To the Editor:
Is education’s foremost mission to train the state’s workforce? Or is it to help us improve our lives? It’s the former, according to the industrial model implicit in much of the United States’ current educational policies. In that model, education is just another industrial sector with the job of manufacturing skilled labor.
Educators in the United States have yielded the driver’s seat to this industrial outlook without giving it enough thought. Doing so keeps many educational leaders and policymakers from making decisions that further their own values and their students’ needs.
America’s existing economic infrastructure is partially to blame for our many social, economic, environmental, and geopolitical problems. If there is cause for optimism in education, however, it is that so few people would choose an educational career that requires training students merely to fit the predetermined roles required by the status quo. Instead, we, as educators, hope our students will participate in the intelligent redirection of society.
It is true that a healthy economy is a public good. It is equally true that this good is not served when students, educators, and policymakers treat each other chiefly as servants to the business-as-usual workaday world of adults. It serves the public good when our various professions, occupations, leisure activities, and on-the-ground pursuits are energized by educational institutions that are cultures of imagination and growth, regardless of their diverse aims and emphases.
Every child should have the opportunity for an education that fronts growth, emotional development, imaginative engagement, aesthetic vitality, responsibility, and care. Let us hope that this idea still has the power to adjust the attitudes and practices of those determining educational policies.
Professor of Philosophy and Environmental Studies
Green Mountain College
A version of this article appeared in the January 20, 2016 edition of Education Week as Education Must Broaden Growth of Social Infrastructure