Marion Brady, veteran educator, suggests that we have lost sight of the true purpose of education. It is not to master subjects but to prepare for a full life.


Quoting the historian Carroll Quigley, he writes that society creates “instruments” to solve problems, then those instruments grow into “institutions” that become self-perpetuating:


“Quigley wrote at length about a social process called “institutionalization,” arguing that it played an extremely important role in societal health. To solve problems, he said, societies create “instruments”—hospitals to care for the sick, police forces to control deviant behavior, highway departments to build and maintain roads, schools to educate the young, and so on.


“But gradually, over time, those instruments become “institutions,” more concerned about perpetuating themselves than solving the particular problem that prompted their creation. Hospitals put procedures ahead of patient care; charitable organizations channel increasing amounts of money into administration. Generals and admirals cling to strategies and weapons that once worked well but are no longer effective.


“Schooling—not just in America but worldwide—has institutionalized. School subjects took shape as means to the end of improving sense-making. Gradually, however, they’ve taken on lives of their own. We don’t, for example, ask if algebra is so central to adult functioning and societal well-being that it should be a required subject, so important that failure to pass the course is sufficient reason to deny a diploma. We treat the subject as a given, arguing only about how many years to teach it, at what grade levels.


“What’s true for algebra is true for every school subject. The core curriculum adopted in 1893 moves inexorably toward ritual, largely untouched by classroom experience, research, and societal needs. Standards keyed to that curriculum—standards reflecting the biases of the writers, standards not subject to professional debate before adoption, standards not classroom tested—have been imposed top-down. Tests scored by machines, tests that can’t evaluate original thought, tests with built-in failure rates, tests that directly affect the life chances of the young and America’s future—are shielded from the eyes of parents, teachers and the general public.”


Today, the curriculum itself has been institutionalized as the Common Core standards. Those who wrote it think that teaching and learning can be standardized. What problem will this solve?


Brady writes:


“Common sense says that getting schooling right begins with getting the curriculum right, but that fact doesn’t seem to have occurred to the business leaders and politicians—educational amateurs all—now pulling the education policy strings. Instead of funding a rethinking of the blueprint, the map, the pattern, the model, they’ve spent billions locking a deeply flawed curriculum in rigid, permanent place with the Common Core State Standards.


“In a properly functioning educational system, the curriculum isn’t fixed. It capitalizes on local resources. Its relevance and practicality are obvious to all learners. It reflects their infinitely varied needs, abilities, hopes, conditions and situations. It continuously evolves to adapt to inevitable environmental, demographic, technological, and worldview change.”


The effort to write a fixed curriculum for the vast American nation can’t work, won’t work, nor does it make sense. Adaptation to change is the hallmark of thinking. Thinking is not static.