Issues and Goals in the Debate

Issues and Goals in the Debate

That we are, as a nation, engaged in a great public debate about education is quite evident. It is equally evident that this debate would be most salutary if it were being conducted with adequate knowledge on all sides, and more important, with a common concern for the common welfare. Most evident of all is that enormous passion is being wasted on phony moral judgments, heated assertions of untruths, and unthoughtful denials of viable alternatives.

What stands in the way of a clear statement of the real issues? The fact, above all, that the litigants bring very different sets of intentions to the forum and hence end with very different recommendations. No wonder, then, that there is little joining of issues. For the question whether the schools are doing a good job can be answered with both a vehement “yes” and a vehement “no,” depending upon what one thinks the schools should be doing, and upon the related sets of values which one is willing or not willing to sacrifice in behalf of these educational ends.

Thus, if it could conceivably be true that the primary goal of American educational policy was to train enough people to staff Admiral Rickover’s crew of technicians, and all such future and analogous crews, it follows quite properly that the educational system is not functioning as well as it might.

If it were true that the primary purpose of the educational system is to serve as the para-military training school for future combat with the Soviet Union, then the claimants on that side have been too feeble in their criticisms of American education. From this point of view, entirely too much time is being wasted in American schools on such useless things as literature, history, social studies, and even on those aspects of mathematics and science not directly relevant to military technology. And entirely too many people are being sent through the school system, when they might more properly be serving as stewards, valets and chambermaids, to minimize the hours which the “gifted” need to spend on these fringe aspects of their development.