Thursday, September 06, 2012

Dangerous Dumbing Down - The Fatal Flaw in Gov. Haslam's Education Policies


Is the process of getting an education merely a system designed get a job and to create a workforce? I wrote about this topic in August, noting Gov. Haslam's push to steer education into job training. As he said at the meeting with business leaders:

"The state that's going to win is going to be the state that figures out how to understand market demand, then define that back to...middle schoolers and high schoolers in terms of what do they need to be doing to prepare, and then funds that appropriately," Haslam told the group. "So what I'm trying to do is figure out how do we tie that loop together?"

This idea isn't a new creation, it dates back to the early 1900s, as noted in an editorial by Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan University, in today's NYTimes. And Roth points out the idea was challenged then by John Dewey, calling out such efforts as an attempt to reduce humans to mere tools of industry:

"Who wants to attend school to learn to be “human capital”? Who aspires for their children to become economic or military resources? Dewey had a different vision. Given the pace of change, it is impossible (he noted in 1897) to know what the world will be like in a couple of decades, so schools first and foremost should teach us habits of learning.

"For Dewey, these habits included awareness of our interdependence; nobody is an expert on everything. He emphasized “plasticity,” an openness to being shaped by experience: “The inclination to learn from life itself and to make the conditions of life such that all will learn in the process of living is the finest product of schooling.” 

"The inclination to learn from life can be taught in a liberal arts curriculum, but also in schools that focus on real-world skills, from engineering to nursing. The key is to develop habits of mind that allow students to keep learning, even as they acquire skills to get things done. This combination will serve students as individuals, family members and citizens — not just as employees and managers."

Gov. Haslam has already said he plans to introduce legislation to tailor education to the needs of business and industry. While I see the value of having higher employment rates, it's a critical error to sacrifice education in order to fulfill an industrial business plan. The discussion and debate about education must include more than their desire for faithful employees - smart, broadly-educated populations can accomplish so much more.

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