In the current state of education, authors and scholars in education seek to determine, whether our schools are good, whether they are effective, and whether we need them at all. Schools are no longer viewed as a unilaterally positive learning phenomenon. With the growing diversity of opinions, and with the growing scope of discussion, schools have become the topic of the major social concern, because it is clear that they cannot serve the basic needs of children. The two texts are the subject of rhetorical analysis. Mark Jackson’s The Liberal Arts: A Practical View and John Taylor Gatto’s Against School: How Public Education Cripples Our Kids, and Why create an integral picture of problematic education today. They show schools as those, which hinder the development of genius in children, which turn children into servants, and which do not leave any room for creativity. The two works create a completely new image of our school system which, although does not deny the relevance and the need for education, nevertheless implies the need for complete restructuring of what we know about schools today.
In his work, Mark Jackson discusses the overall relevance and usefulness of liberal arts education in schools and universities. For Jackson, who was a student when writing his essay, liberal arts education is a painful element in the system of his beliefs about education. It appears that throughout their “educational” career, students are expected to accumulate knowledge for the sake of this knowledge, and for the sake of its accumulation, regardless of its future use or benefit for the student. “Well-rounded” is an excellent rhetorical example of how education works in practice. “Many students question the reasoning behind a liberal arts education. But even though they may have been forced to swallow liberal arts propaganda since junior high, students seldom receive a good explanation for why they should strive to be ‘well-rounded’” (Jackson 205). Certainly, it is difficult to deny that liberal arts education is necessary to help students develop creative thinking, work with ideas, improve their thinking and writing skills (Jackson 205), but what if students do not realize or do not see the value of liberal arts, what if they do not consider liberal arts to be materially promising and time-wasting, what if students simply want to ignore certain studies for the sake of pursuing a good career (Jackson 206)?
Jackson provides an interesting and rather demonstrative example of his experience in Spanish language studies. That he attended two years of Spanish classes and refused to take the third one deeply frustrated and surprised Jackson’s high school counselor, who simply could not understand the reason behind Jackson’s decision (206). However, this is the bright example of how students get lost amidst numerous disciplines and values, which they are expected to know, and which are not always useful to them. In his essay, Jackson takes a side but provides multiple meanings of liberal arts education. He states that for any career to be successful, it is important that students can manage complexities, abstractions, and language subtleties, which are the primary subjects of any liberal arts curriculum. At the same time, Jackson is confident that liberal arts lose their importance without at least the basic job training (207). The point of his evaluation is in that “students who want to make the most of their college years should pursue a major course while choosing electives or a few minor courses of study from the liberal arts” (Jackson 207). In no way should liberal arts education be the focal point of college curriculum but should be well balanced with the disciplines, which will help students perceive the value of college education as the tool for achieving their major career goals.
In his discussion of the present day system of school education, John Taylor Gatto chooses to show how schools negatively influence the development and use of genius in children, and how schools turn children into servants. Gatto begins his essay with the brief insight into what boredom is and how it relates to our schools today. According to Gatto, boredom is everywhere in this world, but nowhere else is this boredom as complex, as problematic, and as characteristic as in schools (41). Children “said the work was stupid, that it made no sense, that they already knew it. They said they wanted to be doing something real, not just sitting around” (Gatto 41). The problem, however, is that the reason of boredom often lies in our psychology, and that means that schools are also responsible for what they trying to imposing on young students. The problem that is haunting children in schools, according to Gatto, is not in that schools are doing something wrong but that are constantly seeking to do something right (42). That is why Gatto wants to answer a critical question – whether we need schools and whether we need education at all.
For many years, the presence of schools was justified by the need for children to learn reading, writing, arithmetic, but all these arguments, according to Gatto and under the pressure of the growing home schooling were already put to rest (42). Gatto asserts that Jefferson, Lincoln, Franklin and Washington never graduated from a secondary school but were taught elsewhere, which did not lessen their greatness. Gatto writes that for many years, the meaning of the word success was associated with the meaning of the word schooling, while modern schools very often resemble prisons (Gatto 43). From the very beginning of the American educational system, schools were expected to make good citizens, to make good people, and to make each person his personal best, but none of the existing schools ever achieved at least one of its purposes (Gatto 43). Modern schools are assumed to serve the six basic functions – adjustive, integrating, diagnostic, differentiating, selective, and propaedeutic (Gatto 45-46). These functions, unfortunately, limit schools to the tools of watching over and controlling the population, which is declawed and dumbed down, and is turned into consumers and servants (Gatto 47). For these reasons, the major purpose of modern schools is to let students manage their genius themselves and choosing what see as the most appropriate model for achieving their learning and career objectives (Gatto 48).
Needless to say, that schools are the matter of the major social concern today. Not because schools often become the targets of mass violence and not because they are gradually turning into misbalanced elements of the current educational systems (although these are important, too), but because we no longer see schools as the sources of necessary knowledge. Society brings us up to serve its needs, and schools are expected to provide us with the basic skills and knowledge we will further use to pay back this “educational” debt to other societal institutions. For example, by becoming highly qualified in liberal arts and having excellent communication skills, we will be given a unique chance to pursue a successful managerial career, to develop profitable organizations, and make these organizations the sources of the social good. Unfortunately, our schools are not without problems and Gatto and Jackson discuss the two major misconceptions about our educational system today.
In many aspects, what I know about schools and my experience at schools goes in line with what both authors describe in their essays. For years, I had been trying to answer the question “why”. Why do I have to learn mathematics, if I prepare myself to becoming a professional in humanitarian studies? Why do I need to learn physics, if I cannot grasp the meaning and essence of technical knowledge? Why cannot I refuse from learning the disciplines, which I deem unnecessary and boring for myself, and why cannot I make the whole process of education more interesting and creative? Our system of education does not leave any chance to answer these questions. Nor does it work to make creativity and learning the basic educational beliefs. Standardization and conformity are the brightest and the most problematic features of present day schools and as students, we often fall the victims of these misbalanced approaches to education.
Certainly, that the word “success” is associated with the word “schooling” is another problem (Gatto 43), because in reality, the word “success” should be associated with the word “learning”, which is more flexible, more creative, less boring, and finally, more productive. Should schools be transformed? Yes, they should, because in their current form they no longer serve community needs but produce community servants. Regardless of whether one speaks about liberal arts or technical education, students should possess freedom to the extent, which does not hinder the development of their genius and gives them an opportunity to meet their life needs. Children are so diverse in their knowledge, skills, and needs, that it is simply impossible to find a uniform solution to all educational problems. Probably, the rise of home schooling is the first step away from mandatory education in its conventional form to more unique vision of learning in children. Children are more than schools are trying to make of them, and if David Farragut took a command of a British warship in his preteen ages, and if Benjamin Franklin was able to master printing skills at the same age, our children can achieve the same highs (Gatto 48). And it largely depends on how schools manage their goals and the goals of children in their striving to harmonic professional development and career growth.
In their essays, Jackson and Gatto raise the painful and challenging topic of school utility in the current system of education. For both authors, mandatory education and compulsory education standards pose a serious problem. Children are deprived of an opportunity to develop their genius, to choose disciplines needed to achieve their career goals, and to balance their talents with the needs of the learning process. For some reason or other, schools are no longer considered to be the source of useful knowledge, but have already turned into the tool of imposing mandatory knowledge requirements. In reality, however, children need freedom, flexibility, and choice in learning. In this context, and through the prism of personal experience, it is obvious that schools are in need for major transformation and the success of this transformation will also predetermine the effectiveness of all educational endeavors in the country.