“Openly embracing the kind of structures of educational pluralism [Ashley] Berner advocates would help maintain the public financial commitment to education,” writes professor of — this may surprise you — education Gary Houchens on his weblog School Leader, “but would go a long way toward solving some of these bitter policy debates by allowing each family to choose the school that best matches their own particular worldview.” He is writing about Dr. Berner’s The Case for Educational Pluralism from our December issue.
Many people inevitably argue that proposals like hers “encourag[e] people to further divide themselves into disparate philosophical enclaves.” But, he writes:
Consider the reality of our present situation: we force children of wildly differing philosophical backgrounds into a one-size-fits-all government school which teaches them its own specific worldview, all the while insisting that it offers no worldview at all.
The idea of the public school as the meeting ground of all creeds and cultures is a myth that stands in the way of genuine innovation and progress in educational policy. (But again, see the research Berner cites on the level of civic engagement and tolerance of students educated in non-state schools as further evidence that you don’t need a government-run school to create a society that values cultural and political differences).
He has a dark view of public education, as he makes clear when explaining why he doubts Berner’s description of the public school’s adherence to the philosophy of John Dewey. They’re doing nothing so sophisticated:
In my experience, schools seem structured for the century-old purpose of indoctrinating a largely passive industrial workforce and sorting and ranking the rest for university and careers (for more on this, see my previous posts on the work of John Taylor Gatto). The emphasis in traditional public schools is, for the most part, on conformity and rote memorization of an incoherent, largely arbitrary curriculum.
Which helps explain his praise of Berner’s essay.