Sunday, January 2, 2011

Worth your time: On Education

Great post with great links and good thinking. With an early entry for 2011 Quote of the Year (down in the mostly excellent comments). Not intended as a comment on Peak Oil and the future of education, but those of us who can see further ahead than the next sporting season have to be constantly thinking about this:
I think it’s fine if people know what happened at Fort Sumter. But that’s not core. Knowing how to collaborate, to get things done, to learn things on their own? That’s core. Rote work is being automated where possible and outsourced where we can’t. If you’re breaking students to harness for a future without harnesses, then you’re just breaking them.
Given that generals always train to fight the last war, isn't it weird what we're doing in schools? Preparing kids for a world that is fast vanishing, while killing them and their spark with relentless rankings, testings, and gradings, all to promote the profits of the testing empire.

The near future of the world includes one hell of a lot less energy (wealth), the rapid end of growth and the even rapider start of a contraction ratchet, and unpleasant encounters with the world's all-too-limited resources, especially in its limited ability to incorporate eons of fossil fuels being voided into the atmosphere at blinding speeds. Now, what "careers" should we be preparing kids for?

Answer: Same as it ever was. Time to get the corporations out of the schools and remember that the purpose of schooling is to train people for citizenship and independence, not wage slavery.

Here's a group that both gets some things right and misses others entirely: Partnership for 21st Century Skills. They've got a nice idea here: "fusing the three Rs and four Cs (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation)." Excellent; now that's thinking I can get behind, that we should all get behind. But, wups, that comes from this larger paragraph:
The Partnership for 21st Century Skills is a national organization that advocates for 21st century readiness for every student. As the United States continues to compete in a global economy that demands innovation, P21 and its members provide tools and resources to help the U.S. education system keep up by fusing the three Rs and four Cs (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation). While leading districts and schools are already doing this, P21 advocates for local, state and federal policies that support this approach for every school. Learn more about the Partnership and the Framework for 21st Century Learning.
In other words, the same old "Nation at Risk" nonsense about treating children as nothing more but the next generation of soldiers in the war of nations over resources -- "We need to be smarter or the (insert Asian threat here) will eat our lunch" sorts of nonsense.

The global economy doesn't demand innovation; it doesn't demand anything. Companies roam the world looking for profits, and they don't mind getting them through innovation, if they must. But they much prefer low-wage, union-free workers in sweatshops. That's been the clear preference of US-based companies, who have essentially sent the entire US manufacturing base to China. Not because the Chinese are more innovative or better educated -- but because the people who helm US companies Do.Not.Want employees capable of critical thinking and problem solving, because they number 1 problem of US workers is how to get the boots of corporations off the faces of Americans.

Our central task in the years to come will be figuring out how to deal with the huge mass of people in this country who have, essentially, no useful skills for dealing with reality and who can only exist as long as the phony economy of plundering resources from smaller, weaker nations and turning those into products for the "consumer economy" can be maintained --- which is precisely what's not going to happen.

The frightening thing is that we're going to have a HUGE contingent of unemployed, poorly educated young men and women who have, nonetheless, lots of training and experience in using violence floating around. The ongoing, indeed, never-to-be-ended wars against Eurasia and Eastasia, currently enjoying off-Broadway tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, with a rumored tour in Iran constantly in the wind, will see to that. The billions and billions stolen from Americans to fund these endless campaigns are the very billions that could have been used to give young people a decent education, rather than leaving schools across a wide swath of America as nothing but pipelines to prisons, often with a jaunt in the Army in between.