Education Reform for Business or Learning?

In a recent Diane Ravitch blog post she casts a doubtful eye upon the newly ubiquitous national education standards known as Common Core Standards.

While the article is a very interesting critique on how the Standards came to being, and what the process of their creation means to the course of education reform, what is, perhaps, more interesting are the threads of responses to the posting.

As of 8:00 AM Central Time, 4/24/2013, the top-most reply by a user named “Forrest” immediately illustrates one of the underlying reasons education reform struggles for success: the conflict between the interests of business and the interests education for the sake of education.

Like any endeavor – artistic, commercial, spiritual, or otherwise – successful endeavors typically begin with an intended direction, even if that direction is abstract, like trying to figure out the meaning on life.  What do we want public education to accomplish? Do we want public education to serve and feed the needs of business, do we want it to produce well informed, and good citizens, or do we simply want to expose students to learning for the sake of learning? Do these goals have to be mutually exclusive?

Unfortunately, the current pedagogy in higher education in the United States will also make this decision more difficult. We follow a very phalli-centric, male-oriented way of thinking in how we teach and make decisions in this country. To succeed in academia to the level of a PhD means distilling your vision of whatever you are studying to a very narrow view. Yes, there are institutions that have inter-disciplinary studies, but they are not as numerous as one would think.

Do we need people who are focused and know everything about subjects like nuclear engineering? Absolutely. But because we have so few inter-disciplinary studies in our educational system is the same reason we turn around after 50 years and discover how carbon emissions are dangerous, that hormones given to animals affect human beings, and that the disposal of plastics can lead to catastrophes like the Great Pacific Gyre.

So what will our great democracy determine is the will of the masses if and when the electorate is asked – on a region by region basis – what is most important? Serving the needs of business, or exposing students to learning for the sake of learning? And given how education reform is unfolding, will parents ever be posed this question in a forum that actually effects policy? Time will tell.