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Monday, April 7, 2014 02:45 pm

Wrong-headedness about schools

This morning Rich Miller over at Capital Fax.com responded to a recent report comparing Chicago charter schools outcomes to those at the city's neighborhood schools. 


[The] over-emphasis on taking tests (with the resultant uproar over what are likely quite meaningless results) and driving kids to attend college is philosophically wrong-headed, whether in Chicago or the suburbs or Downstate.


Don’t get me wrong here. I do not think kids should be discouraged from attending college, but why saddle a student with tens of thousands of dollars of debt just for the sake of having a so-so degree from a so-so university?


Why not foster the development of more high schools, charter or otherwise, that focus on tech/trade careers? Do you know how much operating engineers make?


* When a system’s entire focus is “100 percent college-bound” you’re not giving students nearly enough choices. Period.


Chicago has dropped its “zero tolerance” rules for those who cause a bit of trouble at schools. They realized that treating everybody and every incident the same was doing more harm than good. Schools do this all or nothing stuff way too much, and it always, always backfires.


Teach them to be good citizens. Teach them how to comprehend language and to do math. But give them choices in how to get there.


In a 2011 column titled The college game, I took up the same issue. With apologies to readers with long memories, I here repeat my conclusion.

Employers pay a premium to hire a degree-holder not because the degree is proof of competence. Rather, it certifies that the holder is compliant in the face of authority, is able to swallow meaningless facts about subjects she knows nothing about and spit them out again on command, can master arcane skills and complete pointless tasks on time – in short that she has proved herself to be prime clay for the corporate mold. 

For real work, however, college is arguably not the best, and certainly not the most affordable way for every young person to prepare, especially if that young person is inventive or eccentrically talented. (It is no accident that so many innovative firms throughout our proud industrial history have been founded and run by college dropouts.) We have no data that might show how investments in university educations pay off compared to investments in, say, first-rate technical schools a la Germany’s, or private corporate management academies, or apprenticeship programs because the latter scarcely exist in this country. You don’t have to have a college degree to see that maybe it’s time they did. 

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