What’s worth learning?

“They are so close to the Real Truth” is what I have thought on several occasions recently after reading some of the books written by the people I most respect in education today. Let me illustrate what I mean.

One of the best thinkers in education today, David Perkins, in his latest book, Making Learning Whole: How Seven Principles of Teaching Can Transform Education (that I recommend to you to read by the way), ponders the question of selecting what is worth learning. He starts by considering Neil Postman’s thoughts from his book, “The End of Education,” where Postman urges that “meaningful education needs to be organized around the right ‘gods’ or ‘grand narratives’ that tie everything together.” Postman sees today’s gods of economic utility, consumerism, or technology as inadequate. Perkins states: “It’s not that these gods fail to offer grand narratives, they just do not provide very rich ones. They don’t tell us enough about who we are, supply strong and fruitful guidance around moral questions, and explain enough about the deep mysteries of the world…” Perkins goes on to suggest that Postman’s grand narrative themes of “Spaceship Earth” or “Fallen Angel” in his book do a better job of providing a narrative that potentially can link things together.

Perkins continues by discussing Howard Gardner’s suggestion of using three overarching themes: the true, the good, and the beautiful. He believes that these overarching concepts could “speak deeply and honestly both to the intricacies of today’s world and to academic disciplines.”

Perkin’s own synthesis and thinking leads him to this conclusion: “Looking across Postman, Gardner, and other sources, I’m struck by how his vision of meaningful education seems to speak to three basic agendas: enlightenment, empowerment, and responsibility.” He continues: “If much of what we taught highlighted understandings of wide scope, with enlightenment, empowerment, and responsibility in the foreground, there is every reason to think that youngsters would retain more, understand more, and use more of what they learned…our most important choice is what we try to teach.”

In Howard Gardner’s book, Five Minds for the Future, (I blogged about this earlier) he suggests that we need to work toward developing minds and hearts that are disciplined, synthesizing, creating, respectful and ethical. When pressed by an interviewer in a podcast, he acknowledged respectful and ethical minds as most important. Hitler after all had a disciplined and creative mind – however it was devoid of respect and ethics!

Learning can be most powerful in Christian schools because we have the best master narrative that we can give to kids to link together the purpose of life and what our purpose is for existence.  To Gardner I would ask:  How can we know what is good, true and beautiful if we don’t acknowledge a source of authority? Can man alone determine what is good, true and beautiful? To Perkins I ask – Haven’t we been down the enlightenment and empowerment path many times?  History is littered with ruinous revolutions using these words as justifications. For his word ‘responsibility,’ we again are left adrift – responsible to whom? Doesn’t this word beg for acknowledgment of a Higher Power, namely God, to whom we are accountable and responsible?  Yes, David, I deeply believe youngsters do retain more when there is an undergirding scope and narrative – that is why I am so passionate about Christian education! And that is why our discussions about what our curriculums contain, and what is worth learning, are of such critical and ongoing importance.

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Filed under Biblical worldview, curriculum, distinctively Christian, student outcomes

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