I may be dim, but I don’t buy the premises upon which the debates (or actions) on our nation’s education policies have been made.
Instead, I see a variety of interests, shortcomings, and outright esoteric beliefs playing themselves out. It’s fascinating stuff for marketers to consider because it illustrates how convoluted and uncontrollable any “conversations” can become that might involve a brand. Exploring it might help us see what’s going on in the debate, too.
Here are three observations:
First, it’s accepted wisdom that education is the key to the middle class. It sounds good but it’s just not true. A ‘middle class’ positioned between the abject poor and stunningly rich was a creation of:
- Post-WWII production capacity (we were the only country with factories and a transportation network that hadn’t been reduced to rubble)
- Available workers (we’d lost so many in the war but had so many more people still at home)
- A pro-commercial success national character (no institutional class system meant everyone could aspire to succeed, and buying things was an overt symbol of such success) and, more than any of those points,
- A union movement that secured contracts for workers that paid them enough to step out of poverty.
The American middle class wasn’t full of people who were smarter or better educated than anyone else. They were luckier, perhaps harder working, and definitely better protected by unions that saw the opportunity to make demands if said workers were going to produce products for the entire world to consume.
Now, as the middle class disappears before our eyes, it’s not because they’re uneducated, but because those other qualities that made its existence possible are changing or are already gone. No amount of schooling will change those trends. To suggest otherwise is too glib and insulting, and it serves to “outsource” responsibility for addressing changes that are larger than any of us to each of us individually. It’s not only not fair but it’s not a reasonable policy decision.
Second, testing standards make for better educations. If you have kids in grade school you know that contrary to all of the testing, there are no standards anymore. Every kid succeeds, just differently. This was made crystal clear to me years ago when my daughter came home from third or fourth grade and explained that getting the exact answer in math wasn’t important; she’d been taught how to get close to it.
This is a huge flip-flop from the way education was administered not just in our past, but across the planet over the past few thousand years. The good news is that this means lots of kids who would have otherwise given up on schoolwork (and the life dreams commensurate with it) are sticking with it. The bad news is that we may be producing a new generation of future-workers who have a really skewed self-image and don’t possess the skills — functional or emotional — to deal with the trials and tribulations of adult life that should and will legitimately test them.
We can test them up the wazoo but it’s not really helping prepare them for life if they’re not being educated in an environment in which absolutes of fact and experience are acknowledged on a daily basis. There are a variety of group interests and personal biases at play on this one. Few of them have anything to do with (or expert knowledge of) education.
Third, and this is the biggie, teachers are responsible for their students’ success and should be held accountable for it. The corollary belief is that teachers’ failures to do so (and the unions’ work to protect said failed educators) are the problem in education today.
Both statements are purposeful, idiotic lies.
Holding teachers accountable for the success of every kid is like blaming a chef for how much or little people eat in a restaurant. Sure, the quality of the food matters in a meaningful and expansive way, but it’s only one of many variables that affect the outcome of a dining experience:
- What if somebody arrives already full?
- What if the other people at the table keep one another from eating?
- How about if the eater has a deep aversion to the type of food being served?
- What if the restaurant fixtures are filthy, decrepit, or don’t function?
Though there are most likely bad teachers at work here and there across the country, blaming teachers for circumstances that are far beyond their purview (let alone control) is as dishonest as telling workers that their only way of getting back into the middle class is to get an education.
Add on top of it the silly premise that every kid in class is going to succeed — we all know they won’t, even if we as parents hope and believe that our own kids will be among those who do — and you get a nonsense concoction of wrong premises, incorrect causes, mistaken targets, and foolish remedies. They’re all interrelated, confusingly so, and no debate about education will ever yield actual improvements until we step back from all of the political, philosophical, and personal biases and agendas and talk about reality.
And you think the conversations about your toothpaste or insurance brand are any more coherent?