Saturday, February 25, 2012

Other Paths of Education

There's been talk in the USA for years of making four years of college education as ubiquitous and expected as four years of high school education. I'm for education as much as anyone, but I'm very unconvinced that four years at a standard American college or university is what every American needs.

It's not that I think there is necessarily anything wrong with what universities offer and it's certainly not about politics. (I should point out that my dad's a tenured professor in the social sciences at a state-run university.)

And I certainly don't think the problem is that some students are smarter and some students are naturally stupider, and this is a natural truth that some people are afraid to utter because of 'political correctness'. I don't believe human intelligence can be represented along a single scale. I think different people probably have different natural aptitudes.

I don't believe this because it fits into some ideology I have. I believe it because it fits the way I perceive human beings operating.

I remember that I've always been very good at taking standardized tests, for example. What they don't tell you in school is that your success in adult life is not necessarily determined by how well you do on standardized tests.

In short, I fully agree with and endorse the ideas put forth by Sir Ken Robinson in his 2010 TED Talk.

I suppose what I'd like to see in the USA is a greatly expanded system of vocational education, for students who have no interest in going on to a traditional university. We need people who know how stuff works. We need people who can figure stuff out. And we need a system that encourages people to master skills which are useful to society, and to leverage these skills to take charge of their own lives.

And -- and this is important -- I would wave my magic wand and change society so that there wouldn't be any sense that people who had vocational training and now work in the skilled labor force are less talented or less lucky than people who went to university. Anybody who can open up and fix a machine or expertly repair leaky pipes is officially far more capable than I am in at least one area of human endeavor, and there is no reason to suppose they are less well-informed about the world or have less of a mind than I do. That's just dumb.

In short, I don't just want to see better options for people who don't do well on their SATs. I want to see these additional paths to a good career to be a serious possibility even for people who did well on all their standardized tests and could get into a good university if they wanted to. Where's the logic in considering vocational training to be second-best? I don't see it.

So that's how I'd like to change American culture.

So is there a way to express vaguely similar sentiments but within a framework of pure assholery? Yes, there is.

Read this report on Rick Santorum's comments on Obama wanting to send all American kids to college.

"Not all folks are gifted the same way. Some people have incredible gifts with their hands," Santorum began. "Some people have incredible gifts and want to work out there making things."

Then he went after the president's call for making college easier for Americans to attend.

President Obama wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob," Santorum said as the crowd howled with laughter and applause. "There are good, decent men and women who work hard every day and put their skills to the test that aren't taught by some liberal college professor."

Then read this bit on how and why his supporters agree that college isn't for everybody. A couple of them say things that sort of echo my concerns up above, but it turns into this:

“They try and disguise it with, you know, ‘equal opportunity’…” Stephen Clement began.

“It’s communism,” Murrow said, cutting him off. “The professors are all teaching the kids…”

“Where does the social engineering stop?” Clement jumped back in, fired up. “Does it stop after we send everybody to college, or does it stop after we set their curriculum and said, ‘these are the things you’re allowed to study?’ Does it become the Soviet Union?”

Thank you, American political discourse. Not just for redefining the word 'communist' to mean 'generic thing I don't like', which will render us without a sufficiently descriptive vocabulary if actual Communists ever become a force in American politics.

But also, thank you for taking something I actually believe and embedding it within a context I disapprove of. It's a test of my intellectual integrity to see if I still believe something after it's been thoroughly incorporated into a framework I don't agree with.

And guess what? I still believe we ought to support alternative paths of education, and not snobbishly look down on people just because they didn't go to a traditional college.

Who cares how Santorum tries to frame the issue.

1 comment:

Jenna Cody said...

bitter gourd and green pepper are communist.