I will not reduce public education to an economic institution.
It has become popular over the last few decades with the growth of the 21st Century Initiative to talk as though school is primarily a preparation for work. That idea is demeaning and dehumanizing.
When Thomas Jefferson envisioned universal education in America, he saw its purpose as the equipping of leadership for the nation's meritocracy. That idea never really worked because the best and the brightest have generally used their education to pursue personal goals (often in the business world) instead of in public service. In America, they have that right. But I point out Jefferson's views to show that we seem to have come full circle - from education being about producing good people who could service society to education being about a student's personal preparation for work.
I've talked elsewhere about the purpose of school. Our school system provides a huge number of safeguards for society - starting with ensuring that all our kids have had the polio vaccine and been inoculated against measles by the age of four or five. Having lived in the Third World for a few years, I don't take that lightly.
The motto of my school is that we are a place committed to creating lifelong learners. That's an elementary school motto. And when I look at the pre-K kids standing in the bus line at the end of the day, I hope that as a faculty we've managed to whet their intellectual appetites that day enough to make them want more tomorrow.
I hope that when I contribute to a math class for third graders or discuss figurative language and poetry with fifth graders that I find a way to peak their curiosity, to help them enjoy learning, and to equip them with the tools they will need later in life to make learning itself an enjoyable activity.
I'm concerned with the jobs my students get - especially with the jobs my special education students get. But I'm more concerned with the sort of people they become. And what of the minimalist approach that looks at children and teenagers and thinks first (or only) about their place in society's economy? I find it insulting to core. It makes me want to heckle public speakers and defend the values I imbibed as a student of the liberal arts.
What place does the world of work have for Hemingway for the average American? Is there a reason related to future employment to take kids to the Barter? What happens to Monet and Yo-Yo Ma in a school system that thinks primarily about your future job?
I'll leave you with this thought: Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. The words belong to William Butler Yeats...
Greg Cruey, Guest Blogger