Is education about increasing earning power?

Sep 20, 2013 by

By Annie Marie Murphy –

In “The Smartest Kids In The World,” journalist Amanda Ripley’s new book about effective educational systems around the globe, there’s a scene in which Kim, an American high school student spending a year in Finland, asks her classmates a searching question. “Why do you guys care so much?” Kim inquires of two Finnish girls. “I mean, what makes you work hard in school?” The students give her a puzzled look. “It’s school,” one of them says. “How else will I graduate and go to university and get a good job?” When I reviewed Ripley’s book in The New York Times last month, I highlighted this exchange, writing, “It’s the only sensible answer, of course, but its irrefutable logic still eludes many American students, a quarter of whom fail to graduate from high school.”

I still think the Finnish student’s reply is pretty sensible, but I’ve been prompted to think more deeply about it by critics of Ripley, and of me. Alfie Kohn, author of “The Schools Our Children Deserve” and “The Homework Myth”, among other books, took me to task in a commentary posted on this blog. Kohn wrote that along with other journalists who cover education, I mistakenly assume that “the primary objective of schools is to transmit to children the knowledge and skills to compete in the global economy,” and I also erroneously suppose that “from the individual student’s point of view, the main reason to learn is that doing so is a prerequisite to making more money after one graduates.”

“There’s something deeply disturbing about regarding children mostly as future employees and reducing education to an attempt to increase the profitability of corporations—or, worse, the probability that ‘our’ corporations will defeat ‘theirs,’ ” Kohn continued. “Some of the least inspiring approaches to schooling, and the least meaningful ways of assessing its success, follow logically from thinking of education not in terms of its intrinsic worth, or its contribution to a truly democratic society, but in the context of the ‘21st-century global economy.’”

I realize I’m being baited, but nevertheless, I’ll bite. Is it wrong to want our kids to go to college and get good jobs? To want them to have the knowledge and skills to compete in the global economy? If so, I’m guilty as charged. Schools, like all of society’s institutions, serve a multitude of purposes (at least, they do when they’re working well—but that’s another issue). They open up worlds of literature and history and science. They cultivate the habits of clear thinking and balanced judgment so important to the functioning of a democracy. And yes, they prepare students for their lives after graduation, much of which will be spent in the workplace.

via Is education about increasing earning power?.

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