Research Paper: Personal Philo

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Personal Philo.

One of the most important issues society must consider is the socialization of its younger generations. How should we teach our children to embrace both civil freedom and individual liberties? That is, to be productive members of a collective society, while simultaneously maintaining their individuality. Much of the philosophy regarding this process centers on the question of nature and nurture. Much of the scientific evidences available to us today points towards a combination of the two concepts -- that, in fact, not only are humans born with inborn qualities, but, also, the society in which they are brought up determines how these qualities -- and, even, which of them -- are expressed. For these reasons, and others, the teacher's job is crucial to embracing the individual qualities of students, while ensuring they are given the traits needed to fit into a highly specialized society.

In the modern education system, students are given equal education. Amid global economic chaos, the quality of this equal education has come under fire, for programs of all sorts continue to be cut, disallowing many younger persons from receiving the practice needed in order to succeed at their personal interests. In the United States, the problem of public education persists.

In the United States, the state of the education system is disarray. The country ranks just ninth among industrialized nations in the share of its population that has at least a high school degree. Twenty years ago, the United States ranked seventh. The quality of the education mandated for a high school diploma has also been criticized for diminishing quality. (1) Moreover, upwards of 6.2 million students from the ages of 16 and 24, in 2007, dropped out of high school. (2) Today, furthermore, public schools are facing cuts across the country, and California, among other states, cut budgets for higher education, "setting the stage for brain drains," according to the San Francisco Gate. (3)

These conditions make for difficult classroom situations for teachers. How do teachers provide quality education and opportunity in an environment of resource scarcity? Increasingly standardized classroom policies -- at the national, and even international level -- usurp a teacher's right to creativty in the classroom, externalizing the guidelines for education in national and international policies.

In the 2008 "Tough Choices or Tough Times" report, the National Commission on Skills in the Workplace, financed largely by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and championed by a bipartisan assortment of politicians, businesspeople, and urban school superintendents, outlined a series of recommended measures in dealing with the destitute public school system: (7)

(a) replacing public schools with what the report called "contract schools," which would be charter schools writ large;

(b) eliminating nearly all the powers of local school boards - their role would be to write and sign the authorizing agreements for the "contract schools;

(c) eliminating teacher pensions and slashing health benefits; and (d) forcing all 10th graders to take a high school exit examination based on 12th grade skills, and terminating the education of those who failed (i.e., throwing millions of students out into the streets as they turn 16).

Collectively, these measures pose a threat of deconstructing public control of public education. Through these measures, the power of teacher unions would be weakened, creating a cycle whereby outside interests would increasingly control the public education sector. Education policy would be dictated by a network of entrepreneurial think tanks, corporate entrepreneurs, and lobbyists whose priorities seek to increase their sponsor's share of markets. Public funding would be cut back for schools and, therefore, students. Ideological concerns could take precedent over the pursuit of enlightenment in American schools.

This process would spell privatization of education, putting an end to the right of public education, as it is understood. Many powerful forces in the U.S. plan on putting an end to public education. Over the last fifty years, public education has been one of only two public mandates guaranteed by the government, no matter a person's income. The other is Social Security. (4) Both systems are currently being challenged by a dearth in public funding and privatization schemes.

All this in the wake of controversy regarding the No Child Left Behind Law, over which the Bush Administration was sued by the nation's largest teachers union and school districts in three states, in order to free those schools from complying with any part not paid for by the federal government. (5)

While the problem of policy and finance in education grows a more pressing problem, questions of educational philosophy have presented themselves, in particular, over the last sixty years, as science has wrestled with the true nature of human psychology and conditioning. How much personal freedom to explore personal interests should be allowed for students? What sorts of controls should be assumed legitimate when socializing younger generations? Many debates have sprung up, with accusations of totalitarianism and conservatism being flung at thinkers on each side of the spectrum. A quick look at the discipline of psychology over the last half century illuminates some of the key premises in the philosophy of education today.

Behavioral sciences in the second half of the 21st century faced many paradigm shifts. B.F. Skinner's brand of Behaviorism faded after Linguist Noam Chomsky made his case against the blank slate theory. "A century ago, a voice of British liberalism described the 'Chinaman' as 'an inferior race of malleable orientals," wrote Chomsky in 1971, approximately a decade after his human language theories had gained traction in academia. During those years, Chomsky notes, "anthropology became professionalized as a discipline, 'intimately associated with the rise of raciology.'" Chomsky encouraged the reader to ask himself, "What is the ideological motivation of such an episteme?" (6)

According to Chomsky, B.F. Skinner offered a certain version of the human malleability theory, one that has earned the behavioral scientists accusations of "totalitarian thinking" and a "tightly managed social environment."

B.F. Skinner assures us, it is a "fact that all control is exerted by the environment." Therefore, "When we seem to turn control over to a person himself, we simply shift from one mode of control to another." Skinner saw emerging a society in which "behavioral analysis" is replacing the "traditional appeal to states of mind, feelings, and other aspects of the autonomous man," and "is in fact much further advanced than its critics usually realize." The behavior of humans is a process of "conditions, environmental or genetic," and people should not be dismayed "when a scientific analysis traces their behavior to external conditions," or, as Chomsky interprets the assertion, "when a behavioral technology improves the system of control." Chomsky helped to bring psycho-science to the point where it is today; that is, largely based in ideas of the fledgling, but popular, discipline of evolutionary psychology, which assumes as a foundation that humans are adapted to their environment through processes of evolution. Chomsky highlighted human language faculties as evidence of this.

Whereas linguistic theories under behaviorism see human language as a learned phenomenon -- put simply, as the product of the child's imitation of its parents -- theories considering evolutionary basis for behavior posit innate human capacity for language as the foundation for human language. In other words, that humans must have some mechanism of mind before grasping human language. Further, Chomsky highlighted that this capacity was similar amongst all humans. He cited the near-uniformity of deep grammar in diverse languages of diverse people's across the world. This uniformity is found in the categorization of grammatical concepts, like nouns, verbs, prepositions and so on.That a baby in Japan learns Japanese, and a baby in England learns English, is the aspect of this phenomenon suggestive of the importance of nurture. Raise an English baby in Japan, and that baby will learn Japanese, if its parents allow the baby normal interaction with its (Japanese) environment. The opposite scenario wields the same results.

According to Skinner, who championed in his work Locke's blank slate and Pavlovian conditioning, "it is the nature of scientific progress that the functions of the autonomous man may be taken over one by one as the role of the environment is better understood." Such a cynical view of human nature was nothing new to the scientific establishment, as evidenced by the following Bertrand Russell quote in his book, the Scientific Outlook, published in 1931:

"Education in a scientific society may, I think, be best conceived after the analogy of the education provided by the Jesuits. The Jesuits provided one sort of education for the boys who were to become ordinary men of the world, and another for those who were to become members of the Society of Jesus. In like manner, the scientific rulers will provide one kind of education for ordinary men and women, and another for those who are to become holders of scientific power. Ordinary men and women will be expected to be docile, industrious, punctual, thoughtless, and contented. Of these qualities probably contentment will be considered the most important. In order… [END OF PREVIEW]

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