Educating for Wisdom


by Jeffrey D. Wilhelm and Bruce Novak
Teachers College Press, 2011

The dissonance between the vision that now animates public education in this country and the view offered by Jeffrey Wilhelm and Bruce Novak in their new book on teaching English is sharp indeed. The most recent cheating scandals that have rocked the public schools in Atlanta and Philadelphia only underline the disconcerting direction in which our schools are headed. Public education continues to be gripped by debilitating mantras of utility and accountability.

Leaders focused on “utility” insist that the overriding goal of education in America is to provide the skills and aptitudes needed in the job market. Education is to be seen, first and foremost, as a vehicle for transforming students into the human capital demanded by the economy. Of course the plausibility of this educational “need” is belied by high levels of unemployment and underemployment and the inability of so many with educational credentials and qualifications to find suitable (or any) employment. Job projections in the United States offer a bleak picture of the lack of fit between the “output” of our educational institutions and the prospects of meaningful, decently paid, and appropriate work. Contrary to the myths of an economy requiring masses of highly skilled, cognitively sophisticated employees, for many the future looks to be one of low-skilled and insecure labor. On this basis we may as well dispense with the importance of public education for a large swath of our young people. Indeed this is already part of the Tea Party educational agenda, which sees well-supported public education as a pointless and futile expense—one more area where we can save our tax dollars and limit the function of government.

By now the deleterious consequences of our fixation on educational accountability have been well documented. Even some of those who, like Diane Ravitch, were advocates and architects of the accountability “regime” have concluded that it has become a blight that is destroying much that was good in our classrooms. Accountability has, among other things, limited what counts in education to only those things that can be counted. It has reduced learning to those things that can be made into testable items in the form of standardized tests. It has made classrooms into places where the primary focus is on preparing for the next test. ...

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Svi Shapiro is a professor of education and cultural studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. His most recent book is Educating Youth for a World Beyond Violence: A Pedagogy for Peace (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).

Source Citation

Shaprio, Svi. 2012. Educating for Wisdom. Tikkun 27(1): 53.

tags: Books, Education, Reviews   
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