Harvard just inaugurated a new president. I am less interested in her gender than in her resistance to farces like No Child Left Behind and other symptoms of the instrumentalization that is continuing to erode education. Quoting DuBois, Faust (I hope I am not the only one who finds the name highly ironic) said: “Education is not to make men carpenters so much as to make carpenters men”. To hear these words from a figure in education administration is nothing less than a miracle.
Despite several serious reservations, I have always maintained that more people need to read Adler, who said in 1939: “the basic problems of education are normative. This means, positively, that they are problems in moral and politiacl philosophy; and, negatively, that they cannot, they have not and never will be, solved by the methods of empirical science, by what is called educational research.” The temptation to read the instrumentalization of education as being symptomatic of “our times” is too easy. So too a crude Marxist reading that would say the instrumentalization of education (Head Start, NCLB, etc) is relevant for the working class who require technical degrees such that only elite schools like Harvard can afford (literally) to worry about “liberal education”. Neither of these can be the full story, even if both are true. The origins of this problem are (at least to my mind) well-documented in the history of American education; the more pressing problem is political–i.e., why the persistence of this problem, and what is to be done (when it has infiltrated even places like philosophy)?