Turns on the Century

Education

The end of a century - and a millennium - provides an opportunity to reflect on the vast changes in society, religion, work and other aspects of people's lives, and look at what the next century may bring.

In this occasional feature, Boston College faculty offer their comments on key trends the 20th century, and where those trends are likely to play out in the 21 st century. The first installment of the series examines critical issues in education.

Lynch School of Education Dean Mary Brabeck has been active in educational programs emphasizing public-private and school-community collaborations: " Ernest Boyer pointed out that, historically, universities served the larger community and had a moral mission to i mprove society. As knowledge generation and basic research became the more central focus of the university mission, and a goal in itself, faculty research became more distant from the concerns of society. Specialization further removed faculty from partnering with communities.

"Over time, critics like Boyer have sounded the alarm that universities are becoming irrelevant to society. Our work at Boston College to partner with schools and communities brings us back to an earlier time, and gives us an opportunity to become what the Kellogg Foundation recently has referred to as an 'engaged university' That is, a university engaged in the real world, in partnership with communities and schools to develop knowledge out of that context."

Prof. John Dacey (LSOE) is the co-author of Understanding Creativity: The Interplay of Biological, Psychological and Social Factors : "Of all the traits you could foster, the most critical one for the coming century is creativity - helping people be open to , and produce, new ideas. Most schools, until the late 1950s, were not interested in inspiring creativity; being 'correct' was more important. There was f a r more interest during the 1960s and '70s, which was followed by the 'back to basics' movement. A lot of the gains were tossed out.

"But now there appears to be a more rational approach, where teaching 'basics' does not mean you have to sacrifice attempts to emphasize creativity.

"To inspire creativity, society must recognize that kids need room to think and work for themselves, and reward imaginative, original thinking, If we do, we will benefit ourselves enormously during the next century."

Prof. Thomas Groome (Theology) , a faculty member in the Institute for Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry, has written several critically acclaimed books on Catholic schooling: "The do-or-die issue for the coming century is whether we will find a way to imbue American education with spirituality. All great empires have had an Achilles' heel, and this one may be ours. A kind of crass empiricism has replaced the sense of awe and appreciation for the mysteries of the universe we used to impart to children.

"How has this come about? The US Constitution has gradually been interpreted so as to banish all semblance of spirituality from schools. John Dewey's pragmatism also has been a profound influence on the development of American education during this century. So we have come to think of it as 'value-free.'

"Education at its best, however, is a spiritual affair. It is supposed to engage people and enhance them, help them not just to make a living but to have a life. I'm not talking about instituting prayer in school, but allowing teachers to use in their work those basic human values - compassion, empathy, understanding - and civic virtues on which all religions agree."

-Sean Smith

Return to Sept. 16 menu

Return to Chronicle home page