Why School? : a systems perspective on creating schooling for flourishing individuals and a thriving democratic society
- This dissertation is the result of a personal quest to figure out what would make real net positive change in schooling: What would it take to shift our schooling system so that it genuinely empowers individuals as positive changemakers in their lives, and also fosters a thriving democracy? The overriding argument made is that if we wish to make this shift, we need systems change. Systems change requires we: 1) take a systems perspective; 2) discern the correct purposes for schooling; 3) define our shared aims or vision; and, 4) develop a deep understanding of human flourishing, societal thriving, and their relationship to schooling. This dissertation aligns with these steps and is organized as follows. 1. Introduction: Schooling as a System The introduction considers why schooling needs to be examined from a systems-perspective. Drawing on work in ecological and organizational systems, it outlines how a systems-perspective is different than most current perspectives on education, why this is important for thinking about schooling, and what theory suggests is needed to shift a system. 2. Clarifying the Purposes: A Meta-framework for the Purposes of Schooling The second chapter asks: 1) What are the different purposes of schooling and how are they related?; and, 2) Which purposes should be used to organize the actual practice -- the organization, structure, and pedagogy, of schools? This chapter offers a new way of thinking about the role of schooling in society by presenting a comprehensive meta-framework for the purposes and aims of schooling. It argues there are four core purposes for schooling - Individual Possibility, Social Possibility, Social Efficiency, and Individual Efficiency, which can be mapped onto a 2x2 matrix, with axes: 1) Intrinsic—Instrumental; and 2) Individual--Collective. To thrive as a democracy the aims for organizing the practice of schooling should be rooted in the intrinsic purposes - Individual and Social Possibility. However, most research, reform, rhetoric, and policy in the U.S. frames the purpose as instrumental Individual Efficiency, which, if not addressed, will undermine society's ability to evolve and thrive as a democracy. Intrinsic purposes are inherent to the actual practice and experience of schooling. When aims arising from the instrumental purposes are used to organize the structure, process, or practice of schooling, it thwarts the ability of a society to progress and thrive, in part because it limits the likelihood of anomalistic thinking and thereby decreases the overall ecological diversity of our society. Decreased diversity means limited protection to environmental changes or threats (I use these terms broadly to include cultural, social, technological, natural environment, or economic forces). The meta-framework for the purposes of schooling can be used to help discern the implicit assumptions in arguments and debates about potential school reforms, programs, policies, and research. The chapter concludes by applying the framework to two current movements in education: the standards movement and school choice movement. 3. Defining the Aims: Toward a Shared Vision Chapters 3 and 4 present the empirical research conducted on the aims for schooling: 57 in-depth interviews with students, parents, and educators across two very different school communities: St. John's College Preparatory (St. John's), a private Catholic school serving a largely high-income community, and John Lewis Middle School (JLMS), an urban public school serving a majority middle to low-income community. The analytical questions make explicit each participant's implicit "theory of change" for schooling. I started by asking about life aims -- what makes a good life, now and in the future? -- then asked about the role they would ideally like school to play in their lives, and finally whether they thought schools would do this. This research adds depth and nuance to previous research on ideas about the purposes of schooling. What participants talked about as the ideal role for their schools is considerably more nuanced than the typical "Prepare for a job, " "Prepare as a citizen, " "Prepare with academic skills" that previous survey research has asked about. My analysis suggests that what participants want for children's lives, now and in the future, and from their schools, includes a breadth of areas not frequently discussed in current debates about schooling. Furthermore, participants' answers similar to one another, and fit broadly with the Aristotelian ideas of flourishing or, eudaimonia -- i.e. to live well, be well, and do well. However, while there was broad consensus about what it meant to live a good life and the role of school in creating it, a clear divide emerged between school contexts about opinions of whether each school would do this -- St. John's participants overwhelming said "yes, " while JLMS participants largely said, "no". This finding contributes to the conversation about equity in schooling, and the chapter concludes with a discussion about implications for how we define equity (as empowering experience rather than attainment), and the role of schooling in creating a democratic society. 4. Schooling for Flourishing Individuals and a Thriving Democratic Society: A Model Chapter 5 presents a new model for thinking about the relationship between schooling and society and, in particular, how to think about schooling as a way to foster individual flourishing and a thriving democratic society. This model provides a necessary conceptual bridge between existing theories within philosophy, sociology, and social psychology. The main contribution is to bring these different perspectives together in one model, thereby putting them in conversation with one another and providing a more holistic theoretical view than currently exists in literature, research, or practice. The intention behind the model is to connect our aims (creating good lives) with our ideal role for schooling and a deeper understanding of what flourishing means. While the current narrative about school reform focuses on the extent to which schools develop specific competencies and skills (i.e. "learning"), I argue we must take a broader view. As a collective, we want to create a society in which everyone is able to flourish. Here, flourishing is defined as being able to make choices about their life paths that are aligned with their beliefs and values (their own unique constellation of preferences), and are able to work with others to change the options available to them if needed or desired. This requires a society in which all citizens: a) have fully developed the three components of agentic action (capacities, character, and beliefs); b) are afforded the freedoms necessary to make choices; and, c) have their basic core needs met (physiological and social psychological). Furthermore, if we are to create a thriving democratic society, we must consider how we will practice democracy in schools. 5. Conclusion The dissertation concludes with a summary of the lessons from this work. I argue that one of the most fundamental shifts overall is that of "asking better questions" in education. We need more beautiful questions in research, reform, and policy -- questions that shape new positive visions and expand our notion of what is possible.
|Type of resource
|electronic; electronic resource; remote
|1 online resource.
|Raab, Erin Lynn
|Stanford University, Graduate School of Education.
|Aukerman, Maren (Maren Songmy)
|Labaree, David F, 1947-
|Aukerman, Maren (Maren Songmy)
|Labaree, David F, 1947-
|Statement of responsibility
|Erin Lynn Raab.
|Submitted to the Graduate School of Education.
|Thesis (Ph.D.)--Stanford University, 2017.
- © 2017 by Erin Lynn Raab
- This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 Unported license (CC BY-NC).
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