Dr. Gary Houchens, a member of the Kentucky State Board of Education and associate professor of educational administration, leadership, and research at Western Kentucky University, in a recent article, talks about the swing from overselling college readiness in K-12 education to what we see today – the overselling of workforce readiness.
I wanted to share first three concerns about this trend, but I encourage you to read his whole article.
1) Students’ K-12 experiences should give them flexibility to learn about a variety of career pathways based on their own self-perceived aptitudes and interests, but we should avoid pushing students toward specific careers goals that would deny them the opportunity for a broad, rich, multi-disciplinary education. Unlike many other countries that track students into vocational or pre-college programs based on test scores or the judgment of educators, in the United States we have prioritized giving students choices in their education and career pathways. Most people now pass through several careers in their lifetime. Furthermore, adolescents can’t accurately predict what their future goals are going to be. Therefore we should avoid pressing students into specific learning paths that might deny them access to the broadest and deepest curriculum possible. Yes, that should include technical training for students who want that option, but it should always be the student’s choice and should not come at the cost of overly narrowing the student’s learning experiences.
2) Such a rich, multi-disciplinary (yes – liberal arts) education is the best preparation for life, which certainly should include academic preparation for post-secondary education and careers. Unintentionally hollowing out the high school curriculum with an overemphasis on career preparation may actually undermine students’ long-term career preparation.
3) The purpose of education isn’t merely to prepare students for careers. It is also to make them knowledgeable citizens well-equipped to participate in our democratic, republican form of government, and above all to train them for a life of virtue. On over-emphasis on any one of these purposes of education places the other purposes at risk.