Can Schools Get Our Kids Good Jobs?

Can Schools Get Our Kids Good Jobs?

 

Maryland voters are concerned about schools. We know why. Everyone is concerned about the unknown economic world that lies ahead. This was obvious at a Gubernatorial forum a few weeks back, when each of the candidates spoke passionately about the need to improve our schools, and to more fully fund them.

Decades ago, I taught Philosophy of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. And at the forum, in my academic way, I took note that for all the talk about schools, no one spoke about education. The two concepts are quite distinct, and getting clear on the distinction is essential, both for good parenting and for good policy.

Schooling is a simple concept, meaning what actually happens in schools. Schools themselves, however, are very complex institutions. They matter; second only to family. Children are in school 5 days a week, 40 weeks a year, and for a minimum of 12 years. Schools are the only place children really see adults at work, adults with authority, adults who may have different values than their parents. At school children enter their own youth culture, one often unknown to adults. To be sure they learn things from teachers; they are evaluated and taught to compete, and they succeed or fail. Their sense of self may be bolstered or it may be crushed. Schooling leaves an enormous imprint. And no one really knows its full nature.

Education, by contrast, is a highly elusive concept. Broadly speaking it refers to some transformation of a person. The term, except when used ironically, always implies a positive transformation, and generally a kind of development, a transformation to something higher. Consider:

"The object of education is to teach us to love beauty." Plato.

"Real education should educate us out of the self into something finer." Nancy Astor.

"Education is freedom." Paulo Freire.

"Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself." John Dewey.

Parents send their children to school for many reasons, including obedience to law. Rarely is education the objective; and education isn't why most go to college or why students incur hundreds of thousands in "education" debt.

As we all know, good schools are seen as the key to good jobs. For the middle class, good primary schools are the entry point to each successive level of good schools, all the way through graduate school, law school, and medical school. For the less advantaged, schools are seen as a way for their children to escape, to escape from poverty, from discrimination, from hard times, from inner city Baltimore and from good parts of Washington D.C.

A few weeks back, I asked John Zogby Strategies to poll a stratified sample of Maryland voters, just to see how out of step I was as a Senate candidate. We asked:

"To what extent do you agree with the following perspective: American parents are reasonably concerned about their children's economic future. They want schools to provide their children with the best skills and knowledge to succeed in an already competitive and shrinking pot of good and secure jobs. But this desire from American parents only makes the competition more intense. It doesn't increase the number of good jobs. We need to find a way to increase good jobs but that's not the task of schools. Under this current system, all we're getting is stress on our children, and schools are moving away from really important subject such as history, the humanities and the arts."

The results astonished me. 32.7% "totally agreed" and 47% "somewhat agreed." 13% "somewhat disagreed," and only 2.3% said they "totally disagreed." A mere 5.1% were unsure.

This was not a poll of all adults; it focused only on Democrats and only on those likely to vote in the primary on June 26th. But at least for this group, and perhaps for the wider public, what we were being told was first, that everyone knew what they thought on this topic. Second, that almost 80% either totally agreed or somewhat agreed that we are on the wrong track. Many are firmly of the view that the current system is not good for children. So how do we get on the right track, one connected to education? We have to solve the jobs problem.

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