"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, October 24, 2011

Educational Reform III

Educational reform of higher education is critical, especially the need to make public education more practical by focusing on the current and projected employment environment; and more focused on teaching history, economics, finance, and political philosophy necessary for intelligent choices in civil society.  Michael Ellsberg of the New York Times adds to this discussion by suggesting that
American academia is good at producing writers, literary critics, and historians.  But we don’t have a shortage of lawyers and professors.  America has a shortage of job creators.  And the people who create jobs aren’t traditional professionals, but start-up entrepreneurs…
If start-up activity is the true engine of job creation in America, one thing is clear: our current educational system is acting as the brakes,.  Simply put, from kindergarten through undergraduate and graduate school, you learn very few skills or attitudes that would ever help you start a business.  Skills like sales, networking, creativity, and comfort with failure…
Start-ups are creative endeavor by definition.  Yet our current classrooms, geared toward tests on narrowly-defined academic subjects, stifle creativity…
Secondly, those students who may not be on an entrepreneurial track (by the way, classrooms that foster innovative and creative thinking are important for all students, not just those who will become entrepreneurs), are also shortchanged, for our misplaced view of ‘equality’ of education has stifled a more realistic two track system adopted by the Germans:
Children [in Germany] at age 10 are placed on different tracks, some leading to university, and others to vocational school – a closing off of opportunity that most Americans would find intolerable; but it is uncontroversial because those who attend vocational schools often earn as much as those attending university (Washington Post 10/23, The Paradox of the New Elite)
Gov. Rick Perry’s (R-Tex) has called for a reform of public higher education in his state by focusing on economically productive courses – an idea which takes its spirit from the German system above.  There is no reason to spend taxpayers’ money on esoteric courses on Queer Theory and other esoteric Post-Modernist literary criticism, when business is in need of well-prepared employees.  The private university system is the place to take this type of course.

A good public education can also complement a practical, vocational education with courses on economics, finance, and history to better prepare the graduate for a more educated and intelligent engagement in politics.

Thirdly, it is important to promote the interests of the talented, not just those with ‘special needs’.  Jay Matthews in a recent Washington Post blog called Class Struggle has been arguing this for months:
Frederick M. Hess’s long essay in the latest issue of the quarterly National Affairs pleased those of us who share the American Enterprise Institute scholar’s dislike for politicians’ fixation on closing the achievement gap. Reducing the gap sounds good until you realize that means it is okay for high achievers to stagnate so that low achievers can catch up.
 Readjusting and realigning public school programs to foster this equality will not be easy, since there are enough old-guard teachers and administrators in place who remain committed to collaborative education (I use this term as a catch-all for both enforced collaborative learning, as above, and for the defunding and discouragement of accelerated learning programs) to thwart reform.  The situation is a bit like that of universities whose Humanities departments remain wedded to Post-Modernism, Historicism, and Deconstructionism even though these theories are being discredited – there is still a committed core of professors and administrators who have built their careers on these theories, have tenure, and continue to preach.

An article in the  (October 24) Washington Post 10.24.12), entitled Too many college grads, by Fred Hiatt chronicles South Korea’s experience with higher education – there are simply too many college graduates to be absorbed by the economic system; and the country is now seriously reconsidering its American-style commitment to traditional liberal arts higher education.
The government also is investing in vocational schools designed to put young people on a career track without going to college. “Reckless entrance into college,” Lee has said, is “bringing huge losses to households and the country alike.”
Furthermore, South Koreans have the same complaints raised by certain American educators, many of which I have cited in this and previous blogs – too little emphasis is placed on creativity, innovation, and management skills, the essential elements for higher-order economic productivity:
Yet Koreans are deeply unhappy with their system — to the point that many blame their world-lowest birth rate (1.1 child per woman) on their schools. They complain about an emphasis on memorization, a stifling of creativity, a failure to teach usable English and a weakness in developing leadership skills.
In summary:

1. Reform primary and secondary school public education to foster a spirit of inquiry, risk-taking, innovativeness, and creativity

2. Reform public higher education to have a vocational track complemented by an intensive civic education.

3. Reform primary and secondary school public education to focus as much on the talented as those in need of special education.

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