Education's Gears, Pistons

Before long, the class of 2003 will start its freshman year in college. Thousands of its members will have reached campus with a lot more help than students a generation ago ever dreamed of.

They have highly motivated parents to point them toward the right kind of public service (good for character and for the rsum) and financial advisers to help Moms and Dads plan for this step. High school counselors have given traditional academic advice.

These young scholars have also had such recent additions as tutors hired to help them ace the SAT or ACT tests. Some of their families have paid consultants to ferret out just the right institution of higher learning from dozens, if not hundreds, of possibilities.

There's nothing wrong with all this. The tutors and consultants are for the most part honorable, knowledgeable people who see themselves performing a valuable service. But they are, nonetheless, part of what might be called the "industrialization" of education in America.

The industry's "machine tools" are standardized tests, which begin in elementary school and continue their molding and shaping (of teaching and learning) right through the college entrance exams. The "power source" is the concern of parents, teachers, bureaucrats, and politicians. The "workers" range from dedicated teachers through the new class of professionals mentioned above. And the "product," supposedly, is a new freshman carefully crafted for college and what lies beyond.

This industrial metaphor may be a little overdrawn. But it's offered to make a point: None of the machinery will work very well without a vital lubricant - the student's desire to learn. That key motivation can kick in at different times for different folks for a variety of reasons and not always on cue.

The need to nurture a love of learning rather than mechanically fulfill career aspirations must not get lost among all the tests and tutorials.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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