Friday, November 13, 2009

Building the educational infrastructure

Learning experiences occur not just in schools, but everywhere - in discussions with others, on the Internet, on television, in museums, in bookstores or libraries, and in the home. And so those of us who believe in the importance of education must work not only to improve schools, but also to improve the overall educational infrastructure and intellectual climate of our communities.

This can mean deepening our connections with our neighbors by starting or participating in social organizations (learning often occurs through meaningful interaction with other people, and organizations like book clubs or religious discussion groups can create the context for high-quality conversations and activities); it can mean becoming more civically engaged by running for office, volunteering for a campaign, writing letters to the editor or op-eds, fundraising for a non-profit you support, or speaking up at school board meetings; and it can mean donating resources to schools and libraries.

Above all, everyone interested in promoting education should strive to publicly model their vision of the "educated person" or person concerned with education. They should make reading a part of their lives and get engaged with ideas, people, and community organizations; they should upgrade their choice of media from tabloid news and talk shows to high-quality local and national journalism; they should vote to fund new and existing educational resources such as libraries, schools, universities, scientific research, orchestras, theaters, museums, and parks; and they should participate as much as possible in the education of their children, attending open houses and school performances, and volunteering at school functions.

Practically everyone agrees at some level that education is important and worth investing in. But those of us who consciously believe in the importance of education must work to act on that belief in every sphere of our lives.


  1. As a student teacher I was touched by this essay. It is true that education is not something that happens only in a school and that once you get IT, your golden. It is a fallacy of American society that we assign education to the schools and not see that it extends beyond. The schools are failing because we are not actively engaged in discourse with each other about ideas. It is the responsibility of everyone to promote education by modeling its value as a member of the community. Kids will continue to view schooling as doing their education time before their lives really start, if they don't see adults extending their learning by risking their ideas and passion in public forums.

  2. Thanks for reading and for the excellent comments, Gayle.


  3. My mentor was a big fan of reminding me of Ivan Illich's distinction between planned and curricular learning and what he called “incidental learning." It was Illich's contention that much of the learning that is meaningful for kids (and probably for adults, too) is in the vein of "along the way to *that* I ran across *this*. Illich certainly believed that school over-relied on curricular learning, in part because it was hard for most educators (and especially administrators) to imagine a school where incidental learning had a formal location. I just keep thinking that you need to be sure to eat your lunch in your classroom, and invite the kids to eat there, too. It's one site for incidental/unplanned learning (or sparks of same) that will be great for the kids and that will probably help you to stay sane as well.

  4. Great advice, Jeff. I need to read Illich - that's on my to-do list.