ON EDUCATION, as on good and evil, everyone is an expert; and the periodic "national debate" on education is in full swing again. Even President Reagan, who betrays little personal familiarity with schools, knows what the schools need.
John I. Goodlad's A Place Called School is, therefore, a timely study. He and his associates--over 60 staff members--spent four years studying 38 schools, interviewing thousands of students, teachers, administrators, and parents on hundreds of questions. One would be hard pressed to imagine a better study within the realm of reasonable human effort.
A Place Called School is, however, considerably more than a study. (Goodlad and associates have published about three dozen technical reports.) This is Goodlad's personal magnum opus, drawing on the research of others and his wide experience, as well as his own investigations. He speculates on the larger, less empirically discernible causes and meanings of his finding and offers systematic policy advice, all with admirable candor. Goodlad distinguishes clearly what he discovers from what he surmises, and both from what he recommends.
At the end of eight chapters of research analysis, for instance, before going to two chapters of recommendations, he tells us: "Some readers may prefer to stop here, summarize for themselves the most critical problem areas, and set forth what they believe to be the needed improvements. It is more productive to get some common agreements on an agenda for school improvement than to lose sight of the central problems in debating any one set of proposed solutions, including mine." After a spring and summer in which various commissions and task forces have delivered themselves of prescriptions for the schools, it is refreshing to see Goodlad give priority to careful analysis of what, in fact, goes on in schools and where the problems lie, rather than making claims to know all the answers.
Contrast his approach with that of "the Paideia Group." Last year this assembly published, through the pen of Mortimer Adler, The Paideia Proposal an 80- page "book," with margins and type-size befitting a third-grade reader, that good editing and normal size type would have reduced to a magazine article. The proposal is probably as absolutely correct as a policy proposal can be. It calls for schools which develop knowledge, intellectual skills, and understanding in students; which go beyond lecturing to teaching reasoning skills and dialectic facility; which teach through manual, industrial and fine arts--for everyone--ways of understanding which are not necessarily "verbal"; and which guarantee every student access to the same high-quality materials and objectives, and provide whatever individual attention a student may need to grasp them.
Adler and his group presented their proposal, however, as an oracle might --in well-crafted prose that side- stepped all the objections to this sort of education. One would have thought that the sequel to the proposal would have taken on these issues. It doesn't.
Paideia, Problems and Possibilities --another bloated, large-type 80-page artifact--eschews replying to "objections and challenges" on the grounds that it "would promote debate when it is action that is urgently called for." Attention to the realities of the schools is left to others on grounds that the Paideia group is doing policy, not implementation. Neat trick. If the Paideia proposal vanishes without changing American schools, that will be because its own advocates refuse to engage either in serious debate with their critics--indulging instead in slick sloganeering--or to give detailed practical guidance to its devotees.
Ironically, Goodlad's findings justify much that Adler and company recommend:
Parents, teachers, and students all believe that the first priority of the school is "intellectual," or academic, and want it that way--the students a bit less enthusiastically than their elders. Vocational education does next to nothing to prepare students for jobs. Equipment in the school shops is obsolete, and the changing workplace outstrips all efforts of schools to train students for specific jobs. (Goodlad could have added that teachers are underqualified since someone who can teach what IBM specifically wants its employes to know is going to work for IBM at a much better salary than the schools can pay.) Yet in the name of democracy, blacks and Hispanics (and many whites, my experience suggests) are guided into vocational education programs that they and their parents have been told prepare them for work.
Thinking skills are not taught. The emphasis in all schools is on memorizing discrete items of information. Teachers almost always lecture, seldom encouraging class discussions. "Ability grouping" is pervasive, though it seems to hurt those who are less able. Goodlad argues that with some forms of innovative teaching, the absence of tracking could help the less able without hurting the most able.
Where the arts are taught at all, they are not taught as ways of understanding and learning but as recreation or entertainment or some such. Students who are better at visual than verbal learning or manual rather than abstract appropriation of knowledge--and we know beyond peradventure that these different "brain styles" exist in large numbers--are just out of luck in most schools.
Goodlad finds, in short, that schools provide limited avenues to very limited parts of the domain of human understanding, and that they do notteven provide all students with access to these routes of learning.
If we accept the fundamental tenet of American public education, that all students are entitled to equal access to the best education, Goodlad's findings indict the schools in the gravest terms. The Paideia proposal articulates an accurate vision of what equal access to education would be. Goodlad's study, then, indicates that the schools ought to adopt the general principles of Paideia.
So the two books together, then, solve our befuddlement over the schools, right? This will stop all the debate, right?
Wrong. One can scarely imagine two books more badly suited to wield the influence they should.
Adler's book, despite its title, does not address the problems that even its serious supporters might have with the Paideia proposal. Actually the book is devoted to showing that there aren't any problems, just misunderstanding and weaknesses of will on the part of those who have questions. Adler will convince no one who is not already convinced and give guidance to no one at all. In a democracy, policy recommendations call for a carefully reasoned explanation of one's positions, including appraisal of what implementation will entail, and good- faith engagement with those who disagree. Policy recommendations, after all, call for decisions and agreements. One would either be ignorant of the subtleties of schooling and learning or quite irresponsible to accept the Paideia proposal or to set out to implement it simply on the basis of what Adler has said. He has not made a case.
Goodlad's work, on the other hand, cannot exercise its due influence because it is a drearily-written, cumbersome tome that will be read and mined for its implications only by the most dedicated researchers with the most disciplined minds and the highest sense of scholarly obligation. Written without grace or humor, in a style that not even one's mother could love, even if she were a sociologist, A Place Called School is mind-glazing. The word "perceive", for instance, occurs in various forms at least a thousand times, I will guarantee, as in "their perceived emphasis," "the perceived curriculum," etc. And characteristically, Goodlad opaquely refers to lecturing as "frontal teaching." Perhaps he means to draw an analogy with frontal nudity, which presumably we do not want from teachers any more than Goodlad wants lecturing.
Goodlad's book contains much that is wise, an infinite amount that is informative, and nothing that one can criticize as mean-spirited. What little Adler's book contains is noble and right. Perhaps it is sad that researchers and participants in debates have obligations other than to be right. But they do.