Going Beyond Dualism
To the Editor:
Your front-page article in Friday's The Dartmouth ("Candidates promote own education agendas") adopted the same dualistic, off-target rhetoric about education and the educational system as the presidential candidates have practiced.
The article started with five divisive questions; it is on this type of self-limiting inquiry, devoid of critical analysis, that both Bush and Gore found their "ideological" differences and distract from authentic, concerned debate. What sort of national (or campus-wide) debate does a question like "Should schools be teaching morals or math?" encourage? That the candidates can, and do, simplify this question to "Should the schools be teaching the Ten Commandments, or be commanding their students to count up to ten?" simply misses the point of asking about educational priorities. When the media stoop to the lowest common denominator of political rhetoric, they can expect politicians, and most of the citizenry, to respond in-kind. It is this confusion of the issues, putting last things first and making binaries out of agreements, that causes most of the public's frustration with both the school system and the (potential) government's posture towards the schools.
The point of education is not to teach one thing rather than another. It is not to prepare students either for jobs or for liberal-mindedness. Schools are not best either with good facilities or good teachers.
Both candidates raise important, controversial issues, and thankfully The Dartmouth has captured a few of them. To what degree should parents play a role (i.e., have veto power over lessons) in their children's public-school education, and to what degree should the federal government provide funds in exchange for micromanagement opportunities? Should the Department of Education implement national standards, decreeing what skills, knowledge and language proficiency all public-school students should have?
These are legitimate questions to be addressed by the candidates and all citizens of our country. Let us not simply sit back, grant money, then "expect [the schools] to show results," as Bush posits. All participants in the public-education debate must actively engage themselves in deep thought, rather than displace responsibility onto ideological indecision. It is only once we have asked open-ended questions that we can ask, responsibly, the fiscal, political and cultural questions.