State of General Education LO7298

Wed, 8 May 1996 09:48:40 -0500 (CDT)

Replying to LO7204 --

The conversation regarding the fate of universities and the existing
educational system has been interesting reading. With a vested interest
in the success of higher education and as a lifelong learner myself, I
undoubtedly am a bit biased. What I feel earlier messages have failed to
address, however, is the mission of education and the role learning plays
in society and society's influence on education. With ever-increasing
pressures on educational institutions to reach the broadest number of
students and to be responsive to different forms of learning, performance,
and understanding, the process of achieving such a utilitarian educational
system is an ambitious proposition. It appeared to me, and probably
incorrectly so, that from some postings people are looking for a Cliff
Notes approach to education.
If we define a school or university as an institution in which a group
of learners, rarely related by blood but representing diverse social
groups, assemble on a regular basis in the company of a competent (usually
older) individual, for the explicit purpose of acquiring one or more
skills valued by the wider community, then the mission, as I see it, of
the early years of school is, as Gardner explains, to introduce all
students to the basic literacies. Beyond this simple literacy, a further
mission of the schools is to transmit concepts, networks of concepts,
conceptual frameworks, and disciplinary forms of reasoning.
Many have commented on the need for teaching systemic thinking-- that
the curriculum ought to go beyond a rehersal of facts and introduce
students to the ways of thinking used in different disciplines. I agree.
This will require exposing students to new ways of conceptualizing
familiar with unfamiliar entities. Perhaps a more accurate term would be
to education for understanding--being able to integrate the prescholastic
with the scholastic and disciplinary ways of knowing.
As others have so eloquently stated in earlier postings, the human
constraints on learning are magnified by the equally burdensome
constraints under which schools themselves must operate. Ram Sundaram's
proposal of replacing schools with "gurunkuls" is not new, nor, as I
believe, is it appropriate for all societies or all learners. Similarly,
school itself, while being the right of all, is not right for all. The
resurgence of popularity for apprenticeships is evidence of the need and
availability of alternative approaches to education. There is also a
certain "right of passage" to school which may not be found in any other
social form and has not been addressed in these postings.
The "secret to learning organizations" does not, in my opinion, "lie
in ancient Oriental (Japanese and Chinese) and Indian practices," it lies
in the culture and values of the society.

Enough ramblings for today.

          Peter L. Heineman, Manager of Contract Training      
          University of Nebraska at Omaha                      
          College of Continuing Studies                        
          1313 Farnam Street                                   
          Omaha, NE  68182-0335                                
          (402) 595-2340  FAX (402) 595-2345                   
       Education is a training in the middle way
       between the dogmatic belief in absolutes
       and the cynical negation of all belief.
       Benjamin Barber

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