It certainly was depressing last night to discover that the only reason I am standing in front of a classroom of eighth grade students day after day, year after year, is so at some point they can be delivered job ready to some employer.
Whatever happened to the loftier goals of teaching young people the thinking skills needed to succeed in life, the ability to function not only as members of a faceless workforce, but also as key components in directing the civic and political discourse of this country?
In one short paragraph during last night's State of the Union Message, President Barack Obama spelled out today's definition of high school education:
Tonight, I'm announcing a new challenge to redesign America's high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy. We'll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math -- the skills today's employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.
I have no problems with classes that focus on science, technology, engineering and math. Those courses are vital to the continued success of our nation.
That being said, not every student is a scientist or an engineer. Every student has the ability to participate in civic life, not as a drone who has to be told how to think by self-serving politicians catering to special interests, but as a citizen who can responsibly cast a ballot based on a more substantial knowledge of the issues.
Since the advent of No Child Left Behind, we have watched as courses in history, government, economics, and geography have received short change because they are not the subjects that are featured in the far-too-important standardized tests that have become the sole focus of every educational "reform" initiative.
Now it appears that we may also de-emphasize writing and reading skills in an effort to deliver a workforce that is so job ready that the private sector will no longer have to offer any training. To some, that appears to be the only reason public schools should exist.
The formula prescribed by the president in his State of the Union message is one that will condemn the students who attend public schools to lives as second class citizens, while their "betters," those who attend private schools that do not have to blindly follow this program in the never-ending quest for more federal dollars, are the ones who will end up climbing the ladder to success.
Meanwhile, the rest of the students, including the ones I teach, will have to depend on the generosity of business owners, with no guarantee that the jobs, no matter how well the students are prepared for them, are not going to be shipped overseas to save a few dollars.
My students deserve better than that, Mr. President. In this country, an education should not only be a pathway to a better job, but a pathway to a better life.