“Career Creators” vs. “Job Creators” — Education and “Reform” (for Dawn)

I have wanted to write something for my friend Dawn, who is a teacher outside of Boston, for awhile. She posted on Facebook that some new ruling/department decision was making it nearly too hard to do her job. There are two or three things you should know about Dawn — 1) She loves teaching; 2) She’s not a particularly political person; 3) She never complains. In short, she is normal, but unrepresented in the press. She goes through life, raising her kids and her students, whom she sees as “her kids”. She goes to work, does her job, and goes home. She cares about people, wouldn’t rip anybody off because, well, she wouldn’t. She pays her taxes and — though you’ve never heard of her — she makes the world better in her corner of the world.

For the world to lose such a person in such a career would be a terrible waste and a sign that something is wrong. When we make life hard for the average person who isn’t doing anything wrong — and in fact, is doing things right — there’s a problem. When the political among us write and say and do things, we expect backlash. When non-political types start having difficulties, there’s a serious problem.

Education reform is a complicated thing based in a lot of factors, mostly politics and money, test scores, standardization, privatization and unions and/or union busting. Given all of that, it’s hard to understand the situation and I have generally refrained from saying something I don’t actually understand.

Turns out, I know a lot of teachers and I hear from them all about the complex system that causes them pain when, frankly, they’d rather just teach. They teach because they believe in education, they teach because they like kids (on a side note, there are a lot of teachers who don’t like kids and are working out their own issues of control on students — especially inner city ones — but that’s a whole other blog piece) and their kids get smarter because of it. College professors, high school teachers, early-education teachers, elementary teachers, generally teach because they believe in education and creating fully functioning individuals who know things about their world.

Schools where students are overwhelmingly violent are not schools, really, but warehouses until those kids can be let out in into the world and society can say “Good luck!” to them. No teacher should be forced to work in a situation like that and no student should try to learn in a situation like that. So, yes, there are things that parents should be doing in this whole educational process. This is difficult when there’s one parent or when both parents work, so economics again effect things. Aside from that, though, it seems like we’re doing things wrong in schools.

This is what I think is wrong: as in much of America today, we’re too short sighted. The new basic philosophy is that students should be 1) productive and 2) ready for work in the jobs we foresee coming. In short, those “job creators” we pay so much attention to want people to fill those jobs and it’s the educational system’s job to create the people who can do that. Further, they want teachers to prove that they are doing that, so that they can keep their jobs.

Put succinctly, they want education to produce people who know things, not think about things, or create things. I think we’re starting with the wrong premise. we are aiming for people who know what we know about, rather than people who can face anything. I always kind of thought it was stupid to publish lists of careers that people should go into because a) people already know what they like to do and b) if everybody rushes toward those jobs and college takes 7 years, by the time they get there, the job market will have changed and people already in the field will have taken those jobs. Oops.

The best teachers that I know want kids to know things, to think about things, and to creatively face whatever challenges face them. They want kids to learn because they are curious more than anything else, and they see kids as full people who need to know about the world they live in.

I still can’t believe it when I see what my kids are expected to know and do in school and — right or wrong — I go back to my own childhood. Kindergarten was a half a day because kids can’t be expected to produce all day long. They can be expected to play. Our “texts” were “We Read Pictures” and we played with trucks and sand and dolls from 8am to noon.

Later, in elementary school, we learned basic fundamentals by rote. I know that this is not every teachers favorite style of learning, but it worked. I can add, subtract, and multiply in my head to this day I have a fairly good vocabulary. I do believe in learning facts and I think that may have been where the problem was that people felt we needed to reform.

In junior high, aka “Middle School” now, we started developing Selves — figuring out who we were, who we wanted to be and what we were good at. In High School, we began to think about what it all meant. We could learn about atoms in elementary school, figure out that they were cool in junior high, and think about the ways they should be used — or not — in High School. If we wanted to think more or think in depth, we could go to college. If not, we could think on our feet and adjust to life. We were supposed to be “well-rounded individuals”. Out of that, I got an undergraduate degree and two graduate degrees. I got a career or two and a way to decide what to do with my life.

In those days, though, we had recess. We had art, we had music, we had vocational and tech ed. Now, like everybody else in America, we want our children to do more with less. We take away art as not “practical enough”, we take away music as “not practical or productive enough”, we de-fund programs for hands-on learners and then we test them about what they know.

Brains don’t function that way, though. Music and beauty and fun and time to think and time to play are all important to learning, and they make the difference between smart people and wise people. It’s like an orange and orange juice are better for because of things that are in the peel than reduced to their core, processed, and put in a can. It’s the whole thing that makes it work, not just the obvious, and not minus the obvious. (Orange peel is no substitute for a whole orange, and it doesn’t make much juice).

We should educate kids as they are, and we should let teachers teach to kids as they are. They know how to teach. They know what it takes to make wise, well-rounded adults. The Powers That Be won’t let them do that. They have different goals in mind.

Kids coming out of the way of education I experienced have careers, not jobs. They have callings, not an 8 hour day. They create new industries, rather than jobs for the old ones. Let Dawn and all the teachers like her do their job. Fund education, let kids be kids, and let them use their whole Self. It might make things messier, but it’ll be a whole lot more useful.




4 thoughts on ““Career Creators” vs. “Job Creators” — Education and “Reform” (for Dawn)

  1. I think we actually pretty much agree on this one. I have a quite a few friends who are teachers and really just want to teach. Now, there has to be some standards as we are competing in a world economy at this point, so if Japan is kicking our butts in education it is going to translate into business.

    I am not sure where we lost our way. In general I think teachers used to do this and somewhere along the lines someone said let’s fix something that isn’t broken. While this is a political issue, it’s not a right vs left issue. There are good and bad ideas on both sides, but I am not sure why or when it was decided to fundamentally change things that were largely working.

    I do think it is partially related to teachers having to take on different roles (social worker, parent, etc), but that doesn’t explain the whole thing.

    Interestingly, the more we have spent on education over the years, the more our rankings on the world stage have decreased. This doesn’t mean we should spend less, it means we are spending in the wrong place.

  2. Ah, but that meme that various countries around the world are “kicking our butts” in education, and that our “rankings on the world stage have decreased” is largely a lie–or at least, an illusion, garnered by statistical jiggery-pokery.

    First of all, in the United States, we test all our kids. In a lot of the countries we are compared with, only those who are in school are tested. And a lot of kids are not in school. Then, in the developed world, particularly in Asian countries, only the kids who are college bound are tested. We are comparing our entire population, in other words, with the children of the affluent and the educated around the world. Apples with oranges.

    And it turns out that, if you adjust for child poverty rates, the achievement of our kids is actually right up there with that of kids in other industrial democracies. If you compare our kids in a manner that accounts for our higher poverty levels, we’re right in the middle of the pack… or sometimes better. Those declining scores? Yeah, not so much, perhaps. If you take, for instance, kids in Massachusetts, and compare them with other kids worldwide (and remember, we test all of ours, and other countries don’t necessarily) our math scores put us at #6. Worldwide.

    Would we like to be #1? Well, in theory. But in practice, that would mean no longer using teachers and their unions as a political scapegoat, no longer privatizing public dollars through mandating curricula developed by private, for-profit companies, with mandatory tests of student achievement on tests created and run by those same private, for-profit companies… It seems as if privatizing public dollars and breaking teachers’ unions are our primary motivators in this country, when we talk about “reform.”

    If we were serious about boosting test scores, we would make teaching harder to get into, but easier to stay in, in some of the ways the rest of the world does. A lot of people, for instance, focus on the the fact that American students spend less time in the classroom annually than those in other countries. Very few people realize that American teachers spend far more time in the classroom, teaching, than in other countries–as opposed to preparing lessons and coordinating our work with other teachers. For instance, as an American teacher, I spend almost twice as much time in front of my classes as my counterparts in Japan.

    I know. Everyone thinks American teachers don’t spend much time at work. They confuse the time kids are in school with the time teachers are working, and think we get a three month vacation every year. Actually, I work a 55–60 hour week, week in, week out, for ten months a year, not nine. Doing the math, I know that my “vacations” are comp time–comp time that I spend (yeah, really, it’s not hype) in part getting additional training… at my own expense. Thousands of my dollars a year, in fact. ($5000 last year, getting trained to teach Advanced Placement. My husband, also a teacher, spent about the same amount. Think that takes a chunk out of our retirement funds?)

    I could go on, but all I have to offer are facts. The current political climate is amazingly resistant to those… probably because “education reform” isn’t really about either of those things.

    1. Cat: needless to say, i have suspected that there were problems, but I don’t know the ins-and-outs of it all. I don’t think that education or other human endeavor ought to be politicized or monitized. I want to trust that the people who are in charge know what they’re doing. That being said, there are people who abuse that trust in any profession — not by any stretch the norm, but a problem here leads others to exploit the situation for their own gain. Children’s education shouldn’t be the place where that happens. Our society will pay the consequences for treating kids like a commodity and those who care about them as whipping posts.

      You and Dawn are two of my heroes for dragging the world in the right direction — at least in this generation. Keep up the good work! You’re making a difference!



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