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a second selection from Cremins

which might help people understand why I value him so highly


Cremin on:
An approach to educational history

My argument in these lectures has been for renewed attention to
context, complexity, and relationship
in our discussions of education, past, present, and future. Contrary
to the drift of a good deal of
scholarly opinion during the past ten years, I happen to believe that
on balance the American education
system has contributed significantly to the advancement of liberty,
equality, and fraternity, in that
complementarity and tension that mark the relations among them in a
free society. I have reached that
belief on the basis of evidence that is admittedly mixed and with a
willingness to grant major
imperfections in performance. The institutions of American education
are human institutions; they have
been guilty of their full share of evil, venality, and failure, and my
phrase "on balance" is intended to
take account of the fact. But it is also intended to convey my sense
that the aspirations of American
education have been more noble than base, and that its performance
over the past two centuries has
been more liberating of a greater diversity of human energies and
potentialities than has been the case
in most other eras and in most other places. As a historian, I believe
it is important to make
judgments, but I also believe that the judgments should be of this
world and not some other.

However that may be, my judgment in this matter is less important than
the fundamental fact of
complexity. I do not mean to suggest that the educational system is so
complicated and intractable that
nothing should be done until we learn more. I mean rather to urge that
we go beyond studies that
analyze the family or the church or the school or television in
isolation and then pronounce on their
educational effects, and beyond studies that scrutinize people through
a single lens of class or race or
religion or ethnicity and, once again, pronounce on educational
outcomes. Individual institutions and
individual variables are important, to be sure; but it is the ways in
which they pattern themselves and
relate to one another that give them their educational significance,
and the ways in which their outcomes
confirm, complement, or contradict one another that determine their
educational effects. In sum,
complexity has marked American education from the beginning, and I
would hope for a renewed
appreciation of the inescapable fact of complexity in our discussions
of educational theory and policy
during the years immediately ahead.

From Traditions of American education, pp. 127-128.

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