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Education Prepares for Life, Training Prepares for Employment
July 31, 2007 1:53 PM   Subscribe

In 1996, Al Pope from the National Coalition for Advanced Manufacturers announced "Our goal is to change the way schooling is done." And, with the School-to-Work program, corporate and educational interests became further intwined, a trend that now reaches every level and comes in many guises. The ever-present crisis of American education continues, but few ask: does it have to be this way, and just who benefits? [mostly via]
posted by absalom (45 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
"present" was supposed to link to the Nation at Risk report. It just wouldn't be one of my posts if i didn't fuck something up.
posted by absalom at 1:54 PM on July 31, 2007


"There is something ethically embarrassing about resting a national agenda on the basis of sheer greed."

I'm going to go out on a limb and assume he's not an economist.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:56 PM on July 31, 2007 [2 favorites]


Teach me, Tiger!
posted by AwkwardPause at 1:59 PM on July 31, 2007


Public schools were fucked as soon as the companies managed to infiltrate their marketing into school disciplinary policies and lesson plans.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:59 PM on July 31, 2007


Looking back on it, I don't think I can even remember a time when companies weren't slapping their logo on bookcovers and pens and lesson plans and other school supplies and sending them by the thousands to teachers. That's really depressing.
posted by cmonkey at 2:13 PM on July 31, 2007


I'm going to go out on a limb and assume he's not an economist.
Or, at least, not from the Chicago school, anyway.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:33 PM on July 31, 2007


I don't think I can even remember a time when companies weren't slapping their logo on bookcovers and pens and lesson plans and other school supplies and sending them by the thousands to teachers.

See, that's what infuriates/depresses me. I can recall such a time when schools were logo-free. And everything worked fine.
Of course, that was also back when there was general agreement, backed by a social contract, that access to affordable education to all members of society was crucial to the continued success of said society.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:38 PM on July 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


Following the FPP's "does it have" link to Jon Taylor Gatto's work illustrates how this is a problem that goes much further back.
posted by buzzv at 2:54 PM on July 31, 2007 [2 favorites]


let's just simplify and blame it all on teachers' unions. There. That takes care of our problem.
posted by Postroad at 3:19 PM on July 31, 2007


Honestly, I never really spent much time thinking about schools, once I escaped from them and went to university. But now that I've spawned, and he gets to that age where I'm expected to turn him over to the state for 8 hours a day...I'm pretty darn concerned.

They seem to me to be nothing more than training grounds for cube-dwelling consumer drones. And that's just wrong. Unless I can get him into a gifted and talented school (where there are only 60 spots for a metropolis of over 8 million people), public elementary schools no longer teach classical education subjects such as music and art and literature appreciation and classical science. Instead, these kids are expected to sit still for 6-8 hours a day and be drilled in how to take tests. Tests that determine how much money the school gets so they can drill for more tests. The system is absurd.

Private schools are either religious to the point that they don't teach evolution, or are so expensive it's the equivalent of giving the school a new car every year. (The school I wanted to send him to has a tuition of 20k per year...plus expenses like uniforms and books.)

Home schooling just seems unfair, because as clever as I may be, I'm pretty sure I've forgotten as much as I remember. And he needs interaction with other kids and to be free of the constraints of constant parental oversight.

Sigh. Unless you're in the top 1% of earners, I'm just not sure what the right solution is.
posted by dejah420 at 3:32 PM on July 31, 2007 [3 favorites]


Dewey and Papert and Friere have pretty much nailed a vision for how things could be. The problem is sustaining a system consistent with their vision. It's just too much damned work for anybody to sustain. We need a better infrastructure for education than the one we've currently got (schools have not entered the information age) that helps teachers to manage the large volume of information more interesting learning designs entail. Not only that, but the ways we currently specify goals, assess learning, construct what it means to be "professional" as a teacher, and give teachers ongoing professional development are out of sync with what we know about learning.

Or so my dissertation proposal starts, roughly.
posted by rbs at 3:39 PM on July 31, 2007


They seem to me to be nothing more than training grounds for cube-dwelling consumer drones. And that's just wrong.

Indeed.

I'm a teacher, and once upon a time, I taught in Detroit, where I espoused the idea that education should be about learning how to learn, and gaining a well-rounded education (the whole liberal arts thing), not necessarily about getting a job and being able to function well in it. Other teachers roundly criticized that viewpoint as being bourgeois and upper-middle-class. They argued that, for the poor and disenfranchised (precisely our students), education had to be about getting gainful employment.

I disagree totally with that point, but I can see where they're coming from. What good is learning if, at the end of the day, you've got no real, marketable skills? Was it Jefferson who said something like "we must study war, so our children can study commerce, so their children can study art"? Perhaps one or two generations need to be trained to function in a marketplace . . . . I just don't really know.
posted by John of Michigan at 3:39 PM on July 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


John of Michigan: Have you read "Other Peoples Children" (Delpit). She wrestles with this issue somewhat.
posted by rbs at 3:45 PM on July 31, 2007


dejah20 -

You might be surprised at the breadth of activities available for homeschooled kids. We found that there was no lack of opportunities at all. On the contrary, the challenge was deciding what to leave out of the daily schedule.

There are also hybrid schools, where students attend a formal classroom-type setting 2 or 3 days per week, and complete assignments at home for the remainder of the time. A lot depends on the area you're in, though.
posted by jquinby at 4:09 PM on July 31, 2007


...and that should read "breadth of group activities".
posted by jquinby at 4:10 PM on July 31, 2007


Hasn't the whole point of the government undermining public education the past few decades been to get us to demand this kind of privatization?
posted by troybob at 4:27 PM on July 31, 2007 [2 favorites]


No Corporate Interest Left Behind.

.
posted by ZachsMind at 4:30 PM on July 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


Public schools in America were fucked the moment they were created, because their purpose has always been to 'socialize' us, which is a euphemism for indoctrinating children to be conformists, socially useful tools that the elites can manipulate.
posted by chlorus at 4:33 PM on July 31, 2007 [2 favorites]


rbs, thanks for the heads-up. I'm ordering a copy as we speak!
posted by John of Michigan at 4:37 PM on July 31, 2007


Why shouldn't our school systems be compatible with the general organizing principals of modern-day American society?
posted by Slothrup at 4:40 PM on July 31, 2007


I espoused the idea that education should be about learning how to learn, and gaining a well-rounded education (the whole liberal arts thing), not necessarily about getting a job and being able to function well in it. Other teachers roundly criticized that viewpoint as being bourgeois and upper-middle-class. They argued that, for the poor and disenfranchised (precisely our students), education had to be about getting gainful employment.

I think both a well-rounded education and marketable skills are essential -- the latter puts food on the table in your trailer, and the former will put better food on the table in your grandkids' house. After all, education (especially higher education) is strongly correlated with families in which the kids make more money than the parents.

I don't think it's a surprise that corporations (who have a vested interest in keeping Americans stupid and poor) like education that emphasizes mere subsistence over advancement. But then again, in a society where economic failure means dying slowly on the street, maybe there's something to be said for subsistence... and there's where the blatant inequality comes in. I know plenty of kids whose parents can afford to send them to a private high school and then a $40,000 per year Great Books college, where they will learn literally nothing directly applicable to employment, namely because daddy's money means they will never be concerned with such a pedestrian occupation. Meanwhile, your students can't even afford to take art as well as Fast Food Service 101, because then they might actually starve to death once they're out in the real world. Fuck that. At one point soon there's gonna be a "let them eat cake" moment in this country, and then we may find out just how many copies of Plato's Republic it takes to wedge shut the front door on the mansion.
posted by vorfeed at 4:58 PM on July 31, 2007 [2 favorites]


I think the biggest problem with American education achieving the intended goals (as opposed to the stated goals), is that we now coerce people to attend school who have no desire to learn what we are teaching. There used to be a wide variety of other options for kids who don't want to go to college, including vocational schools, or just dropping out. Now college seems to be the primary focus of education (at least where I live) even where students have no ability to afford it, or desire to pursue it. My wife thinks the disintegration of skilled blue collar trades as a union activity is a big part of that.

Dejah420, I'm pretty sure the Catholic schools in your area will teach evolution, but they probably charge $5000-$6000 tuition.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:03 PM on July 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


"...but few ask: does it have to be this way..."

A few others have asked...

"The End of Education" --Neil Postman

"The Underachieving School" --John Holt

"Compulsory Mis-Education and The Community of Scholars" --Paul Goodman

"The Power of Their Ideas" --Deborah Meier

"36 Children" --Herbert Kohl

"The Way It Spozed To Be" --James Herndon

"The Naked Children" --Daniel Fader

"The Lives of Children" --George Dennison
posted by jaronson at 5:03 PM on July 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


troybob - Hasn't the whole point of the government undermining public education the past few decades been to get us to demand this kind of privatization?

And here I thought it was to get us to elect, and re-elect Bush II...
posted by porpoise at 5:04 PM on July 31, 2007


As always, the follow up information brought by others is one of the primary reasons I post to the blue. Thanks, all.
posted by absalom at 5:06 PM on July 31, 2007


And here I thought it was to get us to elect, and re-elect Bush II...

It's all about synergy!
posted by troybob at 5:07 PM on July 31, 2007


chlorus nailed it. Public schools are worker bee indoctrination centers by design. That's just a fact. Read Gatto.

Private schools are [...] so expensive it's the equivalent of giving the school a new car every year.

TANSTAAFL. The idea that the government provides anything for free is sheer illusion.

The upside of paying for private school is that you're going to pay closer attention and actively demand that the school serves your needs. Otherwise, you and your $$$ can walk. Parents don't have the same monetary incentive or leverage over public schools.
posted by oncogenesis at 5:11 PM on July 31, 2007


Public schools in America were fucked the moment they were created, because their purpose has always been to 'socialize' us, which is a euphemism for indoctrinating children to be conformists, socially useful tools that the elites can manipulate.

Indeed, my coursework in History of Education made that perfectly plain. There was (is?) no attempt to hide the facts from Education students at UofA, that's for sure.

That said, there are degrees to how bad it gets. AFAIK schooling in BC is pretty consistent and pretty good.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:26 PM on July 31, 2007


Parents don't have the same monetary incentive or leverage over public schools.

Of course they do: Schools are funded largely with local taxation. Pick up and move.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:41 PM on July 31, 2007


The reason "public schools were fucked the moment they were created" is because their creation demanded the support of the moneyed class at the time. Therefore, a clever fellow called Horace Mann created a rhetoric of "schooling for society's benefit" (that is, the benefit of business) which is still with us today. Business insterests hijacked Mann's vision, not entirely without his consent, and they've been in the saddle ever since.

It's worse now, however, since the debate among those who care has become prety nastily polarized between (on the right) those who want kids to be taught "skills" and rigorously tested and (on the left) those who want kids to be taught the values of deliberative democracy (which is to say, citizenship with a liberal slant).

A real third alternative-- preserving schools as places where the seeds of true scholarship are sown-- does not exists in K-12 education outside of a few maverick teachers and small, largely private, institutions.

Or so my dissertation argues.
posted by Topkid at 7:08 PM on July 31, 2007


That is true. Gatto acts like this is some secret he had to deduce. When I was taking my theory/history education classes, those goals and structures were pretty explicitly stated, and some of the discussion was "how do you work around these demonstrably harmful educational habits and still manage to educate?"
posted by absalom at 7:37 PM on July 31, 2007


BrotherCaine said: There used to be a wide variety of other options for kids who don't want to go to college, including vocational schools....My wife thinks the disintegration of skilled blue collar trades as a union activity is a big part of that.
Dejah420, I'm pretty sure the Catholic schools in your area will teach evolution, but they probably charge $5000-$6000 tuition.


The elimination of trade school skills from the public education curriculum is one of the great travesties of the last 20 years. It suggests that being a mechanic or a plumber isn't as "valued" as being an MBA. Frankly, I'd take a good carpenter over a Harvard educated business major any day. Don't get me wrong, I have and value my university education, although I don't do anything that has to do with either epic poetry or bioethics, but ya know, should someone have an urge to discuss Snori Snorlsson or the ethic problems with prenatal postmortem ventilation, I'm there for you.)

My community is a rural agricultural area on the outskirts of a massive metroplex that is slowly, but surely, creeping up on us. Our high school still teaches trade skills like auto body and plumbing and carpentry. However, once the Dallas school district takes over next year, they'll be eliminating all of those classes, despite the vast number of kids enrolled. The logic is; we're a bedroom community of Dallas now, not a farming community, therefore our kids don't need to know how to fix a tractor or a fence, but should prepare to go to college. (And considering that most of the farmers are having to sell their land because we now pay incorporated Dallas property taxes...most of these kids won't even have a chance to fix fences on their own land. )

As to Catholic school; if there was one within 30 minutes of here, I would be totally on board with that. I went to Catholic school and it was a fabulous education. (Plus, ducking the Mother Superior's whacking stick taught me how to bob and weave. Heh.)
posted by dejah420 at 7:42 PM on July 31, 2007


The elimination of trade school skills from the public education curriculum is one of the great travesties of the last 20 years.

Damned straight and it's within a few years of completely biting us in the ass: there aren't enough warm bodies in the trades programs to provide our society the support we need in the installation and maintenance of ... well, everything, basically. Not enough carpenters, electricians, plumbers, tree-fallers, CAT operators, the whole scope of tradework.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:52 PM on July 31, 2007


Of course they do: Schools are funded largely with local taxation. Pick up and move.

*Sigh*
posted by oncogenesis at 9:43 PM on July 31, 2007


Yeah, kick ass! Fuck these corporations and their drone-training! Who's with me???? We need to pay teachers what they deserve and provide logo-free materials to everyone. Yeah!

All we need to do is RAISE YOUR TAXES and ...

...

Hey, where'd everybody go?

Guys?

Hello?







The vast majority of teachers love getting free materials, logo'd or not, because it saves them from buying the materials themselves, which they ALL have to do. Who the fuck do you think shops at teacher supply stores? So if you want to be yet another Internet voice, by all means, make more posts and line mathowie's pockets. But iffen you actually want to do something, the voting booth is located over this-a-way....
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:57 PM on July 31, 2007


When Toyota chose Canada over the US for a new factory, that was some indication that poorly educated populations might not make good business sense.

Thanks for the great post, Absalom. The posts from teachers are particularly interesting. And thanks all for reminding me of John Taylor Gatto. Gatto videos here.
posted by McLir at 10:15 PM on July 31, 2007


The voting booth would be a handier way of fixing the problem CPB if there were a party with a clue on how to fix the issue in a way that didn't break it worse.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:23 PM on July 31, 2007


CPB: Well, for what it's worth, I am trying to actually do some little bit to change this by actually being a professional teacher.

And, to dismiss the entire of this post as simple "teachers get loged material" then you are guilty of pretty egregious levels of reductionism or obfuscation.

Sorry, I try my best not to be a dick, and usually fail miserably, but in this case, you're being either willfully obtuse or terminally short-sighted.

You know, on preview, what is more likely is that you chimed in without reading any of the actual articles. Which, now that i think about it, is really one of the root flaws in the entire education "debate."
posted by absalom at 10:30 PM on July 31, 2007


you're being either willfully obtuse or terminally short-sighted

Oh, please. Have one of your students show you where you keep the dictionaries so you can look up the word "satire."

There's always a half-assed groundswell of support for teachers and corporate-free schools ... just take a look at this thread ... but there's woefully little real action, so schools and teachers like yourself allow corporate sponsorship in order to keep things running smoothly.

As my wife, a certified special education teacher, will tell you, if you don't have enough pencils for your students, and the Nabisco rep is standing there with a bucketful of NILLA® Wafers brand pencils, what are you gonna do? Turn him down? For what? Some lofty ethical principle? You need the fucking pencils to teach math...

Better yet ... in the first place ... why don't we have schools with plenty of money to buy all the materials they need?

So let's all pull together and support your schools. Just sign this petition for the district bond measure and then we can ...

Hey, where'd everybody go?

Fuck, I could've sworn you guys were all here a second ago...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:20 PM on July 31, 2007


CPB, I haven't read any comments from anyone that say, "Man, schools need to change...but I don't want to pay any more taxes!" You'd do well not ascribing motives. I'd be perfectly fine paying more taxes if it meant a) I wouldn't have to pay vastly higher sums for private school and b) a better-educated populace in general. Actually, we probably wouldn't have to pay any more taxes, just scoot some over from all of the ridiculous shit we already pay taxes for.
posted by 235w103 at 11:44 PM on July 31, 2007


CPB: Sorry, Papa, for the misplaced annoyance. I just thought it was worth noting that having branded supplies is the furthest thing from the point of a lot of things links. The point: the reason we cannot fix our schools is because we cannot get where we want to go using the road we are traveling. The educational system we are shackled with is not designed to produce the kind of students we claim to want to produce. It goes beyond the overwhelming corporate presence in the classroom and speaks more to corporate influence over the curriculum. Perhaps I was a little more clear about what I meant this time?

Also, considering snarkiness and reductionism are the orders of the day around here, it's pretty difficult to detect subtle satire. Go over the top next time!
posted by absalom at 7:02 AM on August 1, 2007


*Sigh*

That's not really much of a response, but I will say that my parents picked up and moved out of Thatcher's England, when the country was becoming a hell-hole, and again out of Canada and Texas, to continually improve their lot — and mine. I wouldn't have received excellent public schooling if they had decided to stay where they were.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:57 AM on August 1, 2007


The whole college-for-everyone thing is one of the most bizarre misfires of educational politics and policy.

The outlays are huge -- college prep courses for anyone who isn't learning-disabled, and vast sums spent on community colleges and non-selective state schools as people spend years struggling to get degrees -- many of them failing, and those of them succeeding not getting a credential that is really constructive.

The opportunity costs are huge as well -- lost chances for vocational education in high school, many people with the potential to be happy and productive skilled laborers diverted into a quest for low-value-added cubicle work.

Perhaps worst of all is the supply-creates-its-own-demand distortion of the job markets. Many good jobs which were capably executed by high school graduates now have entirely arbitrary educational requirements imposed, which of course magnifies the problem.
posted by MattD at 9:20 AM on August 1, 2007


we are in the system we have created--the whole capitalist end-game inevitability thing, right? trying to stop the corporatization of schools is kind of futile when privatization is where the wind is blowing. before, schools were about suppressing dissent and creating obedient and just-good-enough factory workers. now it's creating corporate cogs who don't mind cubicle life and buy as much crap as we can persuade them to.

i'm a teacher--one who has never participated in the system directly. meaning that i've worked with the kicked-out, the dropped out, and the chartered/privately educated. i've worked at alternative day schools (helped found one), private schools, a charter and a reservation school. all of these places were as broken in a larger sense as the public schools are. the trouble is in the structure itself. fundamentally.

the only way out i see is to work our asses off to create opportunities to reject the system for everyone. get around it. use the schools for what you choose, but get out in whatever way you can. help others with fewer resources to do so as well.

here we are on the internets, and we all have figured out how to learn whatever it is we need to know using those pesky tubes. none of us has the money or power of corporations who, by the way, will win in any direct battle. they will win. that's the way the river is flowing, and a bunch of us annoying rocks sticking up in there doesn't do a helluva lot to divert the flow.

hardware creators are doing everything they can to create a 100% PC ownership rate. so use their momentum. and then we can find access (either in person through online social networking, or through completely online resources) to a truly egalitarian and self-directed education. not just for the US, but for everyone everywhere.

a true education is about what the student wants to know, with human and machine resources fully available to make it happen. it's not about forcing things on them (since they won't learn those things anyway), or warehousing (which only really exists because parents spend so much time away from home, often unnecessarily).

Home schooling just seems unfair, because as clever as I may be, I'm pretty sure I've forgotten as much as I remember. And he needs interaction with other kids and to be free of the constraints of constant parental oversight.

homeschooling is one very good answer, and it's only unfair because so little help is offered to those who might want to but can't see their way to doing it. this is changing, and very quickly. more and more single parents are doing it; more and more people are finding ways to work at home. and more parents are realizing that their kids' teachers are not somehow super-intelligent know-alls. you don't need to know everything to educate your child, but you do need to have the ability to find things out, and to find resources. the socialization canard is solved through just a little bit of effort to find community.

as schools get poorer and can't afford to hire teachers, they are offering more classes online. this online option is making homeschooling vastly easier for those who are afraid.

it's not just about homeschooling, it's about freeing the children from this oppressive beast, from the grind that says they have to be a product, and nothing more. i think we spend more on education than we ever have, but what has it wrought? more money does not equal solving the problem.

A real third alternative-- preserving schools as places where the seeds of true scholarship are sown-- does not exists in K-12 education outside of a few maverick teachers and small, largely private, institutions.

i don't think schools have ever been this, and i question what exactly you mean by "true scholarship". is it the natural love of learning? because i don't think there's any school that fosters that. kids keep that despite schools, not because of them.
posted by RedEmma at 10:46 AM on August 1, 2007 [3 favorites]


You guys are nuts. What good is an uneducated worker? All the nonskilled labor is gone to China or given to the illegal immigrants who will do it at prices Americans would never accept.

Businesses want a highly educated workforce because we as a nation are importing too many educated people as it is! Forget not enough plumbers, we don't have enough engineers and math PhDs! How the hell is Mr. Monacle Polish going to run his hedge fund without a bunch of math PhDs to run the quant side? He's hiring foreigners with high-level degrees, who require him to run through hoops with INS to keep his talent! Moreover, the rapidly increasing demand for this kind of labor just keeps driving uncle moneybags' costs up! $100,000 a year for a math geek with a hot-off-the-press master's degree!? Who can afford that? but they're only a few thousand coming out of schools every year, and Mr Monacle Polish needs them buried in papers at a desk outside his office, ready to go at a moment's notice, not halfway across the world, asleep when the market moves.

And on the demand side, its the same story. I hate to break it to you, but there's only room at the bottom of the consumer market for one Wal*Mart. Low margin crap is ok, but why bother when you could have a highly educated, highly paid market full of people buying your 150% margin ipods?

America is NOT in the business of making stuff anymore. In order for our market to remain large and powerful (meaning able to drive sales of said high-margin products) we need to be doing highly skilled work in order to keep adding value, and to do that we need to be educated!

If America is going to be able to support high level, record-profit-inducing levels of consumption, we need to be the brains of the world.

These companies are not going to lose out on a chance to make Uncle Sam pay to flood the US labor market with highly educated workers!

Good public education is a triple play for US business: Brings down skilled labor costs, increases the size of the market, and someone else pays for it. What's wrong with that?
posted by OldReliable at 1:27 PM on August 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


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