I was responding to a few of the comments on my earlier rant about a post by a college student regarding welfare reform, when something struck me: in my post, I'm advocating education reform, especially promotion of critical thinking, but everywhere I turn, I see politicians attacking education funding. The latest jaw-dropper in my home state of Maine was the governor's proposal to extend high school by one more year (so that Maine students would be receiving the beginnings of college coursework before graduation), which sounds GREAT until you see the part where the governor refuses to actually fund this proposal. In other words, he would require local communities to foot the bill for this extra year. At the same time, he wants to reduce the number of available teachers. Meaning, teachers in Maine would do more work for the same pay, because there would be more work to do and fewer teachers to do it. Does this make sense? Only in the context of trying to actually limit students' access to education rather than expand it.
Let me explain my thinking a little. Paul LePage is genuinely in favor of education, but with certain caveats. He favors educating a workforce to do jobs, rather than educating people. There is a subtle, insidious difference. In LePage's mind, the education problem can be summed up thus: students in Maine graduate high school without sufficient skills to get a job. Now, let's be clear about this: I am in agreement with the need for Maine students to graduate with sufficient education to be able to get a job. But I am a great deal more concerned with Maine students are not learning the skills they need to function as thinking members of Maine and American society. And by that, I mean the ability to obtain and critically assess information they receive.
LePage's background is business. I know that one of his key concerns in looking at Maine's education system is that business cannot find sufficiently skilled individuals to fill higher-level jobs. Put bluntly, the smaht kids in Maine all leave for big cities where there are more opportunities, and that means that many opportunities that exist for people with higher education go unserved — which inspires some companies to look elsewhere for their workforce, and limits the interest of others when it comes to opening up shop in Maine. These are legitimate concerns, and I share them. But LePage's focus is too narrow, in my view. Where he would have our education systems churn out little worker-automatons, capable of running computer systems and centrifuges for the high tech and biomed companies he'd like to bring to Maine, I would have our education system churn out people who value Maine and work to see it prosper. And that sort of thinking does not come from a vocational school curriculum—it comes from a liberal arts college curriculum.
There are those who see "liberal" or "arts" and scream COMMIE!!! SHE'S A COMMIE TRYING TO BRAINWASH OUR KIDS! But as the product of a liberal arts college, I can definitively say that a curriculum that teaches students how to think, no matter what the subject matter might be, prepares students better for the job market than any technical college can for one reason: it makes them flexible. You see, you can get a degree in the latest and greatest manufacturing process, and 5 years down the line, it will be obsolete and all those grads will have to go back to school. Liberal arts colleges teach people how to learn — in fact, it prepares them to be constantly learning — which means it's more efficient. My own case in point: I have a degree in Anthropology with an English minor. Totally useless, right? In obtaining this degree, I studied paleontology, sociology, religious studies, art, English literature, history, political science, economics, and all sorts of related disciplines. I avoided math, biology, chemistry, physics, and so forth, except to the extent required for my freshman year (although I admit, some of these I'd placed out of due to AP classes in high school). But having learned how to learn put me in a good position to obtain a job as a medical editor for a publishing company despite having no background in medicine or science. I learned quickly — a trait I attribute specifically to having an education that required me to address a wide range of unfamiliar topics — and some 20 years later, biological science and medicine are my trademark topics for my editing career. But I can and will do other things. I've done marketing. I've done fiction. I've done blogging (not just here, either). I'm always up for a challenge and I have the confidence that I can learn what I need to learn, because I was taught how to learn. And this is exactly the kind of education that LePage's focus would suppress.
It's the kind of education, actually, that governments throughout the United States seem to be attempting to suppress. The only imaginable reason is that this sort of education promotes an attitude that questions authority, that looks beneath the "official explanation" to determine truth, that never accepts as fact without checking the evidence. Politicians hate that sort of thing, because it gets in the way of their pretty rhetoric. Facts are much more uncomfortable than sound bites. Especially when you're attempting to move the national dialogue in favor of specific interests, not necessarily the interest of the general public.
It is the foundation of fascism to have an unquestioning public that moves in lock-step with its governing bodies. I'm pleased to see we're not there yet by any stretch of the imagination. But I do not think that's for lack of trying. Do I really believe Paul LePage wants Maine to be a fascist state? No. I think he genuinely feels that the sort of education he's pushing will benefit Maine workers. But he cannot see Mainers as anything BUT workers, and that's a problem. Because the people of Maine (and the US) have the capacity to be much more than wage slaves. And without a real education, they will not realize that potential. LePage, as a business man, wants people to have jobs more out of concern for the prospects of businesses, rather than concern for the well-being (and I mean emotional and spiritual as well as physical) of the individual people themselves. He does not think that dissent, questioning, or individuality promote employment, and therefore seeks to limit education to providing only those qualities that he thinks employees should have. He is oh, so very wrong in that opinion. And so very misguided to try to limit the educational breadth of Maine schools.