The Next Generation of Education

Liam Julian Posted by Liam Julian

Mopati Morake will graduate shortly from Williams College. He was born in Botswana but finished high school in Hong Kong. He has attended schools on three continents, and Justin Snider, writing for the Hechinger Report, thought that sort of wide experience might have given Morake a distinctive perspective on educational matters.

“What,” Snider asks Morake, “do you see in U.S. education that is praiseworthy, and where does the U.S. system fall short?” The young man answers that the capability to explore different areas of knowledge, to enroll not only in required classes but in those classes that interest him, is an admirable facet of American higher education. He also likes that tests are not the sole focus; at his college, the process of learning also has weight. In his native country, Botswana, and in much of Asia, pupils are judged wholly by the scores they receive on several, major tests. Thus, “It’s pretty liberating,” he says, “to come here and find that my future isn’t going to be determined by a grade on a few exams.” Morake finds the inequality in American k-12 education, however, to be singularly distressing—“a travesty,” he calls it—and thinks lessening that inequality should be “a national priority.”

Perhaps most interesting are Morake’s ideas about teaching (the young man plans to teach at a boarding school come fall). “I think teaching is the second most important job, after parenting,” he says. He believes that such importance obliges respect. “But if we value teaching so much, and put our money where our mouths are, it follows that not everyone should be teaching.” Morake continues: “I’ve heard far too many horror stories from friends who went to public schools around the U.S. about how their teachers ‘didn’t do anything’ and simply didn’t care. So there should be a selectivity about who gets to be a teacher, and teachers should always be accountable. But those who are doing their jobs well should be treated as such, and that should be reflected in their pay.”

This is a supremely sensible outlook, and one coming from a young man who, at this point, believes he will dedicate his professional life to “making the world a more equitable and fairer place.” And yet, is this not precisely the view that garners such hot derision from some quarters, that is ascribed to those who “disregard teachers” and would “destroy public education”? No one would accuse Morake of harboring such feelings or intentions.

It seems likely that more and more young liberals like Morake do not share the sentiments of their ideological forebears—that is, they do not see in unions an inherent goodness and in the systems that employ union members unmitigated evil. They are no less concerned than their ancestors with attacking inequality, no less eager to wage battle, and no less certain that the fight can be won. Morake makes this quite clear; he hopes to devote his life to the promotion of equity. But for these youths, solidarity is no longer a sacred word. They seem to understand that power corrupts and that unions, regardless of the virtuous reasons for their original coalescence, can turn as oppressive, or more oppressive, as the forces they originally opposed. This change is heartening and worthy of note. It certainly promises better things to come for public-school pupils.

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