A colleague in Korea wrote to exchange ideas about civic education. In the course of our exchange, my friend offered these astonishingly relevant quotes from the esteemed philosopher Alfred North Whitehead. Let me be frank and say that I did not resonate to his ideas when I first read them half a century ago. I do now. These thoughts apply with equal force not only to our typical standardized approach to public schools but also to the charter chain approach:
“And I may say in passing that no educational system is possible unless every question directly asked of a pupil at any examination is
either framed or modified by the actual teacher of that pupil in that subject.
The external assessor may report on the curriculum or on the performance of the pupils,
but never should be allowed to ask the pupil a question which has not been strictly supervised by the actual teacher,
or at least inspired by a long conference with him.”
Alfred N. Whitehead, The Aims of Education and Other Essays (London: William and Norgate Limited, 1950), pp. 7-8.
“But the first requisite for educational reform is the school as a unit, with its approved curriculum based on its own needs, and evolved by its own staff.
If we fail to secure that, we simply fall from one formalism into another, from one dung-hill of inert idea into another. …
It will be equally fatal to education if we fall into the hands of a supervising department which is under impression that
it can divide all schools into two or three rigid categories, each type being forced to adopt a rigid curriculum.
When I say that the school is the educational unit, I mean exactly what I say, no larger, no smaller unit.
The classifying of schools for some purposes is necessary.
But no absolutely rigid curriculum, not modified by its own staff, should be permissible. …
When once considers in its length and in its breadth the importance of this question of the education of a nation’s young, the broken lives,
the defeated hopes, the national failures, which resulted from the frivolous inertia with which it is treated,
it is difficult to restrain within oneself a savage rage.
In conditions of modern life the rule is absolute, the race which does not value trained intelligence is doomed.” Ibid. pp. 21-22.
“This survey shows that the management of a university faculty has no analogy to that of a business organizations….
The modern university system in the great democratic countries will only be successful if the ultimate authorities exercise singular restraint,
so as to remember that universities cannot be dealt with according to the rules and policies which apply to the familiar business corporations.” Ibid., pp. 149-150.