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The scariest thing about the education deform debate is that it almost a carbon copy redux of the debate we had 100 years ago. At it's core, the debate is about what education is for. Is it simply to supply a labor force for industry, or to provide thinking, productive citizens? In early 1900, two progressive heroes stood on opposite sides of the debate, just as progressives stand on opposite sides today. In the 1900's, the wrong side won and we have been trying to recover ever since.

   The following is somewhat of an oversimplification of very, very complex issues, but it is an attempt at a snap shot of the day. We had just come out of the Civil War. Labor was no longer free. The industrial revolution still required cheap, if not free labor. The great industrial powers of the country pushed for a vocational bent to public education. They had an ally in one of our heroes, Booker T. Washington.

   Washington, believed in incremental improvement of freed slaves, now in the labor force and world of education. Today, you will find many of his kindred spirits in the reform movement. You will hear things like we need to have more vocational schools. An electrician or plumber can make twice as much as a teacher, at least, we need to steer our underprivileged towards these fields as a stepping stones.

 100 years ago, that was the stance Booker T.Washington took. Advancement of black and poor prosperity was best achieved by becoming economically self sufficient first. The industrial powers were all too happy to co-opt this progressive hero in order to advance their desire for a vocational philosophy.

  The stage was set. The poor and the brown were given a rudimentary education, meant to best prepare them for an industrial work force. Meanwhile, the privileged of this country have also gotten a broader based education grounded in critical thinking and problem solving. The vocational jobs, respectable, honorable, and admirable as they were, did not produce our next generation of leaders. The system guaranteed that the white, privileged folks who wrote the first curriculum for the poor and the brown, would be the same people that write the curriculum for every generation.

   On the other side of the equation we had W.E.B DuBois. He knew that limiting education to only advancement of economic status meant limiting a persons ultimate human potential. Those first architects of education had Washington's face to hide behind as they intentionally limited the human potential of generations of students.

   We have to realize it is this century of history we have to overcome. We cannot fall back into the trap of "back to the basics" and just give them a vocational education so they can make good money. Public education has to create our next generation of leaders. Public education has to create our next generation of curriculum writers. We are letting the Booker T. Washington's of the world win again, and start the 100 year struggle all over again. In his day, the wealthiest men and most powerful politicians poured funds and influence into Washington's cause of black accommodation. It is eery how similar it is today.

Originally posted to AlecMN on Sun Jul 01, 2012 at 07:27 PM PDT.

Also republished by Barriers and Bridges.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Immediate vs. the Future (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FG, nomandates

    I believe this is a conflict between immediate need vs. future need.

    When a people are recently freed as in the case of Washington's generation, they need to sustain themselves. They need to stand on their own two feet and be self-reliant. Hence, Washington wanted education to be a means to make black men self-reliant.

    It is only when a people have economic sustainability that they can fund higher education without falling into debt or other hardship. Hence, it takes one generation to build the dream through hardwork and labor (Washington's generation) and another generation to live the dream by investing in education to reach self-actualization and one's fullest potential.

    We see this with many immigrant groups. I will give you the example of my parents. My parents worked hard in dismal and petty jobs so that I could go to college. They were new to this country and did not have sufficient resources to reach their potential so they made sure that I could.

    We must also consider the fact that not everyone is meant for college. Some people would be better carpenters, plumbers, mechanics than say teachers, lawyers, physicists.  Society would greatly benefit with a good mechanic over say a bad teacher. The bad teacher will destroy the lives of many students. The good mechanic will repair the automobiles of his/her clients to optimal satisfaction and efficiency. In other words, we are meant to do what we are good at.

    Anyway good diary. I liked it very much.

    •  Washington also made a strategic error. (0+ / 0-)

      His belief was that African-Americans would be permitted to work in the trades.  

      In the South, the folks with money were perfectly content to act as a colony of the North, provided that they could keep blacks subservient and poor whites desperately poor.  Even if there were no color bar, the South's needs for the trades was quite limited to begin with, and social separation served to sequester black tradesmen within their communities.  

      In the North, the color bar keeping blacks from the trades was brightly drawn and fiercely guarded.  

      "Politics should be the part-time profession of every citizen who would protect the rights and privileges of free people and who would preserve what is good and fruitful in our national heritage." -- Lucille Ball

      by Yamaneko2 on Mon Jul 02, 2012 at 10:18:49 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  asdf (4+ / 0-)
    The function of the university is not simply to teach bread-winning or to furnish teachers for the public schools or to be a center of polite society; it is, above all, to be the organ of that fine adjustment between real life and the growing knowledge  of life, an adjustment which forms the secret of civilization.
    ~W.E.B. DuBois

    Light is seen through a small hole.

    by houyhnhnm on Sun Jul 01, 2012 at 08:05:59 PM PDT

  •  yes, and yet (0+ / 0-)

    the model of everyone graduating high school and going straight to college is not that great of a model to start with.  Instead of finding ways to better fit students into that model, we should be looking for better ways to accommodate non-traditional students who don't fit that model.

    all morals are relative, but some are more relative than others.

    by happymisanthropy on Sun Jul 01, 2012 at 08:15:46 PM PDT

    •  And who decides happy? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dave in Northridge

      Who decides who goes on which track? The kids? Expect a 14 year old to decide what they want their next 40 years to look like when we don't even trust them to drive?

      For the poor there will be plenty of pressure for them to choose the vocational track. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but our leaders, generally, come from a more professional track. Our decision makers don't come from vocational tracks.

      So who gets to decide where we sort our students and when? I guarantee you. Absolutely guarantee you, that if we tracked students, vocational schools would be in the urban core, and they would be poor, and brown. There might be one college track school in the urban core. Maybe.

      Meanwhile, we would continue to give kids in the suburbs the best education, teach them to think. Teach them to reason. teach them to lead.

      Not everyone needs to or should go to college, but it should be their choice. You are talking about taking away choices in the guise of opportunities. You wanna start tracking kids at 13, 14 whatever then we have given up the ideal of an egalitarian society.

      We give up on the broad based, liberal arts education and we will have an even more ingrained social stratification than we have now!

      •  where did I say age 14? I didn't. (0+ / 0-)

        Please don't put words in my mouth, it makes conversation impossible.

        Consider that possibly the exclusion of graduates of good but non-Ivy universities from leadership is a big problem too.  The solution is not to send different people to Ivy Leagues, but to break the Ivy League hegemony itself.

        Every student should get a good high school education which should include critical thinking, arts, and vocational type classes.

        all morals are relative, but some are more relative than others.

        by happymisanthropy on Sun Jul 01, 2012 at 08:46:13 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Sorry (0+ / 0-)

          I have just heard too often the word "accommodate" students as a euphemism for something "less than". I believe every student has a right to a broad based, liberal arts education that prepares them to make whatever choice they want whether it be vocational, apprenticeship, university, college, or straight into the world of work.

          I apologize for misinterpreting what you were saying.

  •  I'm guessing "education deform debate" was (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dave in Northridge

    a typo, but it fits anyway.

    Because stupid people are so sure they're smart, they often act smart, and sometimes even smart people are too stupid to recognize that the stupid people acting smart really ARE stupid.

    by ZedMont on Sun Jul 01, 2012 at 08:25:36 PM PDT

  •  It's a nice piece of analysis, Alec (0+ / 0-)

    but it's much worse, as I said in a diary that sank like a stone on Saturday, Political Rhetoric (3): "Education reform?" STOP IT! Privatization or union-busting, please! What's especially wrong is that Democrats are involved, too.

    -7.75, -8.10; All it takes is security in your own civil rights to make you complacent.

    by Dave in Northridge on Sun Jul 01, 2012 at 08:52:09 PM PDT

  •  Their differences went beyond education. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Education was part of a larger discussion on race relations and how best for African-Americans to navigate the realities of post Civil War America.

    As during that point in our history, there is not a one size fits all solution. What may work in our rural areas may not address the needs of urban students and which may not reflect the suburban student's needs. It should be noted that with the rise of poverty rates in suburbia, we can no longer generalize that students in the suburbs are likely to be receiving the education they need.

    "There is nothing more dreadful than the habit of doubt. Doubt separates people. It is a poison that disintegrates friendships and breaks up pleasant relations. It is a thorn that irritates and hurts; it is a sword that kills.".. Buddha

    by sebastianguy99 on Sun Jul 01, 2012 at 09:12:58 PM PDT

  •  Both are necessary (0+ / 0-)

    We need to:

    (a) make higher education radically more affordable;
    (b) dedicate ourselves to creating a modern industrial base that can provide quality, meaningful well-paid work for those who won't be gong to college.  

    Either/Or is a false dichotomy, it has to be "and" to work.

    The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike from sleeping under bridges. ~ Anatole France

    by ActivistGuy on Mon Jul 02, 2012 at 12:42:10 AM PDT

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