• U.S.

Education: The Goal: How to Think

2 minute read

Though education is its middle name, the teachers’ organization known as the National Education Association has found it hard to define a simple and consistent goal for U.S. schools. In 1918 one famed N.E.A. group prescribed “health, command of fundamental processes, worthy home membership, vocational competence, effective citizenship, worthy use of leisure, and ethical character.” In 1938 N.E.A.’s Educational Policies Commission called for “self-realization, human relationship, economic efficiency, and civic responsibility” (broken into 43 sub-goals, such as “efficiency in buying”). In 1951 N.E.A. undertook to provide ten more “values,” including the Declaration of Independence’s “pursuit of happiness.”

Last week the Educational Policies Commission issued a 21-page pamphlet, The Central Purpose of American Education, that puts aside vagueness and triviality. Said the 19-member* commission: “The purpose which runs through and strengthens all other educational purposes—the common thread of education—is the development of the ability to think.”

Having got that obvious but long-obscured target into focus, the pamphlet went on to say that “there is no known upper limit to human ability, and much of what people are capable of doing with their minds is probably unknown today.” What is known is that “the rational powers of any person”—including the supposedly dull—”are developed gradually and continuously as and when he uses them successfully.” Other points:

¶ It is “crucial that the teacher possess a thorough knowledge of the material to be taught,” as well as mastery of teaching methods.

¶ “The school must foster not only desire and respect for knowledge but also the inquiring spirit. It must encourage the pupil to ask: ‘How do I know?’ as well as ‘What do I know?’ ”

¶ Schools should teach “the strategies of inquiry by which man has sought to extend his knowledge and understanding of the world.”

¶ The need is for “that kind of education which frees the mind and enables it to contribute to a full and worthy life. To achieve this goal is the high hope of the nation and the central challenge to its schools.”

* Headed by Chicago’s Superintendent of Schools Benjamin C. Willis, and including Dean John H. Fischer of Teachers College, Columbia University; Historian-Columnist (New York Post) Max Lerner; President O. Meredith Wilson of the University of Minnesota.

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