Saturday, October 22, 2005

Ideas in Education

Maybe we should teach teens about masturbation, but not about intelligent design. Maybe it should be the other way. In both cases there is much debate about the impact of the ideas on the school system and on the students. Maybe sex education should not be taught. Maybe it should only focus on the biological processes involved. Maybe we should teach abstinence. Almost no one thinks that teaching about masturbation or outercourse (sexual activity that does not involve penetration) would be smart.

Since we all know that our institutions like education and religion both transmit and respond to ideas three questions arise:

What ideas are shaping our institutions?
What ideas are we being exposed to through our institutions?
What ideas are really, on balance, good for us?

(A sidenote: A social institution is a relatively stable arrangement that people have created to carry out some function. The institution may change over time or exist in different forms in different cultures. Happy hours and graduation ceremonies are also institutions because they have outlasted their creators.)

It would several books to address those questions. I just want to sensitize you to the issues that arise when we think about the ideas that both drive and flow out of our social institutions.

We need to be alert, not to the fit between ideas in education and a certain worldview, but to the "quality" of the ideas themselves. Do we want our education system, and the students' minds, to be shaped by ideas that are illogical, counterfactual, or destructive of widely held values? Of course not.

Next time I'll say more about the ways in which ideas, beliefs, attitudes, and beahvaiors influence education.


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