What is the purpose of education?
Is it to open doors of knowledge and opportunity to all who enter, regardless of family background? Or is it to train tomorrow’s workforce?
The answer to that question will determine what schools will look like in the next decade, and what society will look like in the next generation. Yet most parents and taxpayers are not even aware that a change in the fundamental purpose of American education is being discussed.
The educational system most American adults experienced was based on the premise that an education should teach students about more than the skills required to do a job. It was thought that everyone benefited from a society in which adults had a knowledge of history, literature, philosophy, and science. It was believed that exposing children from every background to higher levels of academics opened doors for all to achieve their dreams.
Education was believed to be intrinsically valuable. And while everyone accepted that the more successfully a student mastered the subjects, the more likely that student was to successfully enter the job market, education was considered to be about more than job skills.
That is why every student was required to complete courses in English, History, Science and Math whether they were in the college-bound or clerical or tech school programs. Education was about opening doors, not closing them. And students in a tech school program who were exposed to biology, for example, through this system could decide to change directions to pursue a medical career instead.
In the agenda being promoted today, that definition has changed. Education is known as “Workforce Development”, and its purpose is to train those who enter its programs with the skills they need to do the jobs that a Workforce Development Board has determined will be needed by the industries in that region. Period.
Testing will be done at the elementary levels to determine who has the aptitude for each training path. Students will then be tracked based on that testing, and all education will pertain only to the track that the student has been placed upon. Tracks are not interchangeable.
So a student tested and tracked for the clerical market will never be exposed to that biology course.
In this system, the client of the educational establishment is NOT the student, it is the workplace. Education is defined as the training ground for workers, who will only need the skills necessary to effectively do the jobs they were hired to do.
And who could be against giving children the skills they need to do a job?
But American education was supposed to be about more that just providing job skills. It was supposed to be about giving our children a glimpse of the stars, and then offering them a way to reach the ones they wished for. It was supposed to be about opening many doors to success, and then providing our children with the knowledge to walk through the ones they selected.
In workforce development training, there is only one door, pre-selected for each child by the needs of the workforce and an aptitude test. There are no dreams, no wishes, no choices.
No wonder the debate over the future of American education is silent.