Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Mamacita and others on education

[Advisory: This post will take a while to ingest. If time is limited, come back later.]

One of my jobs where I now work is dipping ice cream. And one of the flavors is Moose Tracks. Don't ask me why, that name...maybe because moose leave huge lumps of stuff behind as they go tromping through the woods. Or maybe the dairy people, like the people who name real estate developments, just ran out of names one day. I dunno. Anyway, in moose tracks you sometimes dig around in the tub and come across a mother-lode of chocolate all in one piece, a semi-sweet chocolate boulder of chocolate magma than has to be broken a time or two to make room in the dipper for even a little vanilla ice cream. For the average ice cream afficianado it is a nice perq, but for the chocoholic, it is like waking up on Easter to find your basket packed with nothing but chocolate. No marshmallows. No circus peanuts. No jelly bird eggs. Just one chocolate treat after another.

I say all that to introduce three rich wellsprings of rich blogging all in one post. Nothing I write here (as you can see for yourself) will be anything like what they say themselves. They are The Anchoress, Siggy (short for Sigmund, Carl and Alfred), and Mamacita. Think of Siggy as a the most indulgent banana split you have ever been served, Mamacita as a big portion of Moose tracks on the side, and The Anchoress as a tall, frothy cup of gourmet coffee, not too much sugar, with a generous shot of Drambouie added.

These three converge on this occasion to discuss the sorry state of education in America. Since my own baby is pushing thirty and my grandchildren are a generation down the line, separated more by keyboards than books, I don't have personal credentials to speak with authority about what is happening in schools today. I'm sure it is as bad as they say, maybe worse. But I am more alarmed at the whole in loco parentis theme defining what now passes for education in the post-WWII era which has made the two-income family obligatory instead of optional. It is all well and good to say that the mission of shool is to educate, not provide day-care. But that ideal is a distant dream for a lot, maybe a majority, of families. And the poisonous phrase single-parent family is not helping.

My own views on education have already been formed. I am open to whatever ideas might be added as time passes, but I cannot break free of the foundational importance of the family in determining the end result. There are good reasons for officials, authorities, politicians and other putative "leaders" and "role models" to offer guidance about what should and should not be included in a curriculum, but I have no confidence that any certified outline or syllabus can ever substitute for old-fashioned parental encouragement and support. I am careful to avoid using the word "involvement" because it is misleading. Involvement implies that a level of parental accomplishment that is commendable but not essential to the success of the process. How else would illiterate parents ever rear children who develop into physicians or physicists?

Only two days ago I came across a wonderful family treasure: a three-page letter, written in pencil toward the end of the nineteenth century. With two or three erasures and corrections, and a couple of repetitions that reveal that the writer was not accustomed to writing much of anything, it was a sincere written plea to my grandmother from her father to seek the advice of a well-educated Dr. McKee and his daughter regarding what might be the best course of study for her, my grandmother, to pursue in school. She was a college student in Ohio at the time and it was easy to spot her daddy's thinly-veiled concern that her interest in elocution and physical education might not serve her well in finding a "profitable position" when she got out of school. Having lost her mother, his wife, in childbirth, and his fortune by having sold the family estate to someone who paid him off in Confederate money, he was in no position to give his only child, being reared by relatives better able to feed and support her, much more than encouragement to seek the advice of others whom he respected.

Again I am reminded of my own great heritage, not of formal education, but of a family that valued the process of learning. Whatever educational achievement I have I attribute to that heritage more than any institution. And my guess is that most educated people, given enough time, would tell a similar story. Classrooms, instructors and others from academia would be an important part of the story, of course, but in the end there would be role models -- maybe not parents or family -- who became the lynchpins of their success.

1 comment:

Hoots said...

While we're at it, let's not forget this most recent list of books to read.

And one more pitfall of education, the notion that a diploma or examination represents the end of something rather than a beginning.