Monday, March 28, 2011

What Ed Deformers Get Wrong About Going to College

The Take Away this morning had a discussion about the classic STEM vs Liberal Arts education, a debate that was ignited to some extent by what appeared to be a contrary view of education between Bill Gates (study what will get you a job) and Steve Jobs (liberal arts prepares you for a wide range of options.) Steve Jobs, Bill Gates clash on merit of liberal arts education.

Now of course the ed deformers push the Gates view. Waiting for Superman made it all seem like a life and death matter to get into a charter school so the kids could see the sign that identifies the college their teachers went to. Life is over otherwise. And it's all about "competing in the 21st century", "America has to stay in the race", blah, blah, blah.

You know the drill - college is all about future employment, not the experience, intellectually and socially. As a history major, I had no prep for a job - Brooklyn College has a 2-track history major - one for future teachers and one for the other stuff you can do with a history degree - as one parent of a history major said, dejectedly - "what's he going to do, open a history store?" But I felt I had a great intellectual experience in college that gave me some skills useful in whatever I ended up doing.

Actually, I received a lot of intellectual stimulus at Thomas Jefferson High School in East NY, Brooklyn where I was in a college bound program of a couple of hundred kids and we were given a college level education that totally prepared us to be intellectually ready for college.

Is there any reason we couldn't do that for all kids if we had the resources? If students came out of high school like I did and chose not to go to college they would still have a full rounded education - remember, the ed deformers are pushing college but not offering to pay for it or support the families of poor kids - the dropout rates or 6 year grad rates make the high school grad rates of schools being closed look good - but you don't see them closing colleges for poor grad rates.

I am reminded of the excellent discussion I was involved in at the NYCORE conference on Saturday with a group that included a special ed teacher (about 10 years into the system), two student teachers who are actually doing real teaching, and one community college future teacher.

I wrote:
Another issue raised by one young lady was her discomfort with being forced to sell going to college as the only way to success considering so many poor kids don't have the means to pay for it or their aptitudes or interest level seems low. But she didn't want to be accused of the crime of low expectations, where the penalty is death of your career
We got into a great debate about vocational education that might or might not lead to college. We also talked about the fact that most new jobs being created are fairly low paying that do not require a college degree. Walmart and McDonald's are the largest employers in the nation. Which as someone commented means that you can hang your college up over your cash register when you ask, "Do you want fries with that?" Also consider that many of the white collar jobs can easily be outsourced  - I say be a plumber since that can't be outsourced - it takes 3 days to get a plumber from India.

I have to say that I have done many manual labor tasks around my house - plumbing, electrical, carpentry, even painting. Every single task has been intellectually challenging - real problem solving. I often hire a great guy who can do some amazing work. He is a college grad who prefers to work with his hands. One of the brightest people I've met - his thinking process and analytical powers are amazing and far beyond my capacity.

I hired another guy to build an extension to my house - with me as his assistant. An immigrant from Portugal with a 4th grade education he was one of the highest level thinking people I ever met. We had to do so much calculating and analyzing of problems - we were sort of working catch-as-catch-can- I found the time I spent with him so mind expanding. And he made so much money he was able to stop working as a fairly young man. But I will say, compared to the first guy I mentioned he did not have a wide range of knowledge and I think a guy like him would have starred in any endeavor.

Paul Krugman (and others) have been pointing some of this out as I reported in Ed Notes.
Krugman is finally delving into the ed deform bullshit. In a (March 8) NY Times piece Degrees and Dollars: The hollow promise of good jobs for highly educated workers, Krugman corroborates my "be a plumber" line and lays waste to the central tenet being pushed by Obama and translated into charter schools calling their kids "scholars" and having teachers post the name of the college they graduated from (don't look for CUNY colleges) on their classroom doors. Krugman writes (read it all)

that modern technology eliminates only menial jobs, that well-educated workers are clear winners, may dominate popular discussion, but it’s actually decades out of date.
The fact is that since 1990 or so the U.S. job market has been characterized not by a general rise in the demand for skill, but by “hollowing out”: both high-wage and low-wage employment have grown rapidly, but medium-wage jobs — the kinds of jobs we count on to support a strong middle class — have lagged behind. And the hole in the middle has been getting wider: many of the high-wage occupations that grew rapidly in the 1990s have seen much slower growth recently, even as growth in low-wage employment has accelerated.
Why is this happening? The belief that education is becoming ever more important rests on the plausible-sounding notion that advances in technology increase job opportunities for those who work with information — loosely speaking, that computers help those who work with their minds, while hurting those who work with their hands.... Most of the manual labor still being done in our economy seems to be of the kind that’s hard to automate.
...there are things education can’t do. In particular, the notion that putting more kids through college can restore the middle-class society we used to have is wishful thinking. It’s no longer true that having a college degree guarantees that you’ll get a good job, and it’s becoming less true with each passing decade. 

On the surface, the discussion on NPR was not about going to college or not but about what choice do you make when you get to college. Focus on the Bill Gates naturally narrow view - what will get me a job? or what Steve Jobs said - which also means getting a job but from a different angle. As a MAC (but not Jobs - also an anti-teacher deformer) fan I believe the products produced by Microsoft and Apple reflect some of their respective points of view and even if an ed deformer, if Jobs were throwing billions into the ed fray he might be very unhappy with test prep all the time.

So, here is the 8-minute  audio of the Take Away tape. About 2 minutes in the guest makes some great points - college experience intellectually - only chance in their lives to read and reflect on great literature, history, philosophy- the audio is worth listening to.

After Burn
Some worthwhile Must Reads from Gotham Schools:
This one adds to blowing the lid off Michelle Rhee - first illegal firings of teachers, then her personal history of lies about her teaching record and now an amazing in depth report on manipulation of tests through out and out cheating caused by the intense pressure Rhee put on to get "results."
  • Analysis of Washington, D.C., test scores found high erasure rates at a top-scoring school. (USA Today)
Here is another blowout of the UFT's best buddy Steve Barr - I will post more on this later.
  • Under pressure, Steve Barr is leaving Green Dot, the charter school chain he started. (GSTimes)

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