education philosopher

A Defense of Individual Choice in Matters of Curriculum

Posted in Education, Philosophy of, political philosophy, Politics of Education by KevinCK on February 19, 2010

Below is a passage I wrote for a PhD class in curriculum theory. The questions was “Who should decide what students learn?” particularly in regards to whether intelligent design should be taught in science classes. I post it here because I think it is a decent articulation of my view that families, parents, and children (rather than either education experts or democratically elected board members) should have the ultimate authority over what children learn.

The question is: who is to decide whether intelligent design or evolution (or both or neither) should be taught in schools. Of all the readings assigned for this week, my views allign most closely with McClusky. The problem is that we live in a society that is simulteneously liberal and democratic, while also talking about an institution (schools) that, in some sense, has as its role something neither liberal or democratic. As long as these three ideals are in conflict – and I think they are – one must simply choose which authorty they thinks trumps the other two: experts (nondemocratic and nonliberal), the majority (non-liberal and non-authoritarian) or each individual/family (non-democratic and non-authoritarian). I believe the best way to decide the issue is to leave the decisions in the hands of each individual/ family.

But let me first explain why I believe we are dealing with three incompatible ideals. As a liberal society, we are committed to the idea that individuals have a right to conscience. As a democratic republic, we are committed to the idea that disputes are to be settled by appeal to the vote (at least to vote in representatives whose own votes will reflect that of the majority). And, in the case of schools, we are also committed to the idea that there are certain things which SHOULD be conveyed to children regardless of whether they, their parents, or the majority concur. (In other words, we believe that curriculum is too valuable a subject to be left to non-experts.)

These three ideas, then, are in conflict and, I believe, irreducibly so. That is because recognizing the one negates the other two. (By example, leaving curricular matters up to majority vote abridges individuals liberty to decide educational issues for themselves, and also takes a stand against unelected experts deciding them.) Why do I choose liberalism over the other competing values as curricular guides? (more…)


School Choice, Bad Mistakes, and Saving Parents From Themselves (Part I)

Posted in Politics of Education by KevinCK on July 3, 2009

One key question in any discusison about school choice asks what would happen in a deregulated “education market” if (when) parents make bad choices about their children’s education. Dan Willingham has written a brief article regarding this question from the view of a cognitive psychologist.

From his perspective – I agree – it is quite likely that at least some parents will make bad choices on behalf of their children’s education. Some parents may lack the education to make an informed choice; other parents may not put a high value on education and, thus, may not research the decision as much as, say, a decision on which TV or car to buy. Further, other parents may simply make a mistake in their decision; despite doing much research, some parents will just make mistakes about which school to send their children to.

Willingham offers several different reasons why parents may make poor decisions regarding their children’s education, some I agree with more than others. Rightly, he suggests that “may value features of a school that have nothing to do with education quality. For example, that the school is geographically convenient.” (The only criticism i have of this speculation is that for many, geographic convenience IS a necessary factor, as one may prefer a good school five miles away to a decent school 25 miles away for good reason).

Willingham also suggests, wrongly, that:

[T]he outcome measures won’t be all that clear to parents, even assuming that there is better school-level information than is now available. Andy Rotherham made this point persuasively in regard to education policy in US News & World Report, and I believe that the same goes for individuals. Sure, standardized tests are informative, but those will be averages. One can imagine parents feeling that their child seems to be doing fine in his school, even if averages are low. One can also imagine that some parents might simply not believe that standardized test scores capture anything important.

In other words, parents might make bad decisions about schools because all the relevant information may not be available, and some information that parents may want to see (standardized test scores) do not give the parent all the information that they SHOULD take into account. The problem with Willingham’s speculation is that the same can be said about making decisions about cars, colleges, homes, air conditioning units, and any other major (or minor) purchase a person could make. People may care about whether a car can go from 1 to 60 in x mph, or a car’s look, rather than finding out about its reliability or projected resale value. (more…)