CARS HOMES JOBS
Op-ed column

Letting business shape K-12 curriculum is terrible idea

Sunday, December 9, 2012
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Op-ed column


Short-sightedness is a common problem shared by many of our leaders at the present time. Nowhere is this lack of leadership more noticeable than in the recently announced Tech Valley education/jobs initiative launched by GlobalFoundries and the Center for Economic Growth.

Letting a specific business interest shape the general public school curriculum is a spectacularly bad idea. Not even the big trusts in the Gilded Age made a move to tamper with the early K-12 curriculum. One could almost think that many business and educational leaders have adopted the idea that the purpose of public education is to serve short-term business interests.

The oil and automobile industries did not co-opt the public-school system for use as a farm system for future workers. Nor did U.S. educational leaders allow new telephone and radio and television technology to shape public schools to serve to their own interests.

Neither Andrew Carnegie, nor John Rockefeller nor Henry Ford presumed to influence the content children would receive in a K-12 education. They might have tried to do so if politicians and educators had let them get away with it. Somewhere, though, in their pre-computer wired brains, even the big business barons probably realized that the long-term interests of the nation, and of business itself, would be best served by school curricula that provided a broad general education centered on basic reading, writing, math and civic values.

What they’re thinking

Let’s try to understand the thinking behind the seductive Tech Valley Connection for Education and Jobs initiative. On Nov. 13, GlobalFoundries and the Center for Economic Growth announced a 13-county regional “laboratory” as a trial for innovative practices that include K-12 education. The idea is to cultivate a homegrown work force for the region’s growing tech sector. More than 20 local chambers of commerce, 111 school districts and 345 schools have signed on to the initiative.

Pardon me, but the purpose of public education is not to be a pipeline for private businesses and corporations whose worker needs change about as rapidly as it takes a laid-off 40-year-old worker with outdated skills to collect an unemployment check at public expense.

The purpose of the public school system is to provide a broad education so that a new generation can enter adulthood to serve the diverse needs of American society. We need lawyers, teachers and social workers in far greater numbers than we need narrowly educated early 21st century tech workers with skills that can be exploited by tech companies — skills that will probably be outdated in 10 to 15 years.

Since when has the basic task of public education at the K-12 level ever been to serve the needs of a particular sector of the business community for workers?

Looking ahead

Perhaps GlobalFoundries will even survive the competition in the tech industry so that in 15 years it isn’t scrapping area workers to bolster its “bottom line.” Look at the Schenectady economy to see what happens when one locally dominant company outsources its economic activities and profits.

Saratoga, Ballston Spa as well as Burnt Hills and Shenendehowa already provide many excellent and very trainable graduates for service in a wider society with diverse economic and social needs.

Perhaps instead of trying to shape the local public school curriculum to serve its business needs, GlobalFoundries should pay company money to develop some summer training programs for area students? That would be more appropriate than to try to impose their own narrowly focused business priorities on area public schools.

What is the real need to use area public schools as a “work force development laboratory?” Pardon me once again, but that is not a humanistic educational idea. Never was and never will be. It might be a good plan for community colleges and for company-funded summer school enrichment programs for high-school students, but not for the general K-12 educational system.

It is wonderful that students at Johnstown High School are starting real businesses before they have even graduated, just not on regular school time so that it distracts from their basic general education. Likewise, it is wonderful that students in Amsterdam are building “robots” that play basketball. It must be great fun, especially if it substitutes for class time better spent on reading, writing, math and learning to think clearly.

It is furthermore wonderful that students in Sharon Springs can do much of their school work on their individual computers in their classes. It certainly makes the school administrators look like they are on top of the newest commercializing tech trends.

Bad ideas

All these ideas are wonderful — that is, wonderfully BAD — ideas that educational leaders and community leaders should quickly abandon. Our public educational system is not to be treated as “a workforce development laboratory.”

Imagine shifting the whole discussion to examine the actual educational rationale for these practices. Not so many unelected leaders might then be quite so eager to jump so uncritically on the tech business bandwagon.

Specific vocational training for businesses falls outside the regular K-12 curriculum and it should stay outside the K-12 classroom. Allowing profit-motivated tech interests to shape public school K-12 curriculum is NOT a good idea. Genuine educators beware. Media people, too.

L.D. Davidson lives in Amsterdam and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.

 
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comments

December 9, 2012
12:18 p.m.
myshortpencil says...

L.D., you're wrong. It's not either-or but both. Public education must provide a broad education encompassing the arts, humanities, history, philosophy, and the basic skills of reading, writing and mathematics. It must also serve the needs of local businesses so students can earn a living from their education. Public schools need to be able to turn on a dime as the dynamics of the local economies change. This is why every public school needs to be different. Making them all the same is a recipe for stagnation and disaster. The more diverse the public school system, the stronger the nation. Forming partnerships with local businesses is not only prudent, it's essential.

December 9, 2012
2:02 p.m.
F_M4T8 says...

I agree with L.D.Davidson's concern.Even now at age 87,I remember gratefully many of the subjects I was taught in my public schools.History,music,art ,spelling,Shakespeare,French,Latin,grammar,Gilbert &Sullivan & many other subjects that have informed & enriched my life & that I may have missed with a more narrowly focused curriculum.
David A.Wasser,MD

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