Saturday, February 19, 2005

Engineering an Education

In my last post, I finished with the question of which was a more dangerous path to go down, essentialist or progressivist. In fact, I suggest you read that last post (if you've not done so already) before continuing in this one, since you will find out how I think education really works, not to mention that my thinking in this post will be much clearer.

Now that you have read that post, on to what prompted this one. Commenter Brad Warbiany, who left a reply on that post, unwittingly gave me the perfect analogy for explaining my answer to the question. You see, Brad is an engineer, and I suddenly recalled all the conversations I had with an engineer friend of mine about all the structural problems of a certain disused college campus around here. It then occurred to me that an education could be looked at structurally.

That said, let us compare an education to a house. It has a foundation that is sits upon, and it becomes more stable as more of as more of the framing is completed. There is a point where the skeleton for the house is complete, waiting for plywood and drywall to complete the walls that will give us places to store our knowledge. It waits for the roof, which shields it from the elements just as critical thinking skills shield us from lies, deceit, and ulterior motives. Finally, when the walls are done and the roof sound, it waits for creativity, that family of skills that will bring vitality into the house.

Progressivists propose that we build the roof first and let the rest of the house fall into place. The problem with this, of course, is gravity. Anyone who has a shred of common sense will know that it is ludicrous to build the roof of the house first, since there will be nothing to hold it up.

Critical thinking skills are like that roof; they will fall without support. Worse, any creative skills would be crushed by the weight of the falling roof.

Progressive educators remind me of decorators. They are not concerned with the work of construction or framing. They want to see the house complete so they can start filling it with beautiful things. Framing is boring to them, though it is necessary to have the house.

The thing about building a house is that one does not hire a decorator to do it. One hires a contractor to do it. Contractors are the ones concerned with the foundation and framing. If progressivists are decorators, then essentialists are our contractors.

Which is more dangerous, an ugly house or one more prone to collapse?

TOPIC: Education