Wednesday, August 21, 2013

K-12 Education Rant

I've been involved in several outreach programs as a faculty member, as well as discussions about their effectiveness. As someone who made it out of the urban low socio-economic status, I'm personally pretty invested in these programs. Which why this for me is by far the most charged, uncomfortable set of meetings to attend. A lot of these outreach programs are run by academics, first with no education or sociology training at all, second it's mostly people from affluent backgrounds and/or internationals that have never themselves visited or lived with the people that they are trying to help. To top it off, as a white male, I feel pretty uncomfortable really adding to the conversations because society has created such a strong bias against this group and since usually no one in the room knows my background.

This is an incredibly complex problem that has to be carefully approached. There is no quick fix pedagogical change or one size fits all answer. Charter schools and privatization of education became all the rage a few years ago and is still one of the big movements, however as the data starts to come in, the results show that the groups that are furthest behind and need the most help aren't being served and that their situation is not improving, but instead the gap just keeps getting worse. This 2011 Time Magazine story makes some good points, but also muddles the terminology of reform versus privatization. I'm a big supporter of reform, but not privatization. Of course that is just one aspect of a very large national problem.

One movement that I am very supportive of is what Mike Rowe, host of Dirty Jobs, is trying to organize: He accurately states that our society has made blue collar work incredibly uncool and unpopular. There are hundreds of thousands of job openings in this area, but no one wants to do these jobs and my generation and younger have no idea how to do anything with their hands. I have male friends that can't put a spare tire on their car or change the oil, yet alone have ever touched a saw to cut a 2x4. Politicians are making a big deal about bringing manufacturing back to the U.S., but no young people want to do these jobs. The workforce that can is almost at retirement age. Generation Y would rather be a barista or work at Trader Joes than be an auto mechanic or electrician. Across the country, shop class and auto repair is being cut from high school. Even in colleges, because of costs and fear of accidents, most undergrads and even grad students can't build their own parts for lab experiments. Of course as someone at a university, I feel like I could never take a public stance saying that not everyone should go to college. A good percentage of the population should be going to vocational schools and apprenticeships during/after high school. Germany realizes this and has one of the most skilled workforces in the world. Other European countries have a two college system as well, where some people go to university while others go to a trade school.

Maybe after tenure I can really start to contribute to some of these things.

Non sequitur: I've recently come across several people and even some big organization websites posting links to articles that are several years old because they just discovered them. The problem is they don't look at the date and think that it's fresh news. I saw a post yesterday, from a certain university, saying that new NRC grad school rankings were out, and touting how great their programs are. The link to the NRC rankings clearly shows that these are the 2010 data. People, just because you just found it on the internet doesn't mean that it was just posted that day.