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Your Opinion: Thoughts on education -- Part 1

Dear Editor:

“Educate or vocate?” Coining a term, Jeanie Abbot (News Tribune Sept. 20) focuses on the central issue which underlies the much-heralded academies-model presently being planned for Jefferson City high school students.

The attempt is to create a high school graduate ready to assume a spot in the workplace, largely serving late 20th and 21st century technology, as Abbot would like to see; “focus on pursuing a career,” the plan calls it. How did we come to such a pass, so that educators are poised to ditch traditional learning for seven, self-contained academies, only one of which is given (partly) to traditional learning.

During the 20th century, schools became the hope of millions of parents wishing to see their children become more successful and secure than they. In the middle of that century the G.I. bill, following WW II, led many, ultimately, to successful careers; still later, the baby boom sustained growth of all kinds, including high schools and universities.

The seventies saw the economy slow, so that educational institutions experienced hard times, with the result that, among other things, the effectiveness of schooled learning came to be questioned. Educational giants such as John Dewey came to be replaced by business giants such as Lee Iaccocca, thus leading to the apparent but incorrect notion of educator as synonymous with business tycoon. Such educational values led us to where we in Jefferson City are today: to educate or vocate as Abbot put it.

Knowledge gained in high school should be relevant to student lives, we are told, accomplished in the plan by elevating corporate above educational priorities, stationing education as an adjunct to the labor market. Traditional education has always run counter to this, teaching that schools are meant to be transmitters of Western culture and intellectual traditions.

But today we hear that to be relevant, education’s chief task is job preparation: as president of the Board of Education, Joy Sweeny says (News Tribune (Sept. 20, A3), an environment in which it is adolescents who “select the kind of learning they want to achieve. ...” At the same time, a call for excellence, meaning more often than not, a rigorous science and math curriculum, that is, mastery of technique, is paramount, in today’s jargon, vocational education.

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