The Intrinsic Value of Nature and Public Education


In one of my last posts, I wrote about the importance of school culture and how many facets of a school culture are not immediately nor easily quantifiable. Focusing on “intangibles” such as physical spaces, relationships, and positive interactions and language are not some way of skirting tough conversations about accountability and achievement. As I noted in that post, focusing on intangibles is simply better business. By acknowledging the importance of contexts on achievement, we can focus on what truly matters, rather than on superficial and shallow targets of test prep and short-sighted and disassociated compliance-based policy measures.

However, as Will noted in his last post, switching to a perspective of schools as ecosystems requires more than the recognition that achievement is enhanced by a focus on school contexts rather than students as products. More fundamentally, it requires a recognition that “public education has an intrinsic value.” It also entails recognizing that all children have an intrinsic value.

In other words, adopting the model of schools as ecosystems represents a moral alignment, not simply a shift in methodology.

It is the belief that natural spaces and wildlife have an intrinsic value. It is the belief that all human races, cultures, languages, and communities have an intrinsic value. What this means is that they possess a value aside from anything that we might “get” from them. They have a value and purpose that have been determined by their niche within a wider ecosystem. Though we can discuss natural utility to us in this capacity (formally known as “ecosystem services“: biodiversity ensures greater stability of the biosphere; forests and wild spaces help us regulate climate), the reality is that we simply may not even know or yet be able to rationalize the value of all things.

What we DO know about people, species, and ecosystems that have an inherent value is that if we neglect or destroy them, we can potentially cause irreparable harm to our future.

Public education has an intrinsic value to the future of humanity. It is vital for our society, for our democracy and economy. Who would debate this?

Yet while we pay lip service to the value of public education, our policies and actions often speak otherwise. We leave communities most in need stranded and segregated from resources and healthy public spaces. We demand teachers to be held accountable, while allowing their schools to be run by ineffective leaders and allowing funding to run dry. We demand that students be held accountable, while ignoring their cries for love, nurturing, and moral and emotional guidance.

Our model reveals the shallowness of the “value-added” model. Our model reveals the flaw of relying solely upon competitive school choice as a savior of communities in need.

We must align our values so that our actions are guided by a strong moral compass, in addition to a sound methodology. Otherwise we may do more harm than good when we hastily go through the motions of education reform.

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