Wish Upon A Star

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?

No one. 

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.

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  • mallys

    Education in this country was intended to train citizens for a free, democratic republic. Literature, including Shakespeare and the Bible, was the common coinage and the key to understanding the language and allusions of our founding documents. History gives us a sense of time, place and progress towards free, responsible citizenship in our country and world. Biology allows the understanding that the purpose of a reproductive system is to reproduce (instead of devolving into “sex ed” which appears to teach that sex is for pleasure: any way you do it is good, and if you chemically, surgically or with some kind of barrier, alter your body you can engage in it without reproducing.)

    In the nineteenth century, education began to be job training for factories and other workplaces, which deteriorated into training to be consumers. Now, ironically, employers are having difficulty finding workers who are minimally educated enough to be trainable to do their jobs. They are the ones pushing for workforce development. The 4.0-entitled slackers coming out of most schools don’t want to work, but they want high paying jobs. The consumer economy has taught them they are entitled to that and helicopter parents increase that sense of entitlement.

    On the other side of the coin, you have young men and women, committed to ideals, going into the armed forces, religious and missionary work, and the most difficult academic institutions. They are not accepting the video-game view of life. While they are the exception, rather than the rule, they will become the backbone of their generation.

    We, as the adults making the world for the next generations, must offer them at least an education that allows them to compete in the world of work, but we should be giving them the tools and skills to keep our form of self-government thriving, not the silliness, boondoggles, and plain unworkableness of some of the legislation that now takes up Washington for months at a time.

    Legislation such as No Child Left Behind, which was intended to refocus time already spent in school to subjects that were basic to an educated citizenry rather than consumerism, are undermined by the personnel charged with that education, because they don’t increase the funding, thereby leaving their pet projects (funded by the school system in lieu of basics) alone.

    The education systems have been in trouble for a long time, and as the middle classes (and voters) become more frustrated, it is inevitable that school choice will become more attractive. They will demand it eventually. The rise in home-schooling and its acceptance shows that.

  • mikendevon

    Any helpful suggestions for those who are trapped inside the system? Much of this article appears to be commentary on the “new” career clusters touted for technical education. I’ll be honest, I don’t like it. I thought high school was about learning the basics and experimenting with different things. Now we’re being told that if a student doesn’t finish the entire sequence of courses in my area, our funding will be cut. Our department is small already. Funding loss will mean that teachers will be out of work in my district. I’m new to the profession, but education doesn’t appear to be about anything but generating revenue for school districts.

  • Situations such as this have convinced me that the time came long ago for the separation of school and state.