Notes on Truth, Beauty, and Goodness -- Phil A231

William Jamison - Instructor

Ethics, Life and Faith

A student sent an interesting article on the state of education. In the article it was argued that the main point of much of our educational process today is primarily motivated by keeping as many young people as possible out of the work force (while still encouraging them to be consumers) and to graduate them out of the educational process with as little working knowledge as possible.

This takes a normal child who wants to learn learn learn and turns them into a bored listless individual.

Of course we have other ways of viewing the educational process.

One way is to suggest that the flight from standards was to equalize the opportunity offered to everyone. If we hold a truth to be self evident (an axiom of our national metanarrative) then we should equalize opportunity.

This should actually be a subtopic: (We cannot equalize outcomes -- notice that equal opportunity means there will be differences in outcomes, while equal outcomes requires unequal opportunities.

Since this is such an important issue we should discuss it. Many seem confused by the disparity in outcomes when we have a model of equal opportunity. When you have equal opportunity those who are best able to win at something will do so. The equal opportunity means those with the requisite talents for a job get the job regardless of other factors that have nothing to do with the skills needed for the job. So no paternalism then -- if the son is not as skilled as an unrelated competitor the most talented person should get the job. So there will be a disparity of outcomes. Those with the most talent will receive the most reward.

This is often confused with equality of outcomes. That is, everyone should end up with relatively the same social status regardless of their talents. All large scale systems used to attempt this result have met with dismal failure. Small communities can manage it -- as for example small hunter gather groups, or monasteries, though even these have a range of social status, it is just because of their size and the nature of shared wealth that the degrees of difference are not that great.

We have even noted some who are hoping that learning to regard others with respect might be a sufficient way to at least let the least successful people feel adequately loved and respected. This seems to not work for biological reasons.

Back to the school system on this.

This view of equality -- that there should be equal outcomes -- has greatly diminished the effectiveness of our school systems. We are moving away from this and back towards standardization. At the same time we are increasing our efforts to improve equal opportunity in the hopes that school policy may help level the playing field of greatly disparate competitors so there will be less disparity of outcomes. This is certainly going to fail, though an aim of the attempt is surely to discourage anomic feelings among those least prepared to compete.

That is, we even want relatively "stupid people" to feel respect and membership.

Does this mean we have to dumb down our educational system?

I think the clear success here will be achieved in school stratification. Schools within a school will offer the elite an elite education. Special needs classes will offer repetitive, manipulative, concrete training to those who are unable to grasp abstract reasoning processes.

An important part of this is that all members should receive positive support regardless of which level of sophistication they are placed in. (Remember Brave New World?)

Does this mean students in general will be prepared for work? Does this mean they are being kept from work on purpose with no other purpose?

It strikes me that other economic factors are at work here. It certainly would seem preposterous to think of the educational process as a scheme to promote some kind of market manipulation. Educational processes work hand in hand with the needs of the market place and what seems most relevant today is the need for highly trained individuals that will work for low wages. Since job positions are moving to countries where these kinds of individuals live in abundance, that is most obvious. It is also obvious that our educational system needs to respond to this need (it does always seem to respond to need as though an oil tanker gradually changing directions in response to floating ice.)

I assume that is one reason for the increase in standards. The other issue, the decrease in wage expectations will take more time and require a period of loss -- we prefer to move up not down in our expectations, so to be enthusiastic over accepting low pay jobs we need to come at it from a position of no pay jobs -- not from higher paid jobs. I even suppose this is one reason why it seems a part of economic nature that recessions and depressions occur.

To reply then: there are other metaphors that picture education better than that one. It actually seems trite. Our narratives must fit the form of life in excruciating detail to be believable. But they can still be successfully viewed with the metaphor of games, language games, rules and so on. Even when it comes to ethics. This may be viewed as the largest and most ambitious game we play and it tells in our literature. (I will read CS Lewis "A Grief Observed" and mention Jane Hirshfield. as examples of sad literature. I will read some jokes and an excerpt from Dave Barry or Will Rogers.)






This page is maintained by William S. Jamison. It was last updated August 14, 2012. All links on these pages are either to open source or public domain materials or they are marked with the appropriate copyright information. I frequently check the links I have made to other web sites but each source is responsible for their own content.