Tuesday, April 2, 2013

It's time to abandon work-centric metaphors to describe education.

On the one hand, we should celebrate talk about school reform that is something other than the same tired ideas about charter schools, free-market education, or accountability, and Thomas Friedman's recent op ed delivers on that account.

On the other hand...

Thomas Friedman is an economist, and his interest in education is economic, but I can't help but bristle at the acknowledgement that the current school system was built to acclimate and train students into an industrialized work-force and then see that followed by the claim that since the current work-force model has changed, therefore the educational model must change. How about some acknowledgment that the process of education is not the same as work? How about some acknowledgement that education is useful above and beyond its efficacy in securing high-paying jobs for students?

The thing is, I agree one-hundred percent with almost all of Wagner's suggestions, but I agree with them not because they will ease students' into imaginary jobs but because what is continually described as 21st century learning is what I call Learning. Period.

It's clearly a false claim that our current form of schooling was ever well-designed to prepare students for those "high-wage, middle-skilled jobs" of the past generations. To pretend that the almost exclusive emphasis on content over skills was somehow appropriate, as if those  "high-wage, middle-skill jobs" made regular use of Algebra II and depended on a worker's knowledge of the names and dates of Civil War battles, is just dishonest.

What Wagner is really describing is a move away from schooling and toward education, probably the most revolutionary shift we could ever hope to see, and the fact is that as the United States moves swiftly away from global capitalism's core and further into its periphery, "schooling" will be less and less necessary. But if our rationale for shifting is that somehow millions of newly educated students will "invent" high-wage jobs within that framework, we're almost certainly wasting our time.

Instead, we must invest in education, as opposed to schooling, so that we can build a citizenry capable of rethinking and rebuilding their world. But then, that's been the subversive purpose of education all along, which is why we see so very little of it in schools.

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