Sunday, August 17, 2008

Public education/Private education: A bleg

As part of my school's Comp II class, we have regular discussions of critical thinking--or try to. Discussions are fine up to a point--if they remain only discussions, then the issue at hand remains abstract, untethered from something students might actually encounter in their own lives.

The teaching of assumptions is especially hard for students to "see" precisely because they so often remain unspoken and/or unexamined underneath our own or others' arguments even as they are often a crucial determinant in shaping the sorts of arguments we/others make. Also, it occurs to me that false dichotomies, though taught separately as a kind of logical fallacy, are often the result of those (unexamined) assumptions. That is, sometimes the framing of dichotomies often leaves out other matters of equal (or even greater) value. As one example: the simple categorizing of nations as "pro-American"/"anti-American" presumes that these other nations only worry about their relations with the United States when making decisions; we do tend to forget that they also have their own internal politics and alliances with/pressures from their neighbors to take into account as well.

Thanks to new-to-me local blogger Jilly for an idea on how to demonstrate this in an accessible way in the classroom. In the midst of this post, she notes that "In our little city [Eastborough, in the middle of the east side of Wichita], everyone sends their kids to private school. There are only three exceptions that I know of - us, my cousins (he's a doctor and she's a nurse) and Roni's [Jilly's daughter] friend Ava (her father is a professor at WSU.) My point is, of all these families, there are multiple highter ed degrees and we choose public school." This got me to thinking about my own and my daughters' mother's respective circles of friends with school-age children and, off the top of my head, it does seem to be the case that, for whatever reason, the people we know with some sort of involvement in higher ed. do seem to choose public schools for their children more often than private schools. Yet among my students when we've had this "private vs. public schooling" discussion, their initial response tends to be that private schools are "better"--if you're directly paying for something, it acquires value; public schools are "value-less"; etc.

Here's the bleg part: I'd appreciate hearing from those of you who either have children for whom you've gone through the school choice process or whose parents made the public school/private school choice for you or a siblings. What sorts of assumptions/information drove the decision-making process? If "education" figured into the discussion, how did that word get defined (or, what seemed to be its definition--sometimes, after all, definitions are assumed as well)? Over time, did those things you valued about "education" (again, however defined) change? If so, how? If you are one of the "for me there was no choice" type--that is, there actually was a choice, but the other option simply wasn't considered--why was that the case for you?

My goal in class won't be to prove that one choice is "better" than the other--what I'm interested in is gathering some information that I can present in class so as to get underneath those assumptions and examine them rather than let them blindly guide our thinking, to think about the word "education" as being perhaps more amorphous than we assume it to be.

If you're interested in sharing your experiences on this, drop me an e-mail at "blogmeridian AT sbcglobal DOT net." If you would, also include your own educational attainment (and that of your parents, if that's relevant to the discussion). If you have questions about what I'm asking, please use the comments for those.

Thanks in advance. You'll be helping further the cause of "higher education"--whatever that is.

1 comment:

coppercorn said...

Hey, I'm glad you thought that was an interesting way to frame the question.

And in our example, since it wasn't mentioned, I have a BS in engineering while my husband also has an MS in math.