Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Closing Education Gaps - to what end?

When reading about education in the country we hear a lot about the "gaps" - gaps between whites and minorities, gaps between rich and poor, gaps between the U.S. and other countries.

What I find challenging is the end that closing the gaps is purported to reach. If your region of the country has fewer residents with a BA/BS degree than your state average, or the average of other region's you benchmark against, the common refrain essentially says that if we had X percentage more BA/BS degree's in the region we would have Y more money, because the average person with a BA/BS degree makes more $ than the average HS graduate. They look at it like a formula, BA/BS averages $50K, HS grad averages $28K, etc. My favorite reply to this is, why don't you just make everyone a lawyer, everyone knows lawyers make a lot of money.

Nevertheless, this is essentially the "close the gap" argument from education activist - if we can close the gap, minorities and the poor will have more money. Here's the great challenge - everyone measures these gaps by test scores and credentials and they don't measure the skills people actually need to succeed in the world today.

Here's an excellent post at the PersonalMBA about what those skills really are (he highlights the great John Taylor Gatto, which is a bonus) - Are any of these skills measured by test scores? Are these the skills our kids have learned when they cross that isle and pick up their diploma?

Click here for the post at PersonalMBA - "What Must an Educated Person Know?"

An excerpt:

"John Taylor Gatto, a renowned education historian and critic of modern industrial schooling, wrote an essay titled The Curriculum of Necessity or What Must an Educated Person Know? Here’s how the essay begins:

"A few years back one of the schools at Harvard, perhaps the School of Government, issued some advice to its students on planning a career in the new international economy it believed was arriving. It warned sharply that academic classes and professional credentials would count for less and less when measured against real world training. Ten qualities were offered as essential to successfully adapting to the rapidly changing world of work. See how many of those you think are regularly taught in the schools of your city or state… Here’s Harvard University’s list of skills that make an “educated person”:
The ability to define problems without a guide.
The ability to ask hard questions which challenge prevailing assumptions.
The ability to quickly assimilate needed data from masses of irrelevant information.
The ability to work in teams without guidance.
The ability to work absolutely alone.
The ability to persuade others that your course is the right one.
The ability to conceptualize and reorganize information into new patterns.
The ability to discuss ideas with an eye toward application.
The ability to think inductively, deductively and dialectically.
The ability to attack problems heuristically. After listing these skills,

Gatto continued: You might be able to come up with a better list than Harvard did without surrendering any of these fundamental ideas, and yet from where I sit, and I sat around schools for nearly 30 years, I don’t think we teach any of these things as a matter of school policy… None of the schools I ever worked for were able to provide any important parts of this vital curriculum for children. All the schools I worked for taught nonsense up front. And under the table, they taught young people how to be dumb, how to be slavish, how to be frightened, and how to be dependent."

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