Education or training?
By M. Stewart
“A nation that destroys its systems of education, degrades its public information, guts its public libraries and turns its airwaves into vehicles for cheap, mindless amusement becomes deaf, dumb and blind. It prizes test scores above critical thinking and literacy. It celebrates rote vocational training and the singular, amoral skill of making money. It churns out stunted human products, lacking the capacity and vocabulary to challenge the assumptions and structures of the corporate state. It funnels them into a caste system of drones and systems managers. It transforms a democratic state into a feudal system of corporate masters and serfs.”
This is the introductory paragraph of an essay by Chris Hedges titled Why the United States Is Destroying Its Education System. While the tone is a bit shrill for my tastes, I think Hedges critique of education is largely valid and accurate.
Let’s face it, the recent attack on teachers and public education is little more than a convenient political strategy for right-wing politicians who realize they can cash in on playing to the lowest-common-denominator of the electorate—the very people who need education the most but who wish to validate their own lack of it by sucking up to the rich. Anyone who can think past his nose understands that the attack is a diversion that seeks to make teachers the scapegoats and provide cover for those actually responsible for the economic and budgetary crises.
“Training” is a more reasonable goal for the general public, and politicians and school administrators understand that training can be accomplished by sitting in front of a computer. Teachers really can be replaced by education technicians. Moreover, I am told that these changes are inevitable. It could be that the ideal worker is a trained drone unable to think beyond its program. Imagine Mary Shelley’s monster, but one that does not aspire to be human. I'm exaggerating, of course, but you get the point. Andrew Carnegie was misguided when he built all those public libraries. It never occurred to him that one day there would be a hoard of politicians who, claiming the moral high ground, would cut off funding for books.
At one time the liberal arts and sciences provided the foundation of public education. These days it’s not easy to justify the study of literature, history, philosophy, music, art and culture to anti-government politicians and their corporate masters. As such, my kind may soon be replaced by machines and machine operators in the name of efficiency, profit, and digital outcomes. Then again, maybe not. The future is never quite as clear as we imagine, and too many people imagine the worst.
But no matter what the future brings, you won’t see me whining and crying about it. Times change, and when the time comes for me to go, I’ll go knowing that I did my part in my time. We dare not insist on outliving our usefulness to the world.Who knows? Education may once again become the exclusive domain of the idle rich, who, bored with money-making, will demand interesting, thoughtful, conscious lives for themselves and their children.
And everything that happened before will happen again.