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Taking public education seriously

As Berkshire Publishing focuses more on education, on learning as well as teaching, I found myself reflecting on a passage from a book called The Company of Strangers, by Parker Palmer. I read this book in the course of my research on community, and even though Palmer’s worldview is Christian and mine is not, I found that there is much to learn from him. We all need community, after all. I like the way he considers education and the public sphere: “. . . imagine what might happen if we took the phrase ‘public education’ seriously and tried to design an education which could renew the public’s life. Such an education would go far beyond memorizing the pledge of allegiance, studying the Constitution, and all the other gestures schools make toward public relatedness and responsibility. An education for public life would teach us to be supportive of and accountable to one another; to deal creatively with conflicting interests; to understand that we are all in this together, and together we sink or swim. It would do so not by preachment and exhortation but through lived experience. It would, for example, design educational tasks which make students interdependent instead of pitting them against one another. In the process, truth would be served, for truth is a very large matter and we have a better chance of embracing it together than alone.”

Berkshire’s mission, as I wrote in 2001, is “global understanding,” and that certainly entails a commitment to renewing our public life. We want our new educational books and e-books to help, and are designing them to show, above all else, that we are “in this together.”

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