When I started this blog, I had the notion that I would progress methodically through a series of topics which I thought were important to discuss. I'm realizing that while it was a nice notion, I occasionally find myself wandering away from the "natural" progression of topics to other thoughts. While I had planned to discuss more on the topic of gifted identification (or lack thereof), I'm going to instead discuss another topic that's been on my mind lately.
Yesterday I posted a quote from a paper by Barry Grant. The thesis of his paper is that compulsory education is antithetic to development as a person. He discusses commentary by such homeschooling pioneers and role models as Holt and Gatto. The point of education, from his perspective, is self-realization of the individual.
By contrast, I recently read some opinion pieces that Charles Murray wrote for the Wall Street Journal from January of last year. In his article "Aztecs vs. Greeks," Murray charges that the purpose of education for the gifted is to be taught to think at an advanced level using classical education. His contention seems to be the opposite of Grant's; the point of gifted education is to create and nurture the leadership of tomorrow. He argues that, like it or not, the nation is essentially run as a meritocracy. Those who run the nation are at the highest level of corporations and government, and the only control we have as citizens is to elect officials (a small group of this meritocracy) and to properly educate the rest.
I find some parts of both arguments very appealing, but I also find that I'm not completely satisfied with either set of motivations or methods. I like the idea of self-paced study, but not self-guided study. I see two problems with self-guided study. First, sometimes one may find a topic worthwhile that they may have initially not considered interesting. In self-guided study, a student may avoid the topic altogether and never discover that it could, in fact, be fascinating. The second problem is that this is a prime way to hide learning disabilities. The learning disabled child may find a topic interesting but choose not to pursue it because their ability to learn the material may be hampered by their selection of learning materials. Likewise, they may just avoid the topic altogether. However, if they are compelled to learn a topic, their disabilities may become evident and rather than avoiding the topic, a new approach may be taken so that knowledge can be learned.
I don't like the idea of saddling the responsibility of the nation on a group of gifted children. Those expectations are only going to be a source of discomfort for a child and implies that self-development is a secondary goal of education. If Murray is correct in his assertion that our nation is run by a meritocracy, then I find it frightening that we could have a nation being run by people who are being compelled to learn and work without self-development. I also think that insisting that gifted be trained using a classical method is not ideal. There are many ways to train the mind, and I cannot help feeling that wanting a particular method of education somehow instills certain values and norms which are not necessarily best for the child and his or her parents but are meant to preserve certain societal norms.
The purpose of education, in my mind, is not as clear cut as either of these arguments imply. My thoughts are that education should have the following goals:
1 - Self-development - A person needs to feel free to explore interests and experiences. They should have free time to enjoy life and not feel caught up in the rat race that seems to consume so many people. They should learn to care about themselves and others while not necessarily carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders.
2 - Preparation for life - Realistically, we can never break out of the notion that education is job preparation. However, I fear that learning only about topics of interest early on may cut off access to topics that may be available as a child grows. Therefore, it should also encompass a breadth of topics. However, it shouldn't be done on a competitive basis. Not everyone will succeed in all topics. Competition benefits only the winners and makes those who do not win focus on their weaknesses rather than nurture their strengths.
3 - Humility - One should never learn that they are smarter than everyone else. It is important, for gifted children especially, to be in situations which challenge them and in which they are not clearly superior to everyone else. This doesn't mean simply placing gifted children in gifted programs: it means giving all children more access to others like them an unlike them. I don't believe that age-grading is very wise. I do believe that children need more access to society instead of being locked away in schools all day.
4 - Limitations...and that some of them can be overcome! - It is very important to be constantly challenged so that one may learn what they are capable of, what they are not capable of, and how to push the envelope so that they can work around situations in which they are not capable. This is not going to happen in the average classroom.
5 - When to push societal limits - We live in a society that values conformity. It's good to know how to challenge that conformity while being respectful of the individuals who don't feel comfortable in situations without conformity.
Homeschooling is probably the only environment where these things are consistently available, but there are some formal educational institutions which are trying to be more open-minded and creative in their approach.
Carnival of Homeschooling