“The Business of Education - is Education” – continued.
In a series I called “The Business of Education - is Education” (#171-175, Jan. 2018), Another View examined the way the business community seemed intent on redefining the mission of public education in America. That trend has only accelerated.[i] I offer here nothing original. In fact, the cautionary words about commerce trampling on and revising the purpose of
“Business pushes an agenda. In 2018, educators must be clear-eyed about the role some business leaders wish to play in advancing career education. Something fundamental has changed these past few years. … educators sense their mission shifting. Which is why we must speak up.” AV #172 – Jan. 10, 2018
education come from a book that Sinclair Lewis was writing 100 years ago—published in 1922. If you pick up this classic novel and read it for the first time, as I did this winter, you too might laugh at the ridiculous views expressed by our main character and his peers. But can we laugh at ourselves? What if we realize Lewis is not just poking fun at the attitudes of another time and place, but – almost prophetically – he offers a rebuke to our world. I find Lewis’s criticism all too relevant. I hope to show you why.
In Babbitt, Lewis, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature (1925), created a stinging portrait of America in those early post-war years. Forty years after the novel was published, the novelist and scholar Mark Schorer wrote that Babbitt “remains today as the major documentation in literature of American business culture in general.” A century has now passed, but those words may still be true.
How is that a powerful satire can endure? Lewis was describing a younger America, more naive—pre-Depression, World War II, etc. – hardly the confident superpower of the 21st century. The shibboleths of 1922—for example, Lewis’s “Solid American Citizen”—certainly can’t be prevalent today, can they?
Typewriting class is now coding
To be sure, the specifics have changed: Shop class is Career Technical Education (CTE). Business English is now competencies demanded in the labor market. Correspondence courses then; immersive boot camps today—courtesy of the for-profit college industry. But the insistence that public education be, above all, practical, that we not waste time teaching “a lot of camembert,” as Babbitt’s son describes his classes, is much the same. The language used about the purpose of education, careers, even of a good life is revamped, but this (all-too American) philosophy has survived. I agree with Lewis. It still deserves a drubbing.
The economy prevails. We do not educate, we train. We do not want seniors to graduate with communication skills: reading, writing, listening, speaking—in order to be thoughtful citizens; we want them to be “career ready.” This is how we in “the real world” will get a return on our investment in public education.[ii] We cannot trust school people—“bookworms and impractical theorists”–to develop the curriculum; business must step in to define what is to be studied, so as to best train our future workers.
In Babbitt, Lewis has fun mocking this shallow, shortsighted view of education. Excerpts here—from just one chapter of his novel—might amuse us. And yet I also present excerpts from articles—all from the past three years (since AV #175)—that provide a mirror to our own foolishness. An invitation to reflect, I hope, on the wisdom of the path we are on.
Quotes in my next newsletter will offer a richer idea of the purpose of education. In May, a look at attracting good people to the teaching profession. Success there also depends on a higher purpose.
From Babbitt,[iii] by Sinclair Lewis (published 1922)
From a variety of publications (2018-2021)
Chapter 6, part iii
Babbitt’s teenage son, Ted, is complaining to his parents about his high school classes.
“I don't see why they give us this old-fashioned junk by Milton and Shakespeare and Wordsworth and all these has-beens," he protested. "Oh, I guess I could stand it to see a show by Shakespeare, if they had swell scenery and put on a lot of dog, but to sit down in cold blood and read 'em—These teachers—how do they get that way?"
Babbitt is eager to see his son go to law school.
"I'll tell you why you have to study Shakespeare and those. It's because they're required for college entrance, and that's all there is to it! Personally, I don't see myself why they stuck 'em into an up-to-date high-school system like we have in this state. Be a good deal better if you took Business English, and learned how to write an ad, or letters that would pull. But there it is, and there's no talk, argument, or discussion about it! Trouble with you, Ted, is you always want to do something different!”
Ted: "Oh punk. I don't see what's the use of law-school—or even finishing high school. I don't want to go to college 'specially. Honest, there's lot of fellows that have graduated from colleges that don't begin to make as much money as fellows that went to work early. Old Shimmy Peters, that teaches Latin in the High, he's a what-is-it from Columbia and he sits up all night reading a lot of greasy books and he's always spieling about the 'value of languages,' and the poor soak doesn't make but eighteen hundred a year, and no traveling salesman would think of working for that. I know what I'd like to do. I'd like to be an aviator, or own a corking big garage, or else—a fellow was telling me about it yesterday—I'd like to be one of these fellows that the Standard Oil Company sends out to China, and you live in a compound and don't have to do any work… And then I could take up correspondence-courses. That's the real stuff!... Just listen to these! I clipped out the ads of some swell courses."
"He snatched from the back of his geometry half a hundred advertisements of those home-study courses which the energy and foresight of American commerce have contributed to the science of education. The first displayed the portrait of a young man with a pure brow, an iron jaw, silk socks, and hair like patent leather. Standing with one hand in his trousers-pocket and the other extended with chiding forefinger, he was bewitching an audience of men with gray beards, paunches, bald heads, and every other sign of wisdom and prosperity. Above the picture was an inspiring educational symbol—no antiquated lamp or torch or owl of Minerva, but a row of dollar signs."
The samples Ted shows his father are produced by “Shortcut Educational Pub. Co.”
Babbitt is somewhat impressed, but insists his son’s high school can do the job.
Ted: “Yuh, but Dad, they just teach a lot of old junk that isn't any practical use—except the manual training and typewriting and basketball and dancing—and in these correspondence-courses, gee, you can get all kinds of stuff that would come in handy…"“I just wanted to show how many different kinds of correspondence courses there are instead of all the camembert they teach us in the High.”
"Ted had collected fifty or sixty announcements, from annual reference-books, from Sunday School periodicals, fiction magazines, and journals of discussion."
“Listen to some of these …”
"The advertisements were truly philanthropic. One of them bore the rousing headline: "Money! Money!! Money!!!" The second announced that "Mr. P. R., formerly making only eighteen a week in a barber shop, writes to us that since taking our course he is now pulling down $5,000 as an Osteo-vitalic Physician;" and the third that "Miss J. L., recently a wrapper in a store, is now getting Ten Real Dollars a day teaching our Hindu System of Vibratory Breathing and Mental Control."
"[Babbitt] listened to the notices of mail-box universities which taught Short-story Writing and Improving the Memory, Motion-picture-acting and Developing the Soul-power, Banking and Spanish, Chiropody and Photography, Electrical Engineering and Window-trimming, Poultry-raising and Chemistry."
"Well—well—" Babbitt sought for adequate expression of his admiration. "I'm a son of a gun! I knew this correspondence-school business had become a mighty profitable game …I didn't realize it'd got to be such a reg'lar key-industry! Must rank right up with groceries and movies. Always figured somebody'd come along with the brains to not leave education to a lot of book-worms and impractical theorists but make a big thing out of it. Yes, I can see how a lot of these courses might interest you."
"I can see what an influence these courses might have on the whole educational works. Course I'd never admit it publicly —fellow like myself, a State U. graduate, it's only decent and patriotic for him to blow his horn and boost the Alma Mater—but smatter of fact, there's a whole lot of valuable time lost even at the U., studying poetry and French and subjects that never brought in anybody a cent. I don't know but what maybe these correspondence-courses might prove to be one of the most important American inventions.”
“Price Policy explained,”[v] by Elizabeth Hernandez, The Denver Post, Dec. 3, 2020.
Angie Paccione, executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education: “The value in higher education at any level is earning a degree that lands its recipient a fulfilling job and maximizes their earning potential. “‘It’s critical that students get a credential,’ Paccione said. ‘Maybe not a bachelor’s, but you have to get something if you want to contribute to the economy, to the society and to your own livelihood and fulfillment. When you do, you earn a whole lot more money. One million dollars more in a lifetime, research shows.’”
“Getting Students Future Ready” – Bryan Johnson, Superintendent, Hamilton County Schools, Chattanooga, Tenn., Leaders to Learn From, Education Week, Feb. 19, 2020.
“A key piece [in developing a five-year] strategic plan is boosting students’ ‘future readiness,’ which the district defines as preparing them for jobs that pay well and are in demand. Some of those jobs require only short-term training and certification after high school.”
“An Untapped Path to Equity Runs Through Career-Technical Education,”[vi] by Susana Cordova (former DPS superintendent, now deputy superintendent in Dallas). “Education Leaders to Learn From,” Education Week, Feb. 17, 2021.
“In the Conrad graduating class of 2020, 90 percent of the early-college students graduated with associate degrees. And students at Conrad are able to select from five National Academies Foundation-certified academies… all of which are high-wage, high-demand jobs … Last year, two Conrad graduates went directly into the workforce in IT, making higher wages than an average first-year teacher… “
“Report Examines Competencies Needed to Succeed in Workforce,”[vii] Diverse Issues in Higher Education, Nov. 20, 2020.
A new report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) pinpoints the five most in-demand competencies across the labor market…
“In a nutshell, the report looks at what competencies are demanded in the labor market, as in what is judged as the highest level and most important competency that you need for your job,” said Dr. Megan L. Fasules, assistant research professor and economist at Georgetown University. “But also what competencies are rewarded monetarily, which have labor-market value.”
“If you want to make money, and that’s not the only reason you go to college, and if you’re thinking in terms of a career you got to think, ‘What does my specific field of study bring? Is it worth something?’” said Dr. Anthony P. Carnevale, director and research professor at Georgetown, co-author of the report.
“It Pays To Be An Apprentice: 63% More,”[viii]
An apprenticeship program that matches employers with community colleges has launched graduates into middle class careers and could be a way to address the flagging fortunes of Americans lacking four-year degrees, according to ublished Monday…
The study, released by Opportunity America and the Brookings Institution, found that graduates of the program earned salaries far exceeding their peers at community colleges.
Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education [FAME] graduates earn about $59,164 one year after completing the program — 63% more than non-FAME graduates (others from similar backgrounds who had chosen similar careers), who earn around $36,379. After five years, FAME graduates were earning about $98,000, 86% more than non-FAME participants, who earned about $52,783.
“Devos touts administration's education proposals,” Politico, March 5, 2020.
Trump's budget requests a nearly $900 million increase for career and technical education programs, which the White House has pitched as a way to expand vocational education in high schools. The proposal stands out as an area with potential for bipartisan action given the broad support that career education programs enjoy on Capitol Hill.
"We know that in too many communities and too many states, career and technical education was sort of put on the back burner for the last two or three decades," DeVos said Wednesday. "That is changing. And the where I've seen the most promise and the most success is in those communities and in those regions where employers get together with educators and they collectively work on what the possibilities are for the students in that region or in that community, and put together relevant curriculums."
[See Addendum A for more on the business community designing curriculum (and cutting time spent in class) for high school students.]
“Nederland Middle/Senior High to offer outdoor career classes,”[ix] by Amy Bounds, Daily Camera, Oct. 7, 2020.
“Nederland students soon will have class options that include rock climbing, snow science, wilderness ethics and backcountry navigation.”
Nederland science teacher Daniel Wade “said the work included ‘picking the brains’ of industry contacts to see what skills and certifications students would need.”
“A student who wanted to work in ski patrol, for example, would need to know snow science, have avalanche training certifications and have the background to take Emergency Medical Technician community college classes, he said. ‘They could go straight to careers or need to have minimal post-secondary work to get there. It saves kids a ton of money.’”
“The New Reality of Career and Technical Education,”[x] by Kimberly Green, School Administrator, AASA, August 2018.
“This research also highlighted that students and their parents not involved in CTE want more of the opportunities that CTE has to offer. Eighty-six percent of parents say they want their child to learn more real-world skills in high school, while 82% of those enrolled in CTE report being satisfied with their ability to learn those skills, compared to only 52% of non-CTE students.”
“An illustration of career and technical education,” Politico, Sept 30, 2019.
“The Education Department released a new interactive data story that illustrates career and technical education in American high schools and outcomes for students who participate in such programs ... Eight years after their expected graduation dates, students who focused on CTE courses in high school had higher median annual earnings than students who did not.”
“Helping Workers Displaced By the Covid-19 Economy,” by Tamar Jacoby, The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 19-20, 2020.
“But there’s also good news: The last decade or so has seen a revolution in how we prepare people—high-school students, college goers, midcareer adults and others—for the labor market. These changes have touched almost every corner of American job-focused education and training…
(Jacoby is the president of Opportunity America, a nonprofit.)
“Oxford’s 2020 word of the year?”[xi] by Jennifer Schuessler, The New York Times Co., Nov. 22, 2020.
Katherine Connor Martin of the Oxford Languages noted “the most common collocates (as lexicographers call words that appear most frequently together)… This year, Martin said, they were ‘learning,’ ‘working’ and ‘work force.’”
Addendum A – Let’s “not leave education to a lot of book-worms and impractical theorists”
What are the skills students need? Remember the Colorado Academic Standards? That is so YESTERDAY!
Today’s focus: teach what the market demands. Ask industry what we should be offering—in order to provide that “talent pipeline.” This is how business can influence what skills – the relevant skills – our students are really learning in that K-12 space. (Bold mine)
1) “Introducing the Bill that’s Reimagining High School,” Colorado Succeeds,[xii] SB 21-106 (Feb. 25, 2021)
“Now is the time for Coloradans to reimagine the high school experience. Through the Successful High School Transitions bill…, Colorado Succeeds and partners are working to make high school more engaging and relevant for students and connect more of them to high quality pathways to career and other postsecondary opportunities, while laying the groundwork for a strong, local talent pool for Colorado’s businesses…
“Colorado businesses – who were already facing talent pipeline challenges before the crisis – need to find talent solutions that set the economy on the path to recovery. Many employers view career connected learning as critical to their economic recovery to help address the talent pipeline, and this gives them the opportunity to provide a rich learning experience for students…
“The bill is also a win for talent pipeline development. It encourages business to invest in the training and support of young people. Through career-connected learning experiences, students can develop both the soft and technical skills needed in local industries, while businesses benefit from the new ideas and energy that interns and apprentices bring.”
2) “An Education Innovation That Beats Learning Pods,” by Max Eden, The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 5-6, 2020.
The Idaho Legislature “last year expanded the program to provide funding for apprenticeship and workforce development courses. [State Senator Steven] Thayn and his colleagues hope that in the future Idaho will have a Swiss-style education system in which high school students can opt in to a college track or train to acquire a specialized skill that the market demands.”
3) “Colorado educators and companies team up to attract high schoolers in biotech,” by Jensen Werley, Denver Business Journal, Feb. 28, 2020.
Meg John is vice president of the Colorado Bioscience Institute. When her CSBI member companies “were struggling with talent gaps in entry-level biotech manufacturing,” according to the article, they came together to explore solutions. “While many talent recruiting efforts for manufacturing are structured around the community college level, it was decided that talent building would be more effective if it started younger. The decision was to do a P-Tech program, which recruits eighth graders to spend high school taking relevant classes…
“How often do companies really have an opportunity,” said John, “to directly influence what their talent will look like? This is a unique opportunity to establish a relationship and influence what are the skills they’re really learning in that K-12 space. The beauty of P-Tech is it all comes together with all entities working together on what it looks like.”
4) "Thriving Work-based Learning Communities"
– from the website for Colorado Workforce Development Council [xiii]
“Successful WBL initiatives require a community working together to address the evolving needs of businesses and create a labor force with a flexible and continuous approach to developing and upgrading skills. Businesses need to partner with educational entities to design and deliver curriculum …”
5) “What High School Course Would You Design? - Microsoft, Verizon, and Other Big U.S. Companies Design Their Ideal High School Courses,”[xiv] b
“Today’s classrooms aren’t preparing students for tomorrow’s jobs."
“… A recent RAND report on reimagining the workforce development pipeline for the 21st century found that … just 33 percent of employers in a recent poll agreed that educational institutions were graduating students with the expertise to meet their needs.
“Education Week asked some of the biggest and fastest-growing companies in the United States how schools can prepare students to be an essential part of their future workforce.”
[Among courses imagined by companies, consider this from ServiceNow.[xv] No satire required.]
[i] Last month’s Education Week provides a useful example of this trend. An entire issue devoted to “Equity and the Future of Work.” Main articles: “Thanks to COVID-19, High Schoolers’ Job Prospects Are Bleak,” “The COVID-19 Economy Is Putting Vulnerable Students’ Career Prospects at Risk,” “How Virtual Learning is Falling Short on Preparing Students for Future Careers.” Shall we rename the publication: Economy Week?
[ii] See HB18 -1226 -See How the Colorado legislature expects CDHE to report “costs and outcomes.” “The act requires the department of higher education (department) to prepare an annual return on investment report of undergraduate degree programs and certificate programs offered at each state institution of higher education.”
Dec 31, 2020 — HARCOURT, BRACE AND COMPANY, INC. This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1926. The author died in 1951, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 60 years or less.
Chapter six: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Babbitt/Chapter_6
[iv] The survey was published by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/teens-feel-ready-for-college-but-not-so-much-for-work/2019/09#:~:text=The%20survey%20found%20that%2081,education%20at%20the%20Kauffman%20Foundation
[x] “Advance CTE, with support from the Siemens Foundation, commissioned a national survey to explore the attitudes of parents and students currently involved in career and technical education, as well as prospective CTE parents and students.” http://my.aasa.org/AASA/Resources/SAMag/2018/Aug18/Green.aspx
[xv] “Designing a High School Class.” From Service Now – Cloud Computing, by Tracey Racette Fritcher, global director, HR transformation.
Begins this way: “This class would focus on designing human-centric technologies and applications that will help organizations retain both customers and employees and run their businesses more effectively and efficiently. Students would learn skills critical for succeeding in a digital era from both a business (sales, profit and loss, customer service, workforce enablement) and technology (code development, data analysis, predictive analytics, AI and machine learning) perspective…”