A Vexatious Valediction

As I’ve been reading and studying to flesh out my philosophy of education, I came across this graduation speech delivered by a high school valedictorian earlier this summer, which I highly encourage you to read:

I Stand Alone, by Erica Goldson

Though I point this out, this does not mean that she and I share the same worldview. In fact, given the purely secular manner of her speech (besides the Zen quote at the beginning) and her desire to participate in a commune to learn more about Marxism (see this Washington Times interview), I would say that we would have very little in common.

However, we are in full agreement about some very important issues regarding education.

First, whereas many people refer to the public school system as “broken” or “dysfunctional”, I tend to agree with Erica that the system functions exactly as it is designed to do. I hate to leave such a bold statement relatively unsupported, but I am right now working on a blog post that will address this very subject, which will be published shortly. In the meantime, at the risk of tipping my hand, I encourage those of you for whom that statement comes as a shock to spend a little time reading up on the educational philosophy of John Dewey — known as the “Father of American Education” — and on the stated goals of the Humanist Manifesto which he signed.

Second, I agree that the goal of education should be learning, not grades. Here is a girl who ought to be a hallmark of public education, but who sees the ultimate purposelessness of the outcome-based system in which she has excelled. Many of you know that I am an advocate of classical education. The purpose of this style of education is to teach students how to learn. Dorothy Sayers once referred to the classical teaching methods as “The Lost Tools of Learning“. Thankfully, in the last few decades these lost tools have been recovered, providing parents with alternatives to the public school system, whether it be through classical homeschooling or in a classical school such as Highland Rim Academy.

Third, I agree that humans are individually valuable and unique, capable of “using our minds for innovation rather than memorization, for creativity rather than futile activity, for rumination rather than stagnation.” On this point I would even go much farther than Miss Goldson does, by affirming that the reason we are individually valuable is that we are each individually image bearers of God. The reason we are innovative and creative is that we image a creative Creator.

Finally, I agree that there are great questions which need answering, and there are true answers which may and must be demanded. I share as well in Miss Goldson’s optimism that a generation armed with real learning, innovation, creativity, and, most importantly, Truth, would be more than capable of turning this nation — and indeed the world — upside down.

Sadly, if it is in Zen and Marxism that she seeks her answers, I fear that Miss Goldson will end up none the wiser for all her questioning, for these paths end in the same humanism toward which her schooling was directing her. I pray that she will never lose her zeal for the truth, and that she will find it in the only source of ultimate Truth, Jesus Christ!

3 comments on “A Vexatious Valediction

  1. bmcc1029 says:

    This is an interesting topic to reflect upon. Miss Goldson’s speech expresses many of the annoyances and grievances I’ve had with the education system from time to time. While I do believe that the system itself contributes to the problems, it’s also important to realize that much of the responsibility of learning falls (as I believe it should) on the shoulders of the student. A teacher can only do so much; an educational system can only do so much.

    She mentions other countries whose educational systems are more geared towards learning rather than grade-grubbing. This is probably entirely true – I’ve always heard that, anyway. But the difference may not only be with the system, but the students. American kids are conditioned from an early age to be happy little consumers. We are taught that being “cool” matters more than anything else, including learning. Then, politicians and preachers and all other types of adults ridicule those who are well-learned (the word “elitist” comes to mind).

    Like I said, I agree that the system doesn’t work very well. Changing it could well solve some problems. But until we recognize that students must take responsibility for their own education, then I don’t think we’ll make very much progress.

    Nice post, John!


  2. Great Post. After listening to the speech I wanted to read someone else who would interact with what she had said. Very Well put.

  3. Anne Kelly says:

    If you agree with Erica’s sentiment, you might appreciate the vision that Zoe Weil describes in her TED Talk about changing the education system to graduate solutionaries to solve the worlds problems with Human Rights, Environment, and Cruelty to Animals.


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