Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Graves of Academe

The Graves of Academe, by Richard Mitchell

Richard Mitchell was a professor at Glassboro State College (now Rowan University) and one of the earlier grumpy outspoken critics of the education system. He ran a self-published magazine, The Underground Grammarian, wrote four books about language and education, and always encouraged free distribution of his works, so you can find all of it online.

Back in 1918, the Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education wrote a pamphlet outlining the main goals for American education. Only one of these goals was academic, and it called for the 1918 version of Basic Minimum Competency. The pamphlet was called Cardinal Principles, and you can read it at the link or see the principles at the end of this post. Mitchell calls the authors "The Gang of Twenty-Seven" and figures that they assumed that most children were not capable of real academic achievement, much less serious thought, and that school is really an instrument for re-making society in the form that educators think is best. The Graves of Academe is his take on the principles and the state of modern education (well, as of about 1980), and he does not approve.

Here's the sort of thing that really made him foam at the mouth, a statement on school vouchers and parent choice (I didn't know that the argument about vouchers was going on 30 years ago):

If you think it too rash to charge our educationists even as unwitting agents of tyranny and thought control, consider these lines from a recent proclamation of the Association of California School Administrators:

"Parent choice" proceeds from the belief that the purpose of education is to provide individual students with an education. In fact, educating the individual is but a means to the true end of education, which is to create a viable social order to which individuals contribute and by which they are sustained. "Family choice" is, therefore, basically selfish and anti-social in that it focuses on the "wants" of a single family rather than the "needs" of society.

The book is definitely ranty, but very interesting and has plenty to think about. I always like to read Mitchell, but then I like grumps.

I've actually been reading this off and on for about 6 months; it was one of the first books I downloaded when I got an e-reader. It's a book best taken in small doses!

Cardinal Principles:

1. Health

A secondary school should encourage good health habits, give health instruction, and provide physical activities. Good health should be taken into account when schools and communities are planning activities for youth. The general public should be educated on the importance of good health. Teachers should be examples for good health and schools should furnish good equipment and safe buildings.

2. Command Of Fundamental Processes

Fundamental Processes are writing, reading, oral and written expression, and math. It was decided that these basics should be applied to newer material instead of using the older ways of doing things.

3. Worthy Home Membership

This principle "calls for the development of those qualities that make the individual a worthy member of a family, both contributing to and deriving benefit from that membership" (Raubinger, Rowe, Piper, West, 108). This principle should be taught through literature, music, social studies, and art. Co-ed schools should show good relationships between males and females. When trying to instill this principle in children the future as well as the present should be taken into account.

4. Vocation

The objective of this principle is that the student gets to know him or herself and a variety of careers so that the student can choose the most suitable career. The student should then develop an understanding of the relationship between the vocation and the community in which one lives and works. Those who are successful in a vocation should be the ones to teach the students in either the school or workplace.

5. Civic Education

The goal of civic education is to develop an awareness and concern for one's own community. A student should gain knowledge of social organizations and a commitment to civic morality. Diversity and cooperation should be paramount. Democratic organization of the school and classroom as well as group problem solving are the methods that this principle should be taught through.

6. Worthy Use Of Leisure

The idea behind this principle is that education should give the student the skills to enrich his/her body, mind, spirit and personality in his/her leisure. The school should also provide appropriate recreation. This principle should be taught in all subjects but primarily in music, art, literature, drama, social issues, and science.

7. Ethical Character

This principle involves instilling in the student the notion of personal responsibility and initiative. Appropriate teaching methods and school organization are the primary examples that should be used.

Naming these seven objectives does not "imply that the process of education can be divided into separated fields" (Raubinger, Rowe, Piper, West, 106). Therefore all of the seven principles are interrelated. In order for these principles to be successful the student must have a willingness to follow these and an ethical character that will allow this learning to take place.

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