Last week, I had the good fortune to talk to a gifted teacher at Brebeuf High School who teaches a course in digital literacy: not “how to” use or program a computer, but how to navigate the Internet–how to recognize “click bait,” how to understand and use social media, how to beware of confirmation bias….in short, critical thinking for a digital world.
File under: Surely you jest.
The latest, widely-reported “initiative” from former Governor and current President of Purdue Mitch Daniels is an “innovative” method of financing college educations: have private individuals “invest” in a student in return for a portion of that student’s eventual earnings.
The impetus for this brilliant idea, according to Daniels, was concern over student loan debt. How this would improve the situation is unclear; owing your “patron” is unlikely to be any less burdensome–or less costly– than owing the bank. (If we were really interested in addressing student debt, we’d pass Elizabeth Warren’s bill and lower interest rates, or follow Germany’s example and provide free public education through college.)
And echoes of feudalism aside, this does raise a few questions. Who, for example, is going to “invest” in a philosophy degree? (Oh, I forgot: Mitch and his pal in Wisconsin, Scott Walker, don’t value a “search for truth” or a liberal arts education. They’re all about “job training” and generating more worker bees…)
Young people used to pay for their passage to the New World by promising to work for a certain number of years for an employer who would finance the voyage. This was called “indentured servitude.” Indentures couldn’t marry without the permission of the employer, and their obligation to labor for their “owner” was enforced by the courts. Owners could buy and sell indentured servants’ contracts and the right to their labor.
This raises some fascinating possibilities: while it’s unlikely the proposed contracts to finance an education would include a right to approve marriages, could the “investor” require the student to choose a job that paid more rather than a lower-paid one that the student preferred?
Could the investor “sell” the contract at a profit if the student did well and the negotiated percentage of her income represented a better-than-anticipated return on investment?
Could the investor require his “investment” to abstain from smoking, drinking and other risky behaviors that might threaten the duration of the student’s work life?
Actually, this bizarre proposal suggests that America is overdue for a discussion of what constitutes an investment–and especially about the difference between public and private investments.
Believe it or not, Mitch, that philosophy major is a good public investment, even if it doesn’t make much sense to the rich guy looking for a kid who’ll be his annuity.
One hundred and sixteen million dollars. That’s the amount that Education Week reports will be made available this year to Indiana’s voucher schools. Needless to say, that’s also the amount that will be taken away from Indiana’s public schools.
Two new reports detail the exponential growth of the state’s school voucher program: One is the annual report issued by the Indiana Department of Education, the other comes from the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy, which is based out of Indiana University’s School of Education.
The article notes that Indiana has been steadily expanding its voucher program since it was first created in 2011.
Recent changes include raising the threshold on income eligibility, lifting the participation cap on the program, and opening the program up to students who were already enrolled in private schools. For example, the legislature passed a bill in 2013 making students zoned to schools graded “F” in the state’s accountability system eligible for vouchers even if they had never attended their local public school.
For the current school year, fewer than 50 percent of students in the voucher program had previously attended a public school. In other words, we taxpayers have generously taken over the cost of private schooling for parents who had previously been footing their own bills. At the same time that our public schools–especially in urban areas–are being starved of resources.
Voucher programs in Indiana and Ohio have some of the least restrictive income-eligibility requirements in the country.
And I’m sure it’s just a coincidence in our “buckle of the bible belt” state, but 94% of the schools participating in the voucher program are religious schools.
Honest to Goodness. Indiana.
Maybe I should just join that group that’s being sent to Mars.
According to Think Progress,
An Oklahoma legislative committee overwhelmingly voted to ban Advanced Placement U.S. History class, persuaded by the argument that it only teaches students “what is bad about America.” Other lawmakers are seeking a court ruling that would effectively prohibit the teaching of all AP courses in public schools.
The sponsor of the legislation, one Dan Fisher, belongs to a group called the “Black Robe Regiment” which argues “the church and God himself has been under assault, marginalized, and diminished by the progressives and secularists.”
I hate to inject snark into this deep theological debate, but–if God exists, and is the personal, all-knowing deity who favors some athletic teams over others, sends hurricanes to punish gays and otherwise demonstrates fearsome omnipotence–wouldn’t He (and believe me, this version of God is all male) be able to take care of Himself? Could such a deity really be “diminished” by people teaching accurate American history?
But I digress.
The Black Robe Regiment also attacks the “false wall of separation of church and state,” and claims that a “growing tide of special interest groups is indoctrinating our youth at the exclusion of the Christian perspective.”
Talk about projection!
So here we are in the 21st Century, with a Wisconsin governor who wants to replace university education with job training, and an Oklahoma legislature that wants to replace high school education with religious indoctrination.
I understand that crazy people have always been among us. I can handle that. What I want to know is who the hell elects these people?
A University of Wisconsin website describes the Wisconsin Idea as “the principle that the university should improve people’s lives beyond the classroom.” The University’s mission statement has long included the following language: “basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth.”
According to AP and several other news outlets, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker–in addition to cutting $300 million from the University’s budget–
had wanted to insert language in the budget stating the university’s mission was “to meet the state’s workforce needs.” He wanted to remove language saying UW’s mission is to “extend knowledge and its application beyond the boundaries of its campus” and to “serve and stimulate society.” He also wanted to remove the statement “Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth.”
When the proposed changes became public, the enormous blowback obviously took the Governor by surprise, and he backed off, initially suggesting the change was “a drafting error” that hadn’t been caught.
The New York Times and other media sources immediately debunked that lame excuse. As a blogger at Daily Kos wrote:
First of all, today I obtained copies of the original records from the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau’s drafting office, which show that there was a long chain of correspondence during which the Walker administration actually proposed deleting the Wisconsin Idea. The records also reveal that numerous officials within the administration proofed and approved of deleting the Wisconsin Idea.
Second, this wasn’t “somehow overlooked” by University of Wisconsin officials. They objected on several occasions to it, but the Walker administration refused to back down.
As the Times noted in a scathing editorial, “It was as if a trade school agenda were substituted for the idea of a university.”
Scott Walker is emblematic of the anti-intellectualism that is so rampant on the American Right. He is one of the (far too many) shallow and ambitious politicians who think education and job training are synonymous, that scholarly research and the “search for truth” are elitist non-essentials, and that humans don’t need to know anything that isn’t immediately useful for obtaining gainful employment. They’d have handed Socrates that cup of hemlock without thinking twice.
After all, if people are allowed to search for truth, they’ll ask inconvenient questions. They’ll challenge the martinets. They might even see themselves as citizens rather than obedient consumers.