Friday, January 21, 2011

The “College and Career Ready” Farce

Schools around the country are tossing out the old “College for All” slogan and replacing it with the popular Obama-school cliché, “College and Career Ready.”

However, when you get right down to it, “College and Career Ready” is really just another way to say “College for All.” Both use the same rhetoric and euphemisms: “high standards and expectations,” increasing “rigor,” and “20th Century skills.” The same standardized exams and the same punishments for schools and teachers are applied, whether our students are training for college or for a life of physical toil.

The implicit assumption is that career-readiness and college-readiness have the same requirements, which simply isn’t true. Paul Barton, of ETS, actually did a study that showed that non-college bound students do NOT need college preparatory courses. 69% of companies reject applicants as hourly production workers because they lack basic employability skills (e.g., attendance, timeliness, work ethic), compared with only 32% who reject them for inadequate reading and writing skills. Similarly, the U.S. Census Bureau found that the top three reasons for rejecting job applicants were bad attitude, poor communication skills, and lack of previous work experience. Grades in school were ninth.

The “Career and College Readiness” cheerleaders ignore the fact that living wage jobs can be obtained through career and technical education (CTE) programs, and through apprenticeships. They also ignore the fact that highly skilled technical jobs that require college degrees are easily exportable and that the cost of higher education is quickly becoming financially out of reach for those who are academically prepared. So even as we try to prepare our students for college, they may not be able to attend because of cost, and if they do attend (and incur huge debt), there is no guarantee that they will be able to find decent-paying employment in their field (thus consigning them to years or a lifetime of indebtedness).

Great Equalizer or Just Another Tool Of Capital?

All of this debate is predicated on the delusion that Education is the Great Equalizer. Yet most people remain in the same class as their parents, despite their education. Privileged families provide privileged opportunities for their children that allow them to excel within the education system, while lower income families, despite their best intentions, are incapable of providing the same material luxury and social connections that give privileged kids their advantage. Regardless of which misguided mission statement or pedagogical slogan we adopt, school is designed to and in effect does sort kids into the future leaders and financial rulers and their employees. There necessarily has to be winners and losers in this competition. Not everyone can become a boss, nor even a scientist.
Winniped General Strike, 1919 (Wiki Commons)

Rather than forcing all students into college preparatory classes, whether or not they have the requisite skills or interest, under the false assumption that this will get them a good job and make them wealthier than their parents, why not be honest about class and power and teach labor history so when they do enter the workforce it is with less naiveté and greater class solidarity than the preceding generation.

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