Anthony Cody notes that the definition of education has become increasingly utilitarian, thus narrowing what is taught and learned only to the skills that make students college-and-career ready. Joy in learning, aesthetic delight in the arts, the intellectual pleasure of history and literature take a backseat to that which is marketable. Are we all meant to serve the needs of corporate America?
“One of the undercurrents fueling concerns about the Common Core is the relentless focus on preparation for “college and career.” Education has always had dual aspirations – to elevate mind and spirit, through the investigation of big ideas, and the pursuit of fine arts and literature, and the service of the economic needs of individuals and society. What we are feeling in our modern culture is the absolute hegemony of commercial aims, as if every activity that does not produce profit is under assault.
“And in our classrooms there is a parallel assault on activities that do not “prepare for college and career,” which has been redefined, in practical terms, as preparation for the tests that have been determined to be aligned with that goal. Preparation for college and career has begun to feel more and more like “preparation to make yourself useful to future corporate employers.”
Cody finds that Mario Savio’s famous rant in 1964 against the ties between the university and the corporations presaged what is happening today. Savio might as well have been speaking for the moms and dads of today when he said fifty years ago:
“There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels…upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!”
“In our classrooms, the use of standardized tests to measure and monitor learning, and the imposition of ever-more tightly managed and even scripted curricula, make teachers and students feel as if we are part of a machine. The canaries in the coal mine are the students who do not fit in. But our modern system has a pharmacological answer for that, as this recent New York Times magazine article reported that more than one in ten children between ages 4 and 17 are now diagnosed with ADHD, and many of them are medicated daily. That is 6.4 million children. Before the early 1990s, this number was less than 5%. What has changed? According to the report,
“During the same 30 years when A.D.H.D. diagnoses increased, American childhood drastically changed. Even at the grade-school level, kids now have more homework, less recess and a lot less unstructured free time to relax and play. It’s easy to look at that situation and speculate how “A.D.H.D.” might have become a convenient societal catchall for what happens when kids are expected to be miniature adults. High-stakes standardized testing, increased competition for slots in top colleges, a less-and-less accommodating economy for those who don’t get into colleges but can no longer depend on the existence of blue-collar jobs — all of these are expressed through policy changes and cultural expectations, but they may also manifest themselves in more troubling ways — in the rising number of kids whose behavior has become pathologized.”
“Our education system, in attempting to make everyone fit the same standardized mold, so as to be of maximum usefulness to future employers, is medicating those who don’t fit the mold.”
Cody ends with a veiled prediction that spring 2014 may see the biggest effort ever by parents to remove their children from standardized testing.