There Is a Value to Humanities in Public Schools
A recent article from the Institute of Classical Studies laments over the fading art of teaching. It criticizes the educational establishment for abandoning the teaching of “morals and values.” We all welcome schools to concentrate more on the academic issues associated with mastery and assessment. Of course, that conversation shouldn’t be cheapened by any effort to turn teaching and learning into a “me-too” activity.
John Dewey – one of the architects of public education reform in the United States– was a well-respected advocate of teaching humanities in America. In 1958, Dewey launched two initiatives, the League of United Latin American Citizens of America (LULAC) and its emerging Women’s Leadership Institute, and Dewey’s Model High Schools, which would eventually go on to be established in 37 states.
As today’s debates over diversity and achievement swirl around us, I’m reminded of Dewey’s views on the value of humanities in public schools.
Speaking in celebration of the 50th anniversary of LULAC in 2011, I remarked that “it is ironic that LULAC, historically the stronghold of disenfranchised people of color, failed to draw upon that real experience for its leadership, content, and theme. Yet this actual experience is an integral part of our society – social justice is simply not possible without the experience of injustice. Dewey was right, and that lesson is sound and unsparing. As a society, we have paid a terrible price for that ‘American bias’ toward non-discrimination.”
Today’s “social justice” debates raise the difficult question of which focus schools should concentrate on.
“If non-disparagement rules can be attached to any business, religion, or world religion, then there must be models for all institutions to follow,” says Dewey. “Our legacy as a nation has to include the values that are intrinsic to civilization: liberty, fraternity, and human equality. We have become what Dewey called a ‘biger people’ without knowing it.”
I’d suggest that model public education can get back to its Dewey roots.
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