Throughout my teaching career, I have too often been faced by students, supervisors, parents and colleagues who appeared to believe that the purpose of our public schools and the education they provide is to somehow prepare children for their life’s employment. How in hell we are supposed to know what employment will be open to them and what it is that they will choose to do in that economic environment is never made clear except to offer up some vague prognostication of what the economic future holds. When I have suggested that the best an education should offer children is to equip them to be able to read and teach themselves whatever it is that they wish to know throughout their lives and enablep them to be knowledgeable citizens of our democracy, I’ve been responded to with stares of disbelief or comments about my naiveté. Yet, the older I get, the more confirmed in my view I get.
Just the other day, as I finished Siddhartha’s Mukherjee’s tome The Gene, a history of the science of genetics, I was reminded of how thankful I am to have been educated and possess the ability to follow my interests wherever they take me. When I began college, I had no idea of how I would spend my economic life. Fortunately, I went to school in a day when the first two years of my studies were in required courses in the arts and sciences. Although I soon began to lean toward majoring in English, I continued to take subjects like comparative vertebrate anatomy, embryology and genetics. Now, some fifty years since my college days, I could read and thoroughly appreciate Mukherjee’s book because of Professor Norman Rothwell’s brilliant lectures. More importantly, I have an appreciation of the ethical issues genomic engineering causes us to confront.
Coincidentally, a day or two ago, as I was thinking about this subject, I got a message from a former member of my district’s board of education, pointing me to this article about Sir Ken Robinson and his thoughts about our unfortunate tendency to see the goal of education as employment and economic success. She sent me the link to the article because Robinson’s words reminded her of things that she had heard me say. Better late than never, I suppose, but the fact is that our public schools have gotten much more over-focused on job training since the time our board member remembered hearing me warn against confusing education with job training. Test scores and grades are what school is increasingly about. So much so that before our board of education has a proposed policy before it to only count student Regents exam scores in their final averages if those scores boost those averages. Do we seriously think that people who advance such a policy are concerned about education and its capacity to enrich the intellectual, cultural and spiritual life of human beings?