Paul Lockhart's "Lament" repeatedly questions the purpose of education as well as its methods. He doesn't just grieve that true mathematics isn't being taught, but rather that it is not recognized as an art, something that ennobles the spirit and gives joy, something loved for its own sake and not any sort of utility that it brings. He wants math to be lumped in with the liberal arts – literature, music, painting, etc. – things that the education establishment teaches without regard to vocational preparation. This sort of thinking runs counter to the "3 R" crowd just who want their kids to get jobs and balance their checkbooks.
Anyone who would divide education into "the useful" and "the beautiful" is bound to run into trouble, because they are not separate. The useful is beautiful – ask any engineer, businessman, homemaker or child who set about to solve a practical problem and found an elegant solution. The beautiful is also useful – if nothing else, by giving pleasure to its consumers and creators. Any attempt to divide them invariably leads to people running to unhealthy extremes in either direction. On the one hand, you get college professors determined to magnify their greatness by emphasizing their uselessness. On the other hand, you get No Child Left Behind, in which anything that's not part of a pathetically low standard of usefulness is jettisoned. Either way, both utility and joy get destroyed.
What neither side seems to realize is that they are arguing about ethics – in the classic Greek sense of answering the question: "What is a worthwhile life?" Education is just the practical implementation of a notion of ethics. Once you've decided what a good life looks like, you try to prepare your citizens to have that sort of life. Everyone educator and politician starts by saying, "We all agree that we want what's best for the child" – without acknowledging that we have vastly different notions of what "best" really is. You can't say what's a good curriculum until you decide what kind of life you want your children to have . . . and you can't decide that without determining what life is, ultimately, all about. Is life about Work? Is life about Experience? Is life about Happiness?
Last year I went to a workshop for directors of independent schools, a crash-course for new board members. One of the duties of a board of directors is to define the mission statement of the school and to make sure all policies are serving the mission. In talking about mission statements, the facilitator explicitly made the connection to ethics: "Your mission is really about what you want your kids to be. In general, every parent and every school has the same three goals for their kids. We want them to be Successful. We want them to be Happy. And we want them to be Good. The priority you assign to each of those goals will determine the character of your school."
I thought that was a pretty good analysis. Most public schools emphasize Success as the primary goal, with Happiness a distant second and Goodness not even on the radar. Many parochial schools put their notion of Goodness at the top, and then Success, and then Happiness. Waldorf schools explicitly put Goodness (i.e. spiritual capacity) at the top of the list. Happiness probably comes next; Waldorf schools are the few I've ever seen that took Happiness seriously as an important part of human development. No one wants to say that Success comes last – it's hard to be happy without some measure of success – but it is correctly recognized as a means, and not an end in itself.
Just a few quick comments. (I'm up at Wintergreen right now and not spending much time on the computer.)
1. I'm not sure I agree with you that useful and beautiful are inseparable. I like Ken Wilber's division into the "good" (by which he means "morally good"), the "true," and the "beautiful." When I think about it, it seems to me that these three are all goals that we strive for, and they are all pretty independent of each other, and that everything else we strive for can be fit into one of these three buckets.
2. I think it's worth explicitly pointing out in your division of "successful, happy, good," that your definition of "successful" is primarily financial. Or, if that isn't what you mean, then that only underscores the need to define what you mean, because I think you mean financial.
3. I've never been a big fan of mission statements: they always seem generic and too abstract to mean much. But I do like your three-part division, and the way it highlights a key difference between Waldorf and most other schools.