by Todd Wedel
At times visual media gives insight into the dominant symbols of a position or issue, helping us to see the meanings behind the debate. So it is with the contrasting visions of education embodied in Common Core and The Academy, seen clearly in two videos, one advocating Common Core (see below) and The Academy’s Expectations video (see second video below).
Though cast as something new, the Common Core standards are nothing more than another iteration of the progressive approach to education. While an emphasis on critical thinking and written expression might seem new, the telos, or end, remains the same as that first propounded by men such as John Dewey and William James who viewed students as units of production to further the economic and social progress of society. The “new” emphases come not from a renewed understanding of the holistic nature of education but from a new set of circumstances- a global economy-for which students need to be suited.
Yet what is perhaps most overlooked in debates over education is how the nature of progressive education undermines or often ignores the family.
The role of parents in education is one of the defining differences between the education of The Academy and that offered by those developing the Common Core. Understanding the symbols embedded in the two videos yields insight into this crucial difference.
On the part of Common Core, the metaphor is the staircase. Sterile, industrial. The students’ education is something to be climbed, conquered, overcome, in order to arrive at the top.
The Common Core video laments the current status of education in the United States, particularly the achievement gap among students in different school. Certainly, the status quo of poorly performing schools and failing students (or students failed by the system) is lamentable. The video locates the problem in inconsistent standards—a student in one location is shown receiving an “A,” while in another a “C” for the same work. While an inability to clearly identify marks of excellence is certainly a failure of education, to envision the solution as simple as more and better standards seems misguided and reflective of a dehumanized approach to education.
For much of the video, there is no human interaction; we are presented with the solitary student driven onward, occasionally helped up or cast down by a mechanical arm. The only student interaction is that of competition (the student who had an “A” in literature in one location finds that he has a “C” in another; his corresponding student smugly holds her “B” in triumph).
Teachers and parents are named only as significant in helping students to reach the standards. There is no real distinction drawn between the two groups, nor between them and any others who might help. Parents and teachers are merely auxiliary to the individual student’s advancement.
Even the accomplishment, graduation, contains no true element of community beyond the celebration of reaching the top step; each goes on to pursue an individual goal in the global economy. No community surrounds them; no community supports them; no community awaits them.
Parents are servants of their children’s aspirations and goals. At best, they are partners with the state in producing isolated and solitary individuals whose very self-focus serves the interest of a national economy.
On the part of The Academy’s Expectations video the tree is the driving metaphor. Organic, living. Education is cultivated, not by the student (not at first) but for the student by his or her parents, something in which the student is cultivated and grown.
It is the student who is absent from the video as an individual and never central. The parents plant and water seeds, watch and care, and with luxury of time and peace, let growth happen and rejoice in it. The student grows, as all living things do, gaining height and stature, rooted and grounded securely.
Educators are among the formative influences for a child, but not the primary. That role is rightly reserved for parents.
The tree exists not in isolation but in a field and among hills, eventually one among a forest. The tree exists not to rise and overcome but to thrive, grow in and give life. The student’s life, from foundation to fulfillment, is not by human agency; life grows, the growth aided, shaped, formed, and directed by, with, and among others.
The Academy is committed to the centrality of the parents’ responsibility and role in forming the identity of the student. Students are humans whose educational pursuit has none other than the great telos of becoming more human in the image of the True Human, Jesus Christ. As humans, it is only in the close community of humans, foundationally the family, that this growth happens.
Todd Wedel is Academic Dean at The Academy