Schools Aren’t Just Supposed to Mass Produce Workers?

The mantra of advocate of the Common Core and many education reformers has been an emphasis on “career readiness.”  Then you have data collection going on in schools to be shared with the Department of Labor and it all begins to seem rather Orwellian.  I’m personally concerned that such an emphasis on STEM could lead to a deficiency in other subjects.

I know that Suzy majoring in underwater basket weaving isn’t going to prepare her for a career, but there’s got to be more to education than preparing for a career.

Jay P. Greene shares my concern:

Why do people bother trying to justify art in terms of math and reading achievement?  Math educators don’t try to frame their accomplishments in terms of reading or vice versa.  Why do people in art try to frame the benefits of their field in terms of other subjects?

The problem is that a good number of  policymakers, pundits, and others who control the education system seem to think that the almost-exclusive purpose of education is to impart economically useful skills.  Math and reading seem to these folks to be directly connected to economic utility, while art seems at best a frill.  If resources are tight or students are struggling, they are inclined to cut the arts and focus more on math and reading because those subjects are really useful while art is not.

This economic utility view of education is mistaken in almost every way.  Most of what students learn in math and reading also has no economic utility.  Relatively few students will ever use algebra, let alone calculus, in their jobs.  Even fewer students will use literature or poetry in the workplace.  When will students “use” history?  We don’t teach those subjects because they provide work-related skills.  We teach algebra, calculus, literature, poetry, and history for the same reasons we should be teaching art — they help us understand ourselves, our cultural heritage, and the world we live in.  We teach them because they are beautiful and important in and of themselves.  We teach them because civilized people should know them.

Most parents understand that education is not entirely about imparting economically useful skills.  Yes, they want their children to get good jobs but they also want to have their children develop good characters, appreciate the good life, and generally be civilized human beings.  Of course, different parents may want a different mix of economic and cultural education for their children and school choice would allow them to find the schools that offered the mix that suited their needs and tastes.

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