I once interviewed a candidate for Director of my university’s Graduate Teacher Education Program. She was a twenty-year administrative veteran of a big city school system who also had been superintendent of two suburban districts. During the interview she kept emphasizing preparing children for the world of work. So much so, in fact, that I began to wonder if she thought schools should do anything else.
I asked her if she also embraced other priorities. Looking puzzled, she replied, "Like what?" “How about encouraging the development of decent human beings?” I suggested. She frowned and said that sort of thing was up to parents and other non-school agencies. Then she added with a measure of condescension, "I seem to have a broader vision than you do of what education is about."
I still wonder how she came to that curious conclusion. But I have never wondered about the origin of her mindless commitment to schooling that focuses myopically on making the U.S. workforce more internationally competitive. That misbegotten priority has dominated every governmental education "reform" since A Nation At Risk— that 1983, Reagan-inspired, blanket condemnation of American public education.
An educator’s primary concern should not be making American workers more competitive. That goal is buncombe. American workers will remain uncompetitive so long as they earn more than their foreign counterparts, so long as public policy actually rewards the export of American jobs, and so long as corporate plutocrats care more about the thickness of their wallets than they do about America.
This is why educators should forget international competitiveness and concentrate instead on things like encouraging compassion, cultivating wisdom, sharpening thinking, searching for what is universal in the human experience, and helping kids to focus on value, not just price. No matter what our politicians and their minions urge, corporate interests should not be given priority over transcendent goals such as these.
Besides, this misdirection of public education is based on a phantasmagorical world of work that has little counterpart in reality. Far more radical changes in schooling would be required to actually prepare kids for the real world of work.
For instance, school leaders might want to further accelerate the rapidly growing outsourcing of school bus driving, cooking, janitorial services, and the like. Then more kids could actually witness loyal employees they may have known for years being discarded like an old shoe. The soon-to-be discarded might even be directed to visit classes and share their experience. Then students will be better prepared for the day when they too might be thrown away.
Periodically screwing the kids out of their lunch money would also be instructive. Leaving them hungry and frustrated would prepare them for the sort of corporate shenanigans that make retirement funds disappear.
Devoting ever-larger amounts of the school budget to administrative salaries and fringe benefits might also be helpful. It would prepare kids for a work world where employees are made worse off so that corporate chieftains can be even more ridiculously well off.
Educators might even want to close American schools, put the youngsters on the street, then open new schools for cheap-to-educate kids in places like India. That way students will be better prepared if their adult job is exported.
U.S. politicians have bullied educators about this world of work thing for so long that some have actually begun to think this is their proper prime directive. It is time for them to wise up and pursue more worthy objectives.
For additional thoughts on this topic, see Tracking in Public Education: preparation for the world of work?.
Best of Luck,
Gary K. Clabaugh