The Goal of Education
By Emerson Dickman, JD
How many times as parents, teachers, or administrators have we judged the needs of a child by reference to the grades on report cards or the scores on standardized tests? Are these data a valid indicator of the success of education? If you use the word “learning,” e.g., “The child is learning,” we must define the parameters of what we are supposed to be teaching. If we say that the child is “benefiting from his education,” we must know the purpose of “education.” Is the purpose of education to master the core curriculum or by doing so improve that individual’s ability to provide for himself, his family, and his community? If other skills are so deficient that mastery of the core curriculum is of no help in providing for self, family, or community (like a Mercedes automobile with no gas), does the responsibility of the educator go beyond the core curriculum and are grades and scores meaningful?
In the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. 33 §1400(c)(1), the Congress of the United States indicates that “our national policy” is to ensure “Equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.” At §1400 (c)(5)(E)(ii) Congress indicates the goal is for children to “have the skills and knowledge necessary to enable them — . . . to be prepared to lead productive, independent adult lives, to the maximum extent possible.” The Courts have put heavy emphasis on “self-sufficiency” as a goal of education.
We must “look beyond the overt topography of behavior, and focus, instead, on identifying biological, social, affective, and environmental factors that initiate, sustain, or end behavior.” (The Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice, 1998)
The label “disability” is not determined by the “deficit itself, but its social consequences.” (Vigotsky, 1993, paraphrase).
LRE and inclusion goals obviate their purpose if the child sees himself as no more than a stain on the fabric of the school’s culture.
The first of three needs that are most motivating to a child is “the need to feel that you belong and are connected” (Edward Decy).
When asked to name the most important things learned during their high school years (other than typing and driving) adult, mostly professional, audiences virtually exclusively name skills falling in the following categories:
Getting along with people
Executive Function Skills
Learning how to learn
(Skill at mastering the “core curriculum” does not seem to have been considered significant).
When asked to “Name a word or phrase to describe a successful child” 110 mainstream and special education teachers made the following list:
Not afraid to accept a challenge
(Note that no one said, “academic excellence” or “Smart.” There is not one trait mentioned that could not be exhibited by an individual with a 50 IQ or could fail to be exhibited by an individual with a 150 IQ.)
Mark Twain recognized the distinction between academics and education when he said, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” I ask the question I posed at the top of this discussion: Is the purpose of education to teach history or happiness, science or self-sufficiency, mathematics or motivation, English or empathy? I do not mean to indicate that history, science, math, English, or other academic subjects are not important or should not be taught, only that, in the face of a child who lacks empathy, motivation, self-sufficiency, and happiness; educators should not lose sight of the super ordinated goals of education.