Friday, July 6, 2012

The Purpose of Education

I came across two articles today that address the subject of the purpose of education. One is on the ASCD website, What is the Purpose of Education, and the other is in the New York Times, Honor Code.  Both articles are important since they take us past the question of what we do, to why we do it.

I have often highlighted the fact that despite my keen interest in homework, I am a clinical, not a school or child psychologist.  I have a general practice and although I have met with some children; for the most part, my work has been with adults, often people who are disabled.  At times, I have likened my perspective to that of the legendary radio announcer, Paul Harvey, whose hallmark phrase was “the rest of the story.”

It’s not that psychologists who work with adults have no interest in childhood. I was trained in psychodynamic approaches and it is gospel to the psychoanalyst that the person’s early experiences with his or her parents are central to understanding how that person evolves. But we did not talk about school.

I came to realize, working with disabled adults, often men who have worked with their hands until they got hurt, that they break into a sweat when they think about needing to go back to school, even though they are normally bright and should be capable of handling county college or technical school.  This is not some neurosis that stems back to their relationships with their parents. It’s terror based on school day experiences: constant negativity for not getting their work done.

I’ve known people who have told me that when they were children they had to sit at the table for hours on end until they finished their vegetables. What do you think? Good parenting or a bad idea? These people usually grow up to hate vegetables and exclude them from their diets as adults. So what about “sit at the table and do your homework,” and you can’t get up until you get it all done? It’s no different.

If the purpose of education is to cram a serving of homework down the child’s throat, then let’s use the vegetable approach. But if the purpose involves … Well, I’ll leave it up to you. Read David Brooks’ New York Times article. Read Willona Sloan’s ASCD article. Decide for yourself. Post your ideas as a comment to this blog. But then ask yourself. Does a serving of homework, forced down the throat, like a serving of vegetables at the dinner table, seem likely to accomplish the goal you have in mind?

Dr. Kenneth Goldberg is a clinical psychologist with 35 years of professional experience in dealing with many different psychological issues. He is the author of The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers and currently works in his own private practice.

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