I do agree with Postman’s statement that “schooling becomes the central institution through which the young may find reasons for continuing to educate themselves,” but, as a librarian, I see two other important goals that schooling should accomplish. My first thought turns to the independent learning skills that young people need to develop and practice during their school years. Having reasons to continue learning beyond school is only half the battle, because our young people will not be able to realize their desire to educate themselves if they do not have the critical thinking, literacy, and inquiry skills they will need to do that. No one should graduate from school without the ability to ask good questions, find authoritative information to answer their questions, evaluate the credibility and accuracy of the information, seek and assess multiple perspectives, form their own opinions and draw conclusions based on evidence. The skills that librarians assume responsibility for teaching will not only prepare their students to educate themselves, but also to participate actively and ethically as members of society.
A second goal for schooling that goes beyond Postman’s vision is the acquisition of deep understanding about important concepts in the various realms of knowledge. To me, effective schooling is not the accumulation of information or even knowledge. I believe that students must transform knowledge to deep understanding by making it their own, learning to apply concepts to new situations or challenges, and presenting the expressions of understanding to the world. Actually, that’s why I am so committed to inquiry. The process of inquiry enables the learner to develop and express new understandings with self-confidence and personal voice. Inquiry experiences during school provide a foundation of understanding about the world and lead to the continuing quest for developing new understandings beyond the years of schooling.
Obviously, I take a much more positive view of the value of school than Neil Postman. But I recognize that most schools struggle to deliver the three-part value that I have outlined – reasons for continued self-education, the skills of independent learning, and deep understandings about the world. That’s a tall order of reform needed. Where do we start? Do we need a revolution or an evolution?