1973 - when I started asking questions, like, "Why are we all dressed so funny?"

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

David Brooks on Obama's Education

No Picnic for Me Either is the title of Brooks' March 12, 2009 piece in the NYT (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/13/opinion/13brooks.html?_r=1&ref=opinion).

Here are my thoughts on what Brooks had to say. He seems completely correct at this point:

"We’ve spent years working on ways to restructure schools, but what matters most is the relationship between one student and one teacher. You ask a kid who has graduated from high school to list the teachers who mattered in his life, and he will reel off names. You ask a kid who dropped out, and he will not even understand the question. Relationships like that are beyond his experience."

Just so. A minor oversight here is that relationships, while not wholly dictated by school structures, are certainly influenced by these structures. They can be more or less human. Although Brooks doesn't mention this school model by name, it sounds like he is familiar with the Big Picture model. They focus on "relevance, rigor and relationships" and are having some tremendous results.

Now for the Great Lacuna: What about our need for total meaning? Do human relationships exhaust our need for Relationship? Hell, no. Here is the problem with all reforms that don't acknowledge our existential depths: they possess an emaciated anthropology that doesn't admit of the Mystery. The teacher may possess it (and in this case, no power in the world can suppress it), but if it isn't given tacit acknowledgment, we're really just deluding ourselves and our students.

We seem to still be a long way away from acknowledging the depths of reality in education. Given the way government funding limits what schools can say about ultimate reality, we have a real dilemma on our hands. Like something out of the film The Village, God has become "Him we don't speak of" in public education. (For how absurd jurisprudence has become in this area, read about the coach in New Jersey who is forbidden from joining his players in prayer - as if students are too stupid to separate the coach from the State! )

(Here's a link to that story: http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2009/03/supreme_court_rejects_east_bru.html)

The courts can continue to stifle the freedom of adults in the name of the liberation of youth, but the questions of the heart cannot be silenced. Let us pray for the courage to educate in a fully human way - no matter what the obstacles.

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