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Is education by any other name as effective?

"What’s in a name? that which we call a rose, By any other name would smell as sweet;" (Juliet from Romeo & Juliet Act II: Scene II) If you think the field of education has a lot of reform movements each with a new name, you are not alone. And it is not strictly a public education thing either. But, does the name make a difference, or is it like Juliet thought, that a name was a label that made little difference to the core of the matter? In some ways Juliet was right, but in others she was very wrong. At least as it refers to educational movements.

The field of education has had numerous changes and reforms, ultimately as varied as the motivations behind them. The oldest writings on education can be found in The Republic by Plato. His teachings along with those of other Greco-Roman philosophers would lay dormant until the Renaissance when the Humanism movement sought to resurface the teaching and methodologies of the ancient world. It was in this way that the Classical education model was born - Humanism founded by the Medici family wanted to study and honor all things that represent humanity (reason, logic, language, culture, arithmetic, the foundational sciences, the arts and spirituality). It remained the basic educational curriculum model from the 1600's until the 1960's. In spite of it being the longest existing curriculum model, it too underwent reforms over the years. This predominantly took place within the practicality or logistics of education. For example, in the 1800's Horace Mann introduced the first real education reform with the common school movement. This was a response to the inequities in education by introducing compulsory education funded through property taxes and the creation of "Normal" schools where teachers were trained as professionals.

Within the United States of America, a quality education has always been the most important aspect of civics. As early as Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin thoughts post-revolution, the ideas of a need for an educated electorate in order to maintain democracy was well understood as a priority. In the post-modern era, as economic growth boomed and democracy was in direct competition with the USSR, the educational reforms became increasingly driven by the desire to out-compete the USSR in the fields of math and science which in turn changed the goals of a quality education to one with a narrow emphasis on teaching individuals test-friendly sub-skills quickly, regardless of long-term outcomes, developmental appropriateness, or broader educational goals. This movement changed the curriculum from a Classical one to a Progressive curriculum. It can be equated with the rise of the 'fast-food nation' as well. In fact, when one reads the book Fast Food Nation, one sees how the desire to have a larger factory inspired economy with many "workers" and few "managers" that could quickly and efficiently follow orders on the long road to defeating Communism may have worked in the short term, but has increasingly created long term pitfalls well beyond the local K-12 school classroom. This is of particular interest in a post-9/11 world where NCLB and state high stakes testing have become the new normal with higher standardized test scores equating greater quality in education.

Pendulums swing from one end to the other, and what was once called a quality education won't be tomorrow, but as Juliet asked in Shakespeare's play does the core change with the name?

Since antiquity, regardless of the surface reform, i.e. name, the foundational core of what constitutes a quality education have remained the same. Smaller groups of students per teacher allow for greater depth of knowledge mastery. Curriculum that is balanced between the study of language, literature, history, and the arts along with the math and sciences ultimately creates a broader breadth of knowledge. The ability to apply acquired knowledge as a method of mastery demonstration is more practical and valuable to society than the ability to regurgitate basic knowledge or standardized tests created using game theory not designed to measure knowledge but the ability to make educated guesses. An citizen able to decipher between fact and opinion; news from propaganda is still the most important aspect of a quality education in a democracy.

So, I guess Juliet was right. Whether we call it parochial, private, independent, micro-school, traditional, or virtual education quality is not measured by the name of the institution or the movement it falls under, but rather its ability and intention to provide a quality education through small enrollment rates, balanced Classical curriculum, applicability of acquired knowledge, and the development of critical thinking skills. At the Simon School this is our focus with the success of each student at the helm.


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