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 by courts and public opinion,
schools are the perfect place for the type of moral
education advocated by Ebel. A sense of respect for
regulations and discipline in the schools, along with the
examples provided by teachers, "can be powerful
influences in moral education" (Ebel, 4).

Ebel’s article makes many recommendations of what
schools should and should not be, and can and cannot do.
He does not, however, explain to the reader exactly how
schools should be structured. The author lists some of the
qualities that he believes make up a "good learning
environment" (Ebel, 6). Some of these qualities seem fairly
obvious, for example, "capable, enthusiastic teachers" and
"a class of willing learners." Another quality listed by Ebel,
reveals the author’s belief in traditional methods of teaching
as well as learning. By advocating "formal recognition and
reward of achievement," the article mentions traditions
including "tests and grades, reports and honors, diplomas
and degrees" (6). Ebel denotes that these instruments for
rewarding excellence have long been incorporated into the
structure of our schools. He urges educators to cling to
these extrinsic motivations