Teachers in Focus
Legacy of a Statesman: A Final Interview with Ernest Boyer 1928-1995
President of the Carnegie Foundation
By Chuck Johnson, Editor for Teachers in Focus
TIF advisory board includes Forrest Turpin, president of Christian Educators Association, Int'l. [CEAI]
(CEAI is based at the US Center for World Mission.)
Ernest Boyer was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations [CFR].
Two months before he died Ernest Boyer spoke from the heart about education issues.
The building on the picturesque Princeton University campus is marked only by a small sign: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Early last October, Dr. Ernest Boyer, Carnegie president since 1980, invited me into his richly decorated office. For more than two hours, he shared his heart--his evangelistic fervor about children and educators.
Dr. Boyer's final book, The Basic School, generated monstrous waves in elementary education. Several states have adopted the concepts as their strategy for educational reform and built annual conferences around his themes-- though some districts see them threatening the status quo.
…On December 8, Dr. Boyer died after a three-year battle with cancer. President Clinton echoed the respect in which this gentle man was held. "The nation," he said, "has lost one of its most dedicated and influential education reformers… Ernest Boyer was a distinguished scholar and educator whose work will help students well into the next century."…
A calm, clear voice in the storm of reform rhetoric, Dr. Boyer revealed his passion in what may have been his last extended interview.
In The Basic School, you emphasize the whole-child teaching approach. Why is this so important?
I've never learned how to separate my own life into little boxes. Being a person with profession, family, emotional and spiritual parts, I've never known how to pull them apart and present just part of me in any situation. The head and the heart can't be seen as unrelated, and the only way to live is integratively. What we're trying to do in education involves thinking of the whole child. Children aren't little detached cerebrums running around--they're people, little people--and the best education is that which sees them as emotional, social, intellectual and religious…
Why have parents, particularly those in the Christian community, become more critical of public schools?
…Finally, some parents want a school to reinforce their religious values directly. Although there was a time when schools did that, they cannot constitutionally teach faith and practice now. Schools have sent out signals that cause parents to feel afraid…Schools have wedged themselves into what I call "contentious areas without consensus values," causing fear about what values are conveyed at school. That has heightened the interest of parents to look for education in nonpublic schools.
This raises the question of character education. Should character be taught in our schools, and if so, how should it be done?
When I say that character development is critical in schools, I mean living with integrity, an ethical core that takes knowledge and moves it up to wisdom and finally into conscience. I believe that's the ultimate aim of education. To deny that is enormously dangerous. Knowledge without conscience is power that is unguided.
Teaching honesty as a core value in our culture and in our relationships isn't just important socially--it's important educationally. It means you don't cheat on tests. Persistence and compassion also impact our lives educationally. I believe every school teaches a core of virtues every day for social, civic and educational reasons--and these are non-negotiable, widely embraced in what I call "consensus values."
This is not accomplished by having a separate course entitled Character Education, setting it apart as a little box to wrestle with 30 minutes a day. Rather, character is imbedded in the life of the school. It's taught through all the lessons. The values are taught through history, through literature, through the arts, how science is used or abused…
Knowledge without conscience is power that is unguided.
The concept of community service connects with character education. How do you respond to those who say mandatory service is like slavery?
I've advocated service for a long time going back to my own religious roots. Service seemed to be the other side of one's confession. It meant a commitment, and it seemed like a part of living educationally and spiritually.
The discussion has become confused. If we ask students to perform service, we've often assumed that service is only voluntary. We don't apply that elsewhere. By requiring students to do anything, were saying, "It is so important that we don't consider it an option." Parents don't get uptight when you ask their children to take a math course--isn't that involuntary servitude?
"Do you mean you're going to require my child to sit in an algebra course? What kind of tyrannical control is that?"
Furthermore, the argument is made that if you ask them as a requirement to do it, they're not going to do it willingly or with enthusiasm. As an important component of education, we're going to organize service or applied knowledge so that it's exciting and authentic. The very people who criticize kids for being out on the street, for ignoring life around them are the ones complaining. What's wrong with building in a service program to show kids that what they learn applies to human problems?…
The Jackson-Keller School is part of the Basic School network. Tell us more about this.
Jackson -Keller is one of 16 schools in the network. I'm delighted we've just added a Christian school in Dayton, Ohio. To join the network, the school needs to apply with the approval of the superintendent and the endorsement of each teacher and every parent of the school. These folks have to commit themselves to become a basic school and to work with us.
We've chosen a selected number giving a cross-section of American education--a Native American school, one in Harlem, another in San Antonio that's primarily Hispanic, a diocese school in Boston, this Christian school in Dayton and several others, The ideal was to represent, as much as possible, a microcosm of the nation's elementary schools. I want nonpublic schools involved because although there is a gap between public and Christian, I believe there is much more of a common agenda than conflict.
The ten components of an effective school apply as much to an Indian school as a Harlem or a Christian one. The quality, character and emphasis they bring is clearly distinctive, but the central priorities are universally shared. They start with a common language and endow the process with distinctive qualities based on their unique vision.
For instance the Dayton [Christian] schools see our curriculum, our eight themes that organize around the human experience, not only as integrating the disciplines, but also culminating in a significant theological sense in terms of their worldview of God and creation…
Five Goals of the Basic School
1. To communicate effectively…
2. To acquire a core of essential knowledge…
3. To be a disciplined, motivated learner…
4. To have a sense of well-being…
5. To live responsibly. A commitment to good character sets the goal of assuring that each student becomes and ethically responsible person.
Eight Core Commonalities of the Basic School
The Life Cycle…
The Use of Symbols…
Membership in Groups…
A Sense of Time and Space…
Response to Aesthetics…
Connection to Nature…
Producing and Consuming…
Living with Purpose: To learn that all people seek meaning and purpose for their lives; to understand the importance of values and ethics, learn how religious experience has consequentially shaped the human experience and begin to see the significance of service.
Boxes used by permission from The Basic School by Ernest Boyer, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Princeton, N.J., ©1995.
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