School as employee training

Published by Lori Pickert on March 17, 2010 at 02:08 PM

Yesterday I said

I am all for competition. Let’s be the very best. But who decided that our most important educational goal is competing with other countries for jobs? Why isn’t our most important educational goal offering the best education available on the planet?

Looks like Alfie Kohn agrees with me:

If you read the FAQ page on the common core standards website, don’t bother looking for words like “exploration,” “intrinsic motivation,” “developmentally appropriate,” or “democracy.”  Instead, the very first sentence contains the phrase “success in the global economy,” followed immediately by “America’s competitive edge.”

If these bright new digitally enhanced national standards are more economic than educational in their inspiration, more about winning than learning, devoted more to serving the interests of business than to meeting the needs of kids, then we’ve merely painted a 21st-century façade on a hoary, dreary model of school as employee training.

Read the rest of Debunking the Case for National Standards.


Comment by amy k. on March 17, 2010 at 03:42 PM

wonderful post, Lori. Thank you.

Comment by molly on March 17, 2010 at 07:48 PM

lori lori lori my love! i am so glad you are writing about this! i've been pondering these issues the last few days - the whole idea that we should be preparing our children to be competitive in the international job market/global economy. WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN???? i'll admit, my world is pretty darn small. i made it that way and i like it that way. but i listen to the economic news every day as well as the world and bbc news, so i have some inkling of what the global economy is - just no idea of what it means to prepare my children for it.

and your darn right that the time families allow their children to leave home should be treated as a precious commodity. if we all started respecting the time of others, imagine how different our world would be and imagine how much more productive each and every one of us could be. especially in the international market.

you're always so right on!

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 17, 2010 at 08:57 PM

thank you, amy!

and thank you, molly!

this is a trust issue. we should trust that if we give children the best education we can — and respect their own interests and talents — we’ll be equipping the next generation to do whatever needs to be done in their time. we can’t always forecast what jobs will even exist in 20 years; we *can* concentrate on today and what we are capable of doing for children now.

there is a lack of trust that spreads like a cancer throughout the system. there is no trust of teachers to teach (in that link at the bottom of my post, University of Chicago’s Zalman Usiskin is quoted as saying that “our teachers cannot be trusted to make decisions about which curriculum is best for their schools”), there is no trust of administrators to hold their schools to adequate standards and determine their own pedagogy, there is no trust of parents, and far and above all else, there is no trust of children — no trust that they *want* to learn, no trust that they *will* learn unless they are subjected to drill and kill.

we need to trust that if we get education right, our kids will not only get jobs but they will be able to find their own best, meaningful work. if we get education right, we’ll not only turn out cogs, we’ll turn out inventors, risk-takers, and leaders.

we need to make education about education and trust that well-educated, happy, engaged kids will become the adults our society needs when it’s their turn to lead.

Comment by Amy Chionis on March 17, 2010 at 09:36 PM

The last few posts have got me so relieved that while we are "in school", we are in a special education program with an IEP and a tiny class. A strange blessing. I bristle when we have to discuss things like "preparation for mainstreaming" at his IEPs and keep silently reminding myself that we take this process day by day. I am grateful for your perspective, as well as all the other voices of parents out there that are choosing to opt out of traditional schooling methods and meet the needs of their children as people.
Keep them coming. You never fail to set me thinking and challenging myself. You have been a guidepost for me over the last two years.

Comment by sarah :: greenclogs on March 18, 2010 at 01:58 AM

Hoisting my very pregnant self up onto the soapbox....

This is all making my head hurt. Everything in me rails against the idea that we as people and as a country are defined by what we do and how competitive we are in the economic marketplace. And we don't even really *produce* anything in the economic marketplace anymore. When a substantial chunk of our economic output has been nebulous financial products, then what does that even mean?

We've been talking here around the playground, etc. about the state of education in Arizona. First of all, we fund education at the second lowest level in the country. Second, the state defines success solely by test scores (like many other states) and completely devalues anything that cannot be quantified. Rumor has it that there will be no funding for fine arts next year at all. Teachers have no authority to teach in a way that engages their students. It just keeps getting worse as the state's education task force, which is totally composed of "business leaders" and conservative think tank talking heads, focus on accountability and competition and scores, scores, scores. There are very few alternative options, such as vocational training or apprenticeships for kids who don't intend to go to college. So many parents are unhappy, but there's not a critical mass of them who are. Unfortunately, in a not very well educated state, it's easy to tell parents what to do and they'll buy in. The educated and thoughtful parents are completely outnumbered and sit on the fringes. Those who can take their kids out and home school. The rest of them just run like hamsters on the treadmill of school and Kumon and competitive organized sports.

When are we, as parents and as a country, going to want more for our children than the dead end paper pushing jobs that we've been steered into ourselves for the sake of economic competitiveness? What has that really gotten us? I am more than happy to walk with my kids down a different path. They may not be wealthy and they may not have a lot of status among those groups, but they'll know that doesn't matter and they'll discover what *does* make them happy.

Off soapbox

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 18, 2010 at 02:39 AM

amy, thank you so much.

sarah, here let me help you down. ;^)

to be fair, there are parents who can't (or don't want to) homeschool and who aren't hamsters. a critical mass? that would be lovely. but one problem is, what we *want* is more choice, more variety. i think part of the problem of getting a groundswell movement going is that people want different things. about the only thing they have in common is unhappiness with the status quo. once you get past that, they quickly split into different opinions of what would be best for *them*, which is as it should be, but doesn’t work so well for grassroots organization.

re: business leaders in charge of education, oy vey .. i have mixed feelings, but again, education? or job training?

Comment by Karen on March 18, 2010 at 03:16 AM

What a great thread!

Here in Massachusetts, there is a big push in the legislature to bring in gambling casinos, the idea being that the state will then get lots of money from them. It bugs the heck out of me, and I feel like it ties into the subject of this post because what kind of jobs do gambling casinos bring? Kids growing up here in MA can aspire to the bright future of dealing cards, or bartending, or valeting cars.

There isn't anything wrong with those jobs, I guess, it's just that gambling is so unproductive! Why not try to focus on jobs that help people, or solve problems, or make something useful?

It's very short-sighted, probably because the people in charge are thinking about short-term "success in the global economy." Gambling casinos bring in money now, and it is eminently taxable, so they prefer not to think farther down the line.

I know I'm off on a tangent here, but I do feel like it's closely related. Thanks for letting me vent!

Comment by sarah :: greenclogs on March 18, 2010 at 03:27 AM

Oh, I know - there are plenty who are frustrated and still don't homeschool for a variety of reasons. I'm friends with many. Honestly, if I lived somewhere that had educational options that fit our needs then I would probably use them.

One thing I've experienced here, as opposed to when we lived in Seattle, is the lack of options on the "progressive" end of the spectrum. There is no variety. Even with a wealth of charter and private schools, the educational options here are all geared toward a competitive college prep approach that starts in preschool and just ramps up from there. The only variety is in the amount of test prep that happens and the cost of the school. The schools that have tried to offer progressive programs have had to move to a strict academic program because that's what parents here want. If that's not what you want, then there are no appropriate school options in Phoenix and very few in either Tucson or Flagstaff. And yet, with all the high academic/testing focus, Arizona students are very low-performing compared to places that offer a variety of options for their students. Go figure. :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 18, 2010 at 06:40 PM

karen, yes yes yes, it is closely related. the whole short-term thinking .. it's bunging up everything from education to health care to .. everything.

here in illinois we get school money from the lottery! so i guess it's counterproductive to teach kids to think critically, or we'd be drying up one of our sources of funding...

of course the same could be said of gambling...

sarah, that goes right back to what we were saying about who do you convince .. because if parents are demanding more homework (some at my school did!), less free time (a chicago parent complained that his h.s. child was being forced to take a lunch period due to a new school policy), and more test prep (kumon, anyone?), then the schools have no reason to change — or even offer alternatives.

like you, if there was a school in my area that offered what i wanted, i'm sure i would at least consider it. ;^) but there isn't. i had to start my own school to get what i wanted. and i'm not surprised that few people go that route. :^)

homeschool certainly is easier!

Comment by Andrea on March 18, 2010 at 10:36 PM

scary, I am so glad we have started to homeschool. Now, I just found a black board in th etrash cleaned it up and it is hanging in our "learning, crafting etc area"
After reading books on Reggio I was inspired to want one to write down ideas, but now I am at a loss as to how in the world I am going to use it. LOL
Right now we have written
"Who is/was Jackie Robinson?" a question asked today by my son Alex

Comment by patricia on March 19, 2010 at 03:21 PM

Oooh, you always manage to get me all worked up, Lori. In a good way.

I suppose it makes sense that a public education *system* would have a goal of bettering our country as a whole. But that view is so short-sighted. If we had a goal of making sure the individuals in the system find meaningful work and meaningful lives, then the country as a whole would thrive as a result.

I've been reading Dan Pink lately, and reveling in what I'm finding in his books--both <i>Drive</i> on motivation and <i>A Whole New Mind</i> on the need for right-brained thinking. He writes for the business world, pointing out that our current models of schooling and business management are outdated. He cites plenty of research to back up his claims that the marketable skills of the future will be ones like Alfie Kohn says are missing from our current standards: internal motivation, play, empathy, design... (I have a post on my blog explaining why I think A Whole New Mind makes a great read for homeschoolers.)

Even people who insist on looking at the world through a materialistic, competetive model, with school as an employee training ground, need to understand that they're going about it the wrong way. We need to start looking at the individual if we want to fix the whole.

Comment by Susan Gaissert on March 19, 2010 at 05:16 PM

Thanks for this post. I recently heard a young man I know, who is currently in college, say something about "when I go off to corporate America." That's the goal---how sad.

Comment by Cristina on March 20, 2010 at 02:27 AM

Wow. Just wow. I just caught up on your last three posts. Between them and the latest entry at the Freedom to Learn blog, I really feel like I'm an education radical! I sincerely believe children already spend enough time in school, especially when you throw in the time spent completing homework assignments.

Here's the link to the Freedom to Learn article, if you are interested:
It discusses whether it is necessary to formally teach math in elementary school.

The idea of standards seems to grow in size every year, and yet kids are coming out wanting nothing to do with learning, hating reading and math. Since any new job in the "global market" will require some amount of independent learning to succeed (no one has time to train anymore) aren't we making things harder for our children's future?

Peace and Laughter!

Comment by Cori on March 20, 2010 at 01:28 PM

I am so glad someone is writing about this on a homeschooling blog. National standards are not what is needed. In Oregon, my state, over 40% of students cannot pass the OAKS test in 10th grade. So now they are giving them another year to pass it. Talk about lowering standards. The standards are the problem in the first place. They are so busy teaching the test that they forget the child is a PERSON instead of bucket to be filled. =( Let's throw more dry, dull facts at these little buckets, something has to work... I am most appalled by a recent story from a friend. An 8 year old boy does not like to read because he doesn't like the books he can choose from in his classroom. The Mom suggested other books for him that he would like better and the teacher said no, because she has no way to test him on other books. AAAARRGHHH! Apathetic employees is what they will get with this type of education.

Comment by Sally on March 20, 2010 at 10:58 PM

This is a great group of posts Lori! Really insightful.

One thing that came to mind with these three posts you have was your comment about how little time teaching is done during the school day. Yet, homework is now the norm. In Arizona, students as young as kindergarteners are expected to have homework. My feeling is if teachers can't do their job (that of instruction) in the time alloted, why should the students (and their families--who lose out on together time) suffer?

This is one more reason I will just keep my kids at home.

Comment by Sheila on March 22, 2010 at 02:41 PM

I'd be very curious to know if this is an 'international dialogue' for other countries: here in Canada we usually spend more time being so 'behind' everyone else I don't hear a lot about competing in world economies.

I don't know how you create a new pattern of education other than to encourage parents to want a different kind of 'more' for their kids. We're always encouraged to work hard and provide our kids with 'opportunities' but in the years since our parents did this we've gone from wanting simple intangible things (health happiness nice partner) to worshiping at the altar of the electronic item. And that IS expensive. It generally takes at least two incomes. I'm always so bemused when I meet other women - WOMEN - who silently judge me for staying home with my kids to (gasp) teach them about gardening and art when I should be working to give them Wiis, university educations (apparently this has become a Right), and private school educations leading up to all that. Yes, we could all say that they've bought into something insidious and unhealthy in the long term, but how to change their interior monologue? I don't know. It's a dangerous zeitgeist.

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 23, 2010 at 02:23 PM

andrea, let me know how it goes. :^)

patricia, i'm glad it's in a good way. :^)

i think it all comes down to values. yes, we need to make sure we have a strong economy, just as we need to make sure as individuals and families that we make enough money to cover our needs. but for years we've been ratcheting up our national debt, being greedy, and we send the message constantly to our society that they should be greedy, too — get as much as you can, as quick as you can, and borrow to cover the difference.

back to fantasy world here, but i believe leaders should lead. our country's leaders should be setting the same example for us as a nation as we set for our children, reflecting the same values. because obviously, when they fail, it trickles down.

as a family, do we care more about the quality of our children's education or whether they will have a piece of paper that qualifies them for a particular job? as a nation, do we care more about our children's education or whether we can "compete with india"? i believe as you do, that if we take care of giving our children the best education and the best opportunities/resources, the rest will take care of itself. what we have right now is a paternalistic model, telling the kids to be quiet and do as they're told and they'll get a job. talk to your parents' generation and see how they feel about the promises that were made to them re: their retirement, social security, health insurance, etc.

this has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with values and responsibility. you shouldn't trust your government to take care of you; you should take care of yourself. you shouldn't get in line for a chit that you then can trade for a job; you should build yourself up to be the most knowledgeable, strong, resourceful version of yourself that you can be, in order to deal with whatever comes.

we shouldn't abdicate our responsibility for our children's education to someone else; even if they attend school outside the home, it remains our responsibility to make sure they get the best possible education.

so funny that you mention dan pink; i am rereading "whole new mind" right now! i checked it out from the library for my 13yo, who is doing an intro to psychology course through MIT's open courseware, and a friend just forwarded a link to a dan pink ted talk for him. small world. :^)

i agree with you, of course, that even if the country *is* set on making education about preparing us to rule the world economy, they are doing it wrong. we can't create a system to manufacture just gears and then hope we end up with a strong engine and racing wheels at the end. as you said, for a strong society we need strong individuals -- not gears.

susan, honestly, it reminds me of the kids i went to college with, who (in the 80s) were all set on making money. i was so disillusioned at the time by the lack of interest in becoming well educated and well rounded and the focus on getting on the right career track. i was naive then and i guess i still am -- i see education as something so much more than job training! and let's get real -- it's not job training. work is job training. it's just a very expensive system of qualifying to receive job training.

cristina, absolutely! in fact, we have *no idea* what those future jobs will be and what they will require -- except the ability to learn something brand new. we've set up education so that kids are never in charge of their own learning, and they never see the big picture.

i agree with you that kids in general seem to learn to identify "learning" with something painful and boring they don't want to do, and *so many* kids say they hate math, they hate reading. (hate! to read! unbelievable.) obviously we're doing something wrong.

cori, i know exactly what the issue is with the books, too -- that teacher is working out of a manual and she has to test based on certain texts.

there is just no flexibility, no freedom, and no trust; everything is down to numbers now and paperwork.

i think NCLB has proven that standards don't do anything but put the focus on those numbers -- schools pushing out low-performing students, cheating on their results, and etc.

sally, of course i agree re: homework. kids should be playing, pursuing hobbies, and spending time with friends and family after school.

you can't blame teachers because they don't get to decide how to spend their day. and one thing we haven't even touched on, re: the topic of wasted time in school, is pull-outs. ask a teacher what pull-outs do to her class -- kids going in and out all day long. transitions, prescribed teaching scripts .. it's a wonder there is *any* useful instruction time during the day.

at our private school we were in complete control of the day with no unwanted interruptions and so we could make actual use out of all our minutes. there was no need for homework because students could do their work at school. because kids could move about the classroom and art studio freely, because they could talk with one another while they were working, and because they had ample opportunity to play outside, they were calm and happy and able to concentrate. it just requires doing things a different way.

sheila, well, it's a whole different set of values, right? (i can't stop banging this gong -- values.) i don't see anything wrong with a wii or a university education, but what good are a laptop, an ipod, and a trip to disneyland going to do you if you don't have strong family relationships, a love of learning, a sense of purpose, genuine personal interests? it's a priority thing.

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