranny of the majority.” This is where minority populations and the impoverished fall outside the system, left in a vicious cycle of archaic policy without the resources to escape.
On an individual school or district basis, these resources can take form after school programs, from student clubs to YMCA programs. These are simply engaging activities to keep the students productive and off the street.
Other non-profits organizations also do this. The DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative, for example, ensures every student in Ward 7 five promises: 1. Caring adults, 2. Physical and emotional safety wherever they are, 3. A healthy start, 4. An effective education, and 5. Opportunities to help others. By combining caring facilitation and resources for success, the Initiative motivates students to give back to their community.
The most important part about these programs is that they are long-term, in essence fortifying the system around the idea that eventually education will become a priority in this community. Meira Levinson, a Harvard professor, noted how education needs to be taught as system of reciprocity, in gaining an education, they should want to give back to their community.
Efforts to “weatherize” education, making the system stable for years to come, are not just happening in the community. The President’s Blueprint for Reform and Common Core Standards show efforts of the federal government taking initiative to raise the goals we have for our students long-term.
And even if we end up only being able to do the most good for the greatest number, we at least acknowledge its limitations rather than discount helping everyone as a forgone conclusion. The future of the American people does not only lie in a majority of its students, but all students, and thus we must treat them with such importance.
There are so many facets and factors of education that affect how policy is translated and transformed into student learning. But in the current framework of American society where education is not a revered career, without community support, many policies are left for the district, state, and federal government to solve along side all the blame it entails.
Ultimately, no matter how much involvement the federal government should or should not have in the education system, the quintessential priority in education needs to be weatherizing education to make its policies survive all the tornadic political conditions that can be thrown at it.
Photo by NeenahHistory via Flickr.