Zoe Weil’s article is very worthy, but it seems to deal more with preconditions rather than goals of education. Obviously, this is a complicated subject; perhaps there will be more in Weil’s book. As an octogenarian and engineer, I am only a consumer of education, not a producer, but please permit me a few words. Everyone is concerned with education.
It is true, as Weil writes, the US is saturated with racism (I know, I am in a mixed marriage) with one of the greatest polarization of income and political power in the world. This affects all aspects of life, including education. Dealing with, and defeating, systemic racism and inequality will require mass movements, not just educational reform.
But the problems with our elementary school system appear even inside of good schools in neighborhoods where these flaws of inequality and racism are not so acute. For example, I grew up in a moderate size midwestern town that happened to be mostly Caucasian. Except for a couple of students, none came from upper class backgrounds, and even those did not stand above others for special treatment or social status. Most families with children in the school system were working class, both white and blue collar, (my family was white collar). The high school, and the system in general, was considered well above average for the state. Everyone agreed we were lucky with such a school system. I was a science “nerd” before the term was popular, and at the top of my high school graduating class of about 200. Being successful in science fair competitions at the time, I got a generous MIT scholarship. There I hit a brick wall. I was totally unprepared for college, especially at this level. After too much hard work, too much coffee, too much anxiety, and too little sleep, I did graduate with a BSEE - but the experience was so trying I did not wish to go on, although many thought I should, including myself. Friends in my dormitory who went to places like Stuyvesant High or Bronx School of Science did better, had study habits I envied, and tended to go on to advanced degrees. Foreign students usually did better as well. Many years later, I learned that remedial courses have been offered at MIT, not so much to improve English communication skills among foreign students, but so that incoming US students would have a more even playing field. As a group, too many were found behind, not only in basic STEM requirements, but also in those same basic communication skills.
Now it is true that many high school graduates are not headed to technical schools. But the same principle can by applied to other fields. If you speak with people who teach and administer in any good college today, you will find them complaining about the poor preparation of incoming US students. And this is regardless of income or race.
At the college level, the US educational system still justly has admirers, but this has been slipping a little. More parents overseas send bright children to colleges elsewhere than before. But our real problem here is at the elementary and high school level. One drawback is the lack of a standard syllabus as in many countries. There is also less ability to measure a student’s progress except by subjective judgements of teachers, since their unions are unfortunately positioned against the notion of objective tests. Some tests do have defects, and such a test is bad, but tests should be improved, not thrown out. Tests should be an indicator where a student needs help in mastering something without penalty, not as some use them, to weed out the student. How will a teacher know what a student’s problems are? As Peter Drucker once said “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”
The curriculum should also be examined. In my high school, a class called “English” tried to combine literature and communication skills; these should require separate treatments. Usually, the “communication skills” was merely a book report on some assigned reading, or a literary essay. The attempt to convey descriptive or analytic information about a real world object, process, or activity, took second place, if it existed at all. But in the real world after school, many students will be required to do just this in written reports recording their work. How many will write a book report or literary essay after high school?
I could go on, but these are just a few of the goals I would have preferred to see in Zoe Weil’s Psychology Today article.