Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2015
America needs a richer, brighter vision for its high schools. My primary concern is not the one we hear constantly today – that test scores are too low and that the achievement gap between rich and poor is widening and needs to be closed. I share the latter worry, but my main concern is broader: High schools today are not meeting the deep human needs of most of our students. Intellectually talented students are diverted from intellectual enrichment to a concentration on high test scores and top rankings; students with nonacademic talents are discouraged from developing those talents, and, forced into academic studies in the name of equality, they struggle to make sense of schooling that purports to offer a path to secure financial life. Students (and parents) are led to believe that the purpose of education is to get a well-paid job and achieve economic well-being. We seem to have forgotten that there is more to education than preparing to get ahead financially.
Educators once talked seriously about producing “better adults,” about encouraging the development of all aspects of a complete life: moral, physical, social, vocational, aesthetic, intellectual, spiritual, and civic. We once considered optimal development in these aspects of life to be the aims of education. Aims (as I use the word) are importantly different from goals and objectives, ends we expect to meet with some specificity. In contrast, we cannot specify exactly what outcomes our aims must produce – they will vary with intensity and breadth over the individuals with whom we work – but they guide all that we do. We do not rely on tests to prove that we are influencing moral and social development, but we refer to moral and social aims in explaining our choices for the whole range of content and pedagogical activity, and we watch for signs that our efforts are producing positive results.