I am not an educator. That’s something I always want to be clear about. I have two children and I am married to an educator, but I do not earn my living through instructing children. Having a spouse as an educator does provide me with some insights though it is like having a BS meter installed in the house. There have been so many instances where I thought I had some brilliant observation or revelation only to have the meter go off. “No thats not how its works” or “Thats not as big a deal as you think it is” or “No they don’t have the best interests at heart” are phrases that are often used when I bounce my latest postulation off of her or one of her colleagues. It may be humbling at times, but I actually highly recommend being married to an educator and do think that the DOE would be better served if they had at the very least a deputy director that hadn’t been out of the classroom for more then a year. Of course a director would be even better though I suspect the sound of the BS meter might turn out to be a bit deafening for the first couple of years.
There is one educational concept though that I have never had to bounce off of her or anyone else to validate its complete inanity. Thats the concept of “all children being college and career ready”. It just reeks of a nonsense phrase that if repeated enough starts to take on some meaning. Why would I want to instill in my children the belief that if you just get college and career ready you will somehow live a fulfilled life, because your career and work are central to life. Raising a family, building a community, appreciation of the arts, travel all come secondary to what you do at work. Work will define who you are as a person, so get ready to fill in that definition. It reminds me of the hated “lucky to have a job” statement. Do you hear the meter going off?
A person is not “lucky” to have a job. Its capitalism at its core. The worker through diligence has acquired skills that the employer needs in order to further their goal. The two mutually agree on a value to those skills. So perhaps both are lucky, because they were able to connect to fulfill a mutual need. Now what happens if you are an employer and there are not enough potential workers with the skills you need to meet your goals at the price you’re willing to pay? If you have enough cash you probably start to exert influence on the local school districts to start focusing on the skills that you deem important. What happens then if there is soon a glut of potential workers with the skills you require? Do those skills retain the same value or is the value diminished? If the value of the skills are diminished and the amount of labor required to meet the workers needs are increased, has the student really been made career ready? Thats the myth they want you to buy into.
In my twenties I bought into that myth. It was not rare for me to work 60 and 70 hour weeks. It was a life that gave the appearance of fulfilling but was very one dimentional. You see, when you work those kinds of hours you don’t do anything else. You don’t interact with friends and family. You don’t travel. You don’t read books and you don’t play music. Its go to work, eat, sleep and prepare to go to work. Work has got such a hold on you that even when your body is not at work, your mind remains.
I was pretty successful. I reached the top rung, made a decent amount of money and had lots of associates. Everybody knew my name. Then I found out the hard way, it didn’t matter. You see when I started to falter a bit and got a little tired of the long hours, somebody else was ready to step in. The business did what was good for it, not what was good for me. When I started to wake up I realized friends and family had established different routines and I didn’t fit those. Money got spent and associates moved on as well. My name was forgotten. Why would I want my children to fall in to this trap?
Here’s another secret that won’t sit comfortable with some. We spend a child’s formative years celebrating nothing but excellence. Then as they get older the realization sinks in that life is not an endless series of excellent endeavors. In fact, life is filled with days of mundanity, interrupted by bursts of exception. I can hear the chorus now, “Oh no my life’s not like that. I jump out of bed everyday knowing that I will face some exceptional challenge.” Sorry, got to hit the meter. Even if you are daily searching for a cure to cancer there are still days of rest. There are still sheets to be changed, food to be prepared, bathrooms that need cleaning, clothing that needs to be bought, bills that need to be paid, unless those are tasks assigned to others. In a world focused on the exceptional, who will those others be? I suspect the answer but then I’d be labeled as a conspiracy theorist.
What I’m saying is not a negative. In fact I believe you can find people’s true selves in how they cope with the mundanity. How do they spend the time they are given? Do they curl up with a good book? Sit at a piano and play unconcerned with their skill level? Do they experiment in the kitchen? Rearrange knick knacks that they collect? Go for a walk in the woods and experience the beauty of nature? These are all activities that aren’t rigorous but make life more exceptional. These are things that we are slowly eroding every time we discontinue an arts class, an industrial arts class, a home economics class, or any class that can’t lead to a measurable outcome. Have you tried lately to go back and watch an old movie and not been able to enjoy it as much because the pace was so slow? Film is a mirror of our lives. The ones considered classics are the ones that connect with our lives. If we are not able to enjoy films that don’t provide constant stimulation what does that say about our lives? Read the papers and you will find ample evidence of people unable to cope with the daily grind. They find escape by medicating, drinking, over exercising, over eating, over working or any other number of other detrimental behaviors. Is it a stretch to link this to schooling? Maybe, but they do call it the formative years.
We are selling children a false bill of goods when we consistently deliver a message that scoring well on tests will lead to a life of fufillment and that everything they do needs to be exceptional. We don’t spend nearly enough time on preparing them for the day to day and introducing them to the things that make life worth living. We don’t spend nearly enough time instilling the necessity and joy of life long learning. My father used to like to work with his hands. He’d come home from work and tinker with the car or build something around the house. He most likely developed an appreciation for these endeavors in high school shop and automotive classes. How many schools still have those classes? Imagine how the quality of my fathers life would have differed if he’d never had a place to discover and sharpen those skills. My mother was a reader and you could often find her curled up with a book, most weren’t classics. What if she’d been taught in school that reading is only a means to an end and?
An education advocate, that I sometimes debate with, made a statement the other day that “We could probably agree on what makes a quality education.” I disagree. Reform advocates lobby for schools focused on the measured and getting people ready for careers. I prefer a school that puts as much stock in the unmeasurable and prepares kids for life. That means introducing children to things that give life depth, be it the arts, athletics, industrial arts, literature or any of the other things we can’t measure. I believe in schools that celebrate the effort as much as the excellence. The child who has a learning disability that makes huge gains but still falls short of proficient deserves as much celebration as the student who wins a national merit scholarship. I prefer an education that teaches that failure can often be the best teacher and creates an environment were lessons can be learned from failure without a fear that your failure will lead to a labeling of your teacher, school and community. I believe in an education that exposes my child to the people they will be building the future with. All of them, not just the ones who look and think like them.
I may not be an educator but I do know that children are always learning. They are designed to learn. The more sources of learning they are exposed to the more well rounded they become. They don’t need white knights agenda setting for them. A twenty something that works with me recently asked, “Is there anybody you meet for the first time that you can’t hold a conversation with?” My answer is, no. Thats because my schooling didn’t make me college and career ready, it made me life ready.