Saturday, December 4, 2010

What if...

...while moving away from educating students to take their place in a manufacturing economy we've inadvertently begun to educate them to take their place in a consumer driven market.

I was born and raised in a factory town.  My father, grandfather, and every uncle on my mother's side work their lives in them.  My first job was on the assembly line in the factory.  As a child, at least six major Bassett Furniture factories operated within ten miles of my house.  Today, none are left.  When people talk about the changing economy, I've seen first hand how quickly entire regions can be left behind.

Rightfully so, educators fear sending our children into a 21st century economy well equipped with 20th century skills.  So many of us are using the factory metaphor to drive home the point that the old way of thinking is dead.  Our students no longer leave school to enter a manufacturing economy. 

Unfortunately, much of what drives our economy today is consumption.  Remember the tax rebates of 2008.  The administration knew that people needed to spend more money to spur the economy.  I remember the announcement (maybe around 2005) that iPods would have video; the folks at Apple introduced a product for which they needed to create a market.  Unemployment is up, tax revenue is down, schools are struggling to find funding, but technology and consumer products still have a market. 

I remember the factories used to offer good wages to high school students.  Often, these wages were good enough to make us think that we could make a really good living from the factory-- unless we looked at the wages earned by folks who'd been there for 20, 30, or 40 years; unless we could see by the end of the 1980s that an economy based on manufacturing wouldn't last through our working careers.

I hope that as educators we aren't fooling ourselves with progress.  What if instead of producing a productive labor pool for the manufacturing economy we are simply switching cogs and moving to produce effective consumers to drive the economy of consumption?  What if instead of public education being the "farm system" creating obedient and responsible workers for business owners we are now becoming the "farm system" for the new entrepeneurs who need a market for their products?

Are we teaching students to be productive and responsible citizens of the 21st century world or domesticated, obedient consumers in a global economy?


  1. There is nothing inadvertent in turning the vast majority of people into passive consumers. Once you begin to really educate and empower an entire population, they begin to look for equality and equity. Clearly the people who make $20,000 a minute are not willing to have those who make $20,000 a year share.
    As teachers we are doing exactly what we are expected to do by society, including being scapegoats.

  2. Great post(enough back patting already)
    This echoes of our conversations of student-teacher relationships. I think if we focus on developing kids as people they will be able to navigate things, even when the factory closes down.

    On Saturday mornings we watch cartoons in my house and my 3 yr old grabbed the remote this AM hoping to find the classic Rudolph story we watch awhile back. She pressed all kinds of buttons managing to turn both the TV and DVR on but only found found an episode of Toot and Puddle. She got farther than my 78 yr old dad would have gotten. As I sat with her and watched(Rudolph), the show was fine...but the commercials not so much. Worse would be if she just picked this remote up without me around. What might she end up watching or even "choose" to watch. I will soon have to set up the password feature so she doesn't catch an episode of Burn Notice or Its Always Sunny in Philidelphia.

    The lesson is that what we need kids to have is not a static place. But also we can't hand them the remote too soon. Teachers should play a role. As entrepreneurs and business increasingly influence gov't and schools we ought to beware we don't just hand them the remote either. Even if they convince us we are failing by comparing us to some other country. They might have us only watch commercials and want to consume.

    Also important to note that it was good my 3yr old didn't just hand me the remote and tell me to turn it on but she didn't recognize she shouldn't watch TV without me either. She should have asked me to teach her to use the remote. I'd try to set her up to understand what remotes do rather than how to use this specific one...or she will be doomed like my Dad. When anything changes with his system(new remote or TV) it's like the factory closes down.

    We should focus on some constants. Kids will always be kids. People always people. Teach kids to deal with people in a positive and effective way. Teach them how to learn and adapt. Teach them they shouldn't watch some shows. That they will later have to help others with the romote.