Tearing Down the Ivory Tower: a Defense of Vocational Education

Published on Worker’s Action/Education, by Arthur Posey, July 8, 2013.

In 2012, Diane Ravitch wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal that highlighted the many ways in which the over-emphasis on standardized testing has created a crisis in the education system. According to Ravitch, one of the many problems with the No Child Left Behind Act is that since “the law demanded progress only in reading and math, schools were incentivized to show gains only on those subjects. Hundreds of millions of dollars were invested in test-preparation materials.” This, in turn, created a “nightmare for American schools, producing graduates who were drilled regularly on the basic skills but were often ignorant about almost everything else.”  

Ravitch’s article does a fantastic job of explaining, in laymen’s terms, something that education insiders already know: in the last two decades, the priorities of the contemporary education system have completely shifted. Students have been reduced to passive consumers of information. They sit in a classroom for however many years, memorizing information until it’s time to spit out a diploma—at which point they forget most of what they learned. What was once intended to provide people with options has now become a system used to train future corporate yes-men … //

… The problem is that there’s so much cultural emphasis on the importance of higher education that students are not encouraged or incentivized to pursue these alternatives. Many students are either unaware these options exist or they’ve been told by teachers and guidance counselors that they’d be squandering their academic potential. Our students are told from a young age (by their parents, their teachers and the media) to believe that a college degree is an essential prerequisite of a comfortable, middle-class lifestyle. This cultural myth persists, despite mounting evidence (like the rising rates of debt and unemploymentamong college graduates) that our education system is broken and needs to be reformed.

Call me crazy, but I want an education system that scoffs at SAT scores and throws out the standardized tests; an education system that encourages people to do what they love, regardless of what their paycheck is going to look like. Mostly though, I want an education system that starts from the assumption that the best place to learn about the real world is the real world; the same way that the beach is the best place to learn about the ocean, or New York is the best place to learn about the Empire State Building.

And frankly, I don’t really think that’s asking too much.
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Links:

Student Charged With Honor Code Violation for Speaking About Her Rape, on AlterNet/Education, by Tara Culp-Ressler, July 8, 2013: University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill also moved the woman’s attacker to a dorm close to hers. The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill is now facing a  third federal investigation into its sexual assault policies. This time, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is investigating allegations that UNC inappropriately retaliated against Landen Gambill, a sophomore at the university, after she publicly came forward about her rape …;

5 Sneaky Ways Fundamentalists Are Trying To Slip Christian Creationism Into America’s Public Schools, on AlterNet/Education, by Rob Boston, July 3, 2012:
Many public schools in America do all they can to avoid teaching evolution.

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