Perspective

Counting People and People Who Count

My curriculum vitae still includes a paragraph describing my activities as an “educational consultant,” though it has been some years since I went to Washington to read grants or evaluate schools for the Department of Education.  It was all time wasted, less profitable than time wasted on politics.  Politicians, to their credit, know that it is money and power they are seeking, but I have never been able to discover what educators have in mind.  The worst of them babble statistics—IQs, achievement-test scores, minority percentages, word counts in first-grade readers.  None of it amounts to much more than counting—counting words or counting people.

In every discussion of reform, whether it was with professors of education, school-board members, or the secretary of education and his staff, the conversation always ran aground on the following question: “What is your object in teaching a class, running a school, or developing a program?”  When I received no better answer than gimmicks summed up in slogans such as “child-centered education,” “back to basics,” “phonics,” or “writing for reading,” I clarified the question by asking, “What sort of person, if you succeed, do you expect to turn out?”  A Quaker headmaster informed me that he hoped his students would be themselves; I naturally asked him why parents...

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