Educating for Democracy: Schooling and Rising Poverty

If the quality schooling that Obama aspires to becomes a reality, what kind of jobs will be available for highly educated students of the future?
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In a recent comment on my blog on school closings, I was challenged in my suggestion that a change in our tax structure would enable more people to get out of poverty by wealth redistribution. I pointed out that an increasing proportion of the population was falling into poverty while a small number, as little as 1%, was making vast sums of money and accumulating almost 40% of the nation's wealth.

The commentator insisted that the billionaires in this country had produced millions of jobs. Among these benefactors he cited Wal-mart, which, in my estimation, has not only lowered the standard of living for most of its employees but, through its cut-throat practices, destroyed hundreds of thousands of retail jobs by putting its competitors, in many cases small retail store owners, out of business. The average hourly wage of a Wal-mart employee is $8.23, well below the poverty line.

I believe the assumption that successful companies necessarily create jobs without taking into account their destruction of the jobs of their competitors needs to be questioned -- especially in the case of Wal-mart, whose policies have encouraged its low-paid workers to be subsidized through government programs such as food stamps and school lunches for their children.

Henry Ford explained that he gave his employees high wages so that they could afford to buy his products; Wal-mart reverses the process by paying such low wages that its employees can only afford to buy its products.

What has this to do with schooling? If the kind of quality schooling that President Obama has aspired to for students in the future becomes a reality, what kind of jobs will be available for the millions of highly educated students who graduate each year when most of the jobs being produced will be only suitable for people with a low level of education? This is why I'm skeptical about the President's "Race to the Top" program, which continues to follow some of the misguided policies of the Bush Administration in using high-stakes testing scores as the principle measure of academic success. These measures will not produce highly educated students but only those who are appropriately trained to work in Wal-mart.

A number of prominent educators, most notably Diane Ravitch, have warned the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, that the testing mania in the guise of accountability is producing bad schooling and low-quality teaching, but these criticisms seem to fall on deaf ears. At least if Duncan would publicly acknowledge "some reservations" about these tests and that their impact on schooling deserves investigation, there might be hope for positive change in the future direction of American Education.

Unfortunately, the people who will be involved in the drafting of the Common Core Standards for grades K-12 of the National Governor's Association and Council of Chief State School Officers will be, for the most part, not educators but business people who, like those from the Educational Testing Service, will be involved in planning even more testing and "Ed Tech" gimmicks as a substitute for sound educational practices. If you wish to make a comment about the future standards of education, please contact this website. The deadline for comment will be April 2nd.

I fear that this "deafness" to reason is not entirely inadvertent; although, I would like to believe that the President has the noblest of intentions, I think that the dirty little secret that most presidents have been aware of over the last forty years is that our economic system can never again produce sufficient high-quality jobs to fit the educational attainments of those who are properly educated and with them the end of the economic aspirations of future generations in this country.

Wal-mart employees do not need a college education for the work that will be available to them and the economic elite will not have to worry about competing for the good-paying jobs with young learners whose inferior, test-driven education will make it more unlikely, if not impossible, for them to climb "the educational ladder of opportunity" to which they aspire. The rungs of that ladder are rotting from a decaying economic system as schooling is being replaced for an increasing proportion of young learners with training for low-level low-paying jobs.

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