Reflections on Dr. Nussbaum’s 21st Century Englightenment

My reflections on Dr. Martha Nussbaum on 21st Century Enlightenment follows:

I agree with Nussbaum’s notion that the goal of education is not just to turn out students with skills to drive economic growth, but instead must also be able to build whole citizens. She describes three capabilities that citizens need to have:

1. Capacity for self-examination and ability to think critically

2. Sense of Global Citizenship: a genuine curiousness about others and a sense of dignity

3. Empathy: capacity to really think how it would be in someone else’s shoes

While I hear her talking more philosophically about the thought process and internal capacities, I would extend these three with the capability to apply these through a willingness and ability to collaborate with others. Not only should you be able to think how it would be in someone else’s shoes, but you should be able to apply that knowledge, the capability of being empathetic, through practical actions of working together to solve issues, engage in general discourse, and challenge others respectfully through questioning.

While I agree with her notions, I may not believe as strongly that the humanities and arts are the only way to teach this. She seems to push very strongly, to the point that I hear, these are the only way to teach these capabilities. I believe the arts, humanities, and philosophy are a valuable aspect of education, but not the only way to teach the skills and capabilities needed in the 21st Century; a balance, and not large disregard being most appropriate.

It is imperative for educational leaders to consider the rapid changing environment, when establishing goals and setting policy for the next 20 years. Policy should better promote the learning and application of capabilities Nassbaum describes: capacity to self-examine and think critically, a sense of global citizenship, and authentic empathy.

I believe educational leaders should also consider the question: how does policy impact the  motivation of all, adults and children, in achieving great success? Two current topics that specifically impact motivation are the design and implementation of current state-mandated testing and accountability systems, and teacher evaluations linked to student achievement.

To remain relevant, meaningful, and effective, education must move to a more personalized model of instruction, with the ability to identify and support students’ unique and individual needs; supporting a narrowing of the achievement gap, and motivating students and staff on an individual level. Education must embrace change, and open itself up to real improvement on a continuous basis.

I personally also believe that the education community must be more open to a greater variety of options, not a one-size fits all option, but a realization that trying to meet all student needs with a single model only diminishes quality and extends inequalities.


About mpalmerston

Husband, parent, educator, and student
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