Monday, November 24, 2008

The New Paternalism

There's a new discovery in the field of education. This one comes from John Dewey. One of Dewey's ideas was that public schools would serve a socializing function in a democratic society. That is to say, that after attending school for however many years, children would not only know their reading, writing, and arithmetic, but they would also know how to function within society. They would know how to behave in order to successfully interact with other members of the society. Now we're coming back to this very basic idea.

The latest issue of City Journal has a review of the book Sweating the Small Stuff: Inner City Schools and the New Paternalism. The gist of the book seems to be summed up by saying that schools must teach, "not just how to think but how to act according to what are commonly termed traditional middle-class values.” Somewhere Dewey is smiling.

From looking at six KIPP-like schools around the country that help spur high achievement in their kids, the author, David Whitman, finds that these schools also act as a father figure in the lives of children who too-often don't have a father. The schools provide the tough love approach. In addition, the schools explcitly teach the kids how to shake hands, dress professionally, and speak courteously in proper English.

If we are hoping to really make a difference in education for inner-city youth, then this education is going to be critical. In order to really teach, there must be a receptive audience who are willing to learn. Furthermore, all the knowledge in the world won't do any good if it can't be appropriately packaged and presented. The education battles in our ghetto communities has to be about more than knowledge. It has to be about culture and values. If those are not coming from the families, then it needs to be coming from the schools.

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