The Marketplace and Ideas

by Matthew Koslowski on August 26, 2009
in Essays

This evening, on my ride home from a long day at work, I was listening to NPR, as I often do and as my first essays Limiting Literature and Sinking a “Lifeboat”… prove.

Although, right now, I work at a bank and get little bits of economic news all day, I occasionally enjoy listening to Marketplace and decided to tune in. Their presentation of economic and financial news is more even handed and thoughtful than other media who often seem like frustrated ad men rather than journalist.

Today, though, they had an interview that startled me.


The Next Generation of Worker

One of the great narratives of American society is the idea of social mobility and economic advancement. We have these legends, like Chris Gardner’s biography The Pursuit of Happyness, about people who picked themselves up by their bootstraps and became multimillionaires.

And now education has become a part of that narrative.

We hear our politicians talk about schools preparing students for twenty-first century jobs and the knowledge economy. We hear the statistics from the news about the insufficient number of Americans becoming computer programmers and engineers, about how Americans are losing our collective footing in the race to advance science. We hear the conversation about how all the high paying jobs are in technology and applied science.

So now we need to push our children into the science and technical fields if we hope for them to advance. We need to reorient our education system to give our children the skills they will need when they become workers.

Now the Obama administration, not taking any lessons from the failure that was No Child Left Behind, is discussing plans to test to make sure our school districts are focusing on science and math.

Why School?

UCLA professor of Education and Information Studies Mike Rose asks if that is the right course of action in his new book Why School?: Reclaiming Education for All of Us. I would have expected this interview on Morning Edition or All Things Considered or On Point with Tom Ashbrook, but not on Marketplace. And I was glad to be surprised.

Professor Rose questions if we are too narrowly focused on the economy and what the very purpose of education is.

True North

Is our orientation towards education for economics appropriate?

What is the purpose of education? Do we want to create workers or citizens? We talk about “workers” and “taxpayers” but we don’t talk about “citizens” anymore.

I am tired of being a “taxpayer” most of the year and a “voter” during an election cycle. The distinction is important because a “taxpayer” is passive but a “citizen” is active. A citizen has thoughts and opinions.

If you think I am busy making nice distinctions, remember that the many people in marketing and advertising have degrees in psychology. Remember, too, that marketing firms spend large parts of their budgets on focus groups to find what phrasing is most effective.

Reflective citizens will certainly work and will work many of the jobs we have now. I like to think that they will perhaps work more thoughtfully and will take a wider view of work and long term projects, rather than on restrict their focus to the quarter to quarter myopia that has been at fault in these booms and busts.

A knowledge of history allows people to analyze the causes of past events and think about how people solved problems and look for analogies to their current situation. Perhaps if we had had a better knowledge of history, we could have seen the most recent crash approaching or perhaps not. But without any recourse to history, we need to relearn every lesson for ourselves.

Outside the Box

What is the business community looking for? Are they looking for “workers” or “citizens”? Professor Rose raises an excellent point.

Now here’s an irony, Tess, that has struck me. The business community, time after time in position papers and opinion pieces, tells us that it needs people who can make frontline decisions, who communicate well, who are creative, who think outside the box. And again, if you have a curriculum that doesn’t generate and encourage that kind of thinking and learning, then you’re not going to produce those kinds of folks.

If we limit literacy skills to reading technical documents and economic reports, we are doing a disservice to our future citizen business leaders.

If we cut music education and arts education, both of which have been shown to improve intelligence and creative thinking, we are doing a disservice to our future citizen business leaders.

If we focus on testing because it is easy to tool with which to measure, we are doing our future citizen business leaders a grave disservice. A written, multiple-choice high stakes test does not allow students to demonstrate their decision-making skills nor their creativity.

All standardize tests demonstrate is how well the student takes standardized tests.

I am looking forward to reading Why School?: Reclaiming Education for All of Us and seeing what additional arguments Professor Rose outlines.


2 Responses to “The Marketplace and Ideas”
  1. Lee Marcotte says:

    As usual you raise an interesting point. I believe that many people, including seniors have become disengaged with our political system, thinking “my voice isn’t heard or doesn’t count. I am excited about the prospect of awakening a new interest in government in our youngsters.