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Three Schools of Thought, Essay Example

Pages: 4

Words: 1069

Essay

In February of 1969, writer and educator John Holt published “School is Bad for Children” in The Saturday Evening Post, a magazine long known at the time for its covers by artist Normal Rockwell. His article was a battle cry for a new kind of covenant between children and those who would teach them (Holt 1969). In 2001, educator Michael Romanowski published Home School and Public School in an issue of a newsletter of the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), arguing that public schools and home schools should and could, in so many words, just get along. My thesis is that each essay reveals two fundamentally different mindsets of the two authors, mindsets with little in common.

There are some fundamental similarities in the two essays’ content. Both authors are addressing the issue of school reform. Both write on the assumption that effective school reform is a practical social goal — they have by no means given up hope on the potential for change by working within the system. Both are writing in terms of going forward, not retreating to some hypothetical Golden Age of American education. Both believe in the value and possibility of cooperation and mutual respect among the differing parties. Both mention the possibility of dual enrollment. Yet there are differences between the two  essays to consider. First, there is the thirty-two year passage of  time between their publication. Holt cites two public schools (in Philadelphia and Portland, Oregon) and a private school in Washington as positive examples of how both can experiment with new models of instruction. Romanowski mentions private schools once in passing. His essay is about the cooperation of public schools and home schools, a phrase that does not appear in Holt’s essay, presumably because in 1969 the home-school movement hadn’t coalesced into a recognizable force readers would recognize (Farenga 2002). Holt argues for lowered barriers between the school and the home and the real world, with compulsory attendance either being abolished or students at least given frequent authorized absences, but being free to return to meet friends and participate in classes following no fixed curriculum; and adult experts invited to engage students in discussions and practical instructions. Romanowski, who seemingly has never even heard of Holt and his essay, offers ideas that would essentially codify the differences between the different kinds of schools, and make school policy formally reflect those differences in an attempt to address the needs of both parties in the ongoing debate. Examples he offers are forums for an exchange of ideas, a home–school liaison, and, as mentioned, dual enrollment, albeit more structured than Holt’s.

The similarities and differences in the tone of the two articles is worth noting. Both are equally serious in tone — humor isn’t employed. The authors are both education professionals with years of experience, and both display the same general style of writing, and neither one is noticeably more or less knowledgeable in their field than the other. That said, there are important differences too. Holt’s essay is a essentially a work of journalism, a personal editorial by an experienced professional raising an alarm, a cri de coeur, an impassioned plea, a manifesto from an educated and civilized rabble-rouser, a rebel from his own profession. It stands alone without comment by the Post’s publisher. Romanowski’s effort is an officially approved bulletin-board-quality newsletter and comes with various bureaucratic seals of approval stating that permission to reproduce and disseminate has been granted (Romanowski 2001). It also comes with an adjacent, boxed official statement by the NAESP that amounts to a rebuttal, if not a censure and a refutation. Romanowski’s is calm in tone and wholly lacking in a sense of urgency. He doesn’t excite us, he addresses  us. He writes as a good administrator should.

Next we come to the message being imparted in each of the two essays. It is the same only in the sense that they are both about school reform, and both argue that schools are assumed to be worth saving. They both argue for cooperation between contending practices and theories. Schools are worth saving by changing them, but the difference is in the degree of change, and where the threat is coming from, and so the messages become radically different. Holt is addressing problems within the then-current official school environment, public and private. His message is that school itself is worth preserving — by throwing it all out and starting over. Romanowski by contrast is addressing a perceived home-school threat from outside the public school system. But it is no communiqué from the front. It is sober and practical sounding.

Finally, intended audiences share only one thing in common: although the subject is students and their schools, neither essay addresses students overtly, although it is fair to say that some students probably read Holt’s. Instead, both are aimed at adult readers, most of whom have experienced traditionally schooling. Holt is addressing the world-wide readership in the last issue of a long-established magazine (HistoryOrb.com). Romanowski is addressing a school-district’s parents, teachers, administrators. Holt’s audience was huge. Romanowski’s was tiny.

In conclusion, both essays are on the same topic of school reform, authored by professional educators. Both offer their own look down a theoretical path for reform. In my opinion, Holt’s is a highly readable radical battle-cry for change. Romanowski’s is a memo by an administrator, an example of one official’s response to the pressures being exerted by the growing home-school movement. Thirty-two years after Holt’s rebel yell, it isn’t much, and even so is gainsaid by the boxed NAESP message. Romanowski’s suggestions may sound practical to a certain kind of mind and perspective, yet I doubt that they actually are practical, and they certainly have not been adopted by the NAESP as policy, never mind actually tried.  This much at least has happened in educational circles since 1969 and 2001: Holt’s fire-bell helped start a movement and still resonates. Romanowski’s memo was filed and forgotten, I think rightly.

References

Farenga, P.  (2002). Homeschool Association of California. A Brief History of Homeschooling. Retrieved from http://www.hsc.org/prohistory.php

HistoryOrb.com. (1969). Last edition of Saturday Evening Post. Retrieved from http://www.historyorb.com/events/date/1969

Holt, J. (1969). School is Bad for Children. In The Blair Reader: Exploring Issues and Ideas (7th ed.)  Kirszner, L., & Mandell, S., Harlow, UK: Longman.

Romanowski, M. (2001). Home School and Public School: Rethinking the Relationship. Streamlined Seminar: National Association of Elementary School Principals. Alexandria, VA: National Principals Resource Center. Retrieved from http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED452594.pdf

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