Excellence in Education
The concept of excellence in education is one that, on the surface, seems to be unquestionable. After all, who would not accede that students within our schools should, in fact, excel? Certainly teachers, parents, and administrators can agree on excellence as an aim to shoot for. The interpretation of the term “excellence” is, however, less obvious. How do we regard excellence? Is it the college bound student with a broad liberal arts education? Is it the student who graduates high school trained in a specific trade? Many in the field of education cannot come to an agreement on how our schools can best achieve excellence for and from our students.
One of the many authorities who have contributed a model for what schools should be is Robert L. Ebel. According to Ebel, knowledge is the single most significant and most important goal in the education of children. In his article “What are schools for?” Ebel answers “that schools are for learning, and that what ought to be learned mostly is useful knowledge” (3). He builds this declaration in answer to trends in education that focus upon other aspects of learning in schools. Ebel states in the beginning of his article, that he does not assume schools should be social research agencies, recreational facilities, adjustment centers, or custodial institutions. (3). While he does not deny that our nation is currently wrestling with a dreary array of social ailments, he does argue that the answer to such problems can or should lie within the jurisdiction of our schools.
In discussing education’s mission to provide useful knowledge, Ebel defines what he means by the word knowledge: “It is an integrated structure of relationships among concepts and propositions” (5). Knowledge, the way Ebel describes it is not the same as information. Ebel states that “knowledge is built out of information by thinking”. Knowledge, according to Ebel, must be constructed from information by each individual learner; it cannot be looked up, or given to students by a parent or teacher. “ A student must earn the right to say ‘I know’ by his own thoughtful efforts to understand” (Ebel, 5). The intellectual proficiencies many educators hope to teach are, like information, essentially useless to Ebel without a knowledge base on which to draw from.
Ebel feels that a good teacher can “motivate, direct, and assist the learning process to great advantage”. Although Ebel feels that good teachers are essential to providing a “favorable learning environment,” he puts much of the accountability for learning on the students themselves. Ebel feels that teachers are there to facilitate students in their learning, not to coerce those who are indifferent and unmotivated and do not wish to learn, against their will. Ebel states that “for the most part, motivation to learn is an attitude a student has or lacks well before a particular course of instruction ever begins” (7). In spite of the fact that his stress is unmistakably concentrated on the students, Ebel does briefly describe his idea of a “good teacher”. Good teachers, according to Ebel, have learned from past experiences. Such teachers provide “immediate recognition and rewards” for student achievement. Ebel in praising the school’s role in moral education, calls teachers “models of excellence and humanity” (4).
Ebel discusses moral education as another of education’s special missions, second only to the teaching of useful knowledge. The author defines moral education as “the inculcation in the young of the accumulated moral wisdom of the race” (4). Ebel feels that moral education is being neglected and should have more emphasis placed on it. He feels that our youth has grown up as “moral illiterates.” Although somewhat restricted...
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