Friday, March 6, 2009

Whose Ideal Education?

My dad wrote this letter to the editor, just printed in the Amherst Bulletin. It struck me as important and I thought I'd share it.

To the Bulletin: I am tempted to write a passionate appeal asking the powers that be to exempt my favorite program from budget cuts. The elementary school music program, Sue Dunbar's in particular, has been critical to my young son's development, providing powerful competition for the video and computer games that threaten him, just as comic books and radio serials threatened me two generations ago. Perhaps more to the point, that program is what provides the foundation that enables the middle and high school musical ensembles to play music rather than drills. But my wife could write an equally persuasive letter about how Amherst's volleyball program (in both middle and high school) gave her school years a powerful focus and laid the groundwork for a life in that sport that extend through a brilliant (my adjective, not hers) career in college and well beyond. And Maureen Buchanan Jones has written compellingly (in last week's Bulletin) on the Russian language program.

The truth is, we can't agree on what should be included in the ideal Amherst education, nor should we. And neither the eloquence of letters and speeches nor the influence of combat ready interest groups should play roles here either. Sacrificing an elementary music program or a middle school sports or language programs for something else is imposing one group's educational values and priorities on others. And while we're at it, I'm not sure demand should determine supply in an educational curriculum either.

The only policy that makes sense to me is the one enlightened colleges and universities use: keep the best programs, whatever and wherever they are; and let the weaker ones go, for now. Make decisions based on excellence. The best arts programs, the best athletic programs, the best language programs. Who are the strongest teachers (and coaches), who we all know are the key to the best programs? When good times return, we can go back to building and funding ideal education.

Robert Neill
Amherst

1 comment:

tom said...

Very sensible letter.