And So It Begins

Duck and cover: It’s a new year, with a new session of Indiana’s General Assembly. Hoosiers will be spared the chaos we are witnessing at the federal level, but what emerges isn’t likely to be pretty.

According to the Indiana Capitol Chronicle, our legislative overlords have a number of priorities–among them, continuing their focus on public education, aka telling educators what they can and cannot do in their classrooms. In addition to fiscal and personnel concerns, the Chronicle reports that

Republican state lawmakers have also hinted at the return of a contentious “curriculum transparency” bill that would limit classroom discussions about race, as well as a bill that seeks to prohibit sexually-explicit content in school library books. Versions of both bills sparked widespread debate during the 2022 session, but both failed to pass.

Top GOP legislators are additionally pointing to a draft “Don’t Say Gay” that could ban Indiana teachers from holding classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity.

I will forego my usual rant about these mean-spirited culture-war assaults to describe an (equally misplaced)  impending effort to “improve” high school curricula.  The article quotes Speaker of the House Todd Huston, who wants lawmakers to “reinvent” that curriculum, and responses to that effort  by the “usual suspects.”

Longtime chairman of the House Education Committee, Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, said the state’s high school curriculum needs to better prepare students to enter the workforce and should include greater emphasis on the importance of post-secondary education.

Part of that could include making math “more relevant” by tying components like financial literacy, simple interest and mortgage rates into coursework, he said. Other options include more apprenticeship programs — and making those types of opportunities more easily count towards a student’s diploma requirements.

Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner has also doubled-down on the importance of adding additional work-based learning opportunities for students and making it easier for high schoolers to access post-secondary education credentials before graduation.

I am so tired of these persistent efforts to redefine education as job training.

Let me begin by saying I have absolutely nothing against job training, practical skills, or the transmittal of “useful knowledge.” The inculcation of skills and information required to obtain and keep employment is clearly an important endeavor–both for the individual and for society–and the increasingly technical nature of work in the 21st Century often necessitates a significant amount of training.

But both individuals and society pay a steep price when we substitute the transmittal of useful knowledge for education.

It isn’t just Indiana. On college campuses, the years since the Great Recession have been brutal for almost every major in the humanities, and for the social science fields that most closely resemble humanistic ones — sociology, anthropology, international relations and political science. Technology and engineering have gained at the expense of the humanities (and with them, majors in things like sports management and exercise studies…)

That emphasis on job training and the neglect of subjects long thought to be necessary to an individual’s ability to live a good life is also reshaping high school curricula.

When an “education” is limited to the transmission of technocratic skills–when we are teaching students how to derive the one correct answer to that math problem or the one correct way to program that computer–there is a very real danger that we are creating a culture in which every issue has a “right” answer and a “wrong” answer, a prescription for disaster in a world where ambiguity and complexity require careful analyses grounded in a knowledge of history, philosophy and science abetted by critical thinking and communication skills.

Life in the 21st century will require today’s students to do more than find a job and reconcile their bank accounts. They will have to wrestle with confounding ethical and moral questions. They will  be challenged to cope with social change, to work with different people having different perspectives, and to appreciate new insights. It will require them to fulfill the obligations of citizenship.

At best, a real education can only provide young people with a “tasting menu,” a sampling of the intellectual riches that generations of scholars and thinkers have amassed. But ideally, that sampling should do three things: foster a thirst for lifetime learning; give them a foundation for understanding the complexities of the world in which they must function; and inculcate an appropriate intellectual modesty–a recognition that there is infinitely more to know.

We are cheating students when we fail to at least introduce them to the intellectual and cultural products of those who have gone before. Making a living isn’t remotely the same thing as making a life.


  1. Instead of listening to the Indiana Chamber and Mitch Daniels, Indiana “lawmakers” need to let educators “adjust” the curriculums.

    I forgot that lawmakers control most public universities’ Board of Trustees, and Ivy Tech gets plenty of oligarch-controlled appointees to their individual and collective boards.

    Furthermore, many professors now lack tenure, so their speaking ability has been further neutered.

    This environment has been created over decades. The problem is education for the future should be created at a global level because it’s truly a global economy.

    For instance, our Pentagon controls foreign policy – causing friction with the Indo-Pacific and European regions. However, we need them just as much as they need us. One look at the semiconductor industry today will enlighten you.

    Because we want to advance our global hegemon as top dog, we have now nationalized the semiconductor industry. The new plants built with taxpayer dollars (subsidies) can’t find enough contractors to build the specialized buildings.

    Furthermore, the plants require engineering supervisors; we are short thousands of employees short of running the two new facilities.

    Instead of globalizing these facilities and collaborating with ALL countries to fill these future jobs, we are nationalizing (pure reactionary policy-making) them.

    As Sheila and many other thinkers have warned, our curriculums need revising, but listening to the oligarchy is wrong-headed. Listening to Trumpism is wrong-headed.

    Capitalism is sending us down a doomed path for inevitably more failures. Profits breed competition when we need collaboration. However, we cannot collaborate with anybody if we prefer sending billions for wars to keep the Pentagon contractors happy. 😉

  2. “…a prescription for disaster in a world where ambiguity and complexity require careful analyses grounded in a knowledge of history, philosophy and science abetted by critical thinking and communication skills.” People who lack such skills are more easily manipulated. Just saying.

  3. It’s the neoliberal dream: produce a large cohort of workers with just enough knowledge (the rich would think of this as “the correct amount”) to perform the work the rich want done.

  4. I miss my Indiana friends, but I do not miss Indiana’s Republican Party, which always seems to be looking for the path back to 1950.

  5. What is the high school dropout rate here? When children, especially reaching teen years, beginning to look to their future and independence, are watching the “adult leaders” in this nation behave as the U.S. House began its first week without a leader to call the session to order, what do they foresee as a future for themselves? The politicians who are now controlling their education, which is essentially controlling their lives, cannot control their own lives as educated adults. Parents need to have an interest in their child’s education but not control the curriculum or “burn” books to prevent learning outside of their education. Does anyone ask the students what they want to learn that is not being provided in their schools? We are not giving them credit for being intelligent young people able to think for themselves and beginning to leave their childhood behind.

    “We are cheating students when we fail to at least introduce them to the intellectual and cultural products of those who have gone before. Making a living isn’t remotely the same thing as making a life.”

  6. I was always told that the purpose of going to college was to learn how to find out what you need to know. Today, I would add that we must teach how to discern the wheat from the chaff and to understand that there is a lot more chaff than there used to be, thanks largely to social (maybe it’s really anti-social) media.

  7. Shiela’s most profound paragraph says it all for me this morning:

    “Life in the 21st century will require today’s students to do more than find a job and reconcile their bank accounts. They will have to wrestle with confounding ethical and moral questions. They will be challenged to cope with social change, to work with different people having different perspectives, and to appreciate new insights. It will require them to fulfill the obligations of citizenship.“

    My Latin teacher in high school should not be judged by my failure to master language mostly used in worship protocol. As a Protestant I learned to be at home with a Catholic friend when invited to his/her church. Testing will not measure the profound outcomes for me influenced by a bold and courageous teacher.

    Mr. Larry Gladden was his name who taught Latin at Abilene High School. There was never an opportunity missed that Mr. Gladden did not raise a profound question about values and ethics expressed in Latin phrases. Class discussions were a bonus and Sheila’s paragraph above really resonated for me personally how optimal education cannot be legislated. Education can be empowered, but leave the details for motivated outstanding teachers to orchestrate the learning environment for students who come to learn … LEARN.

  8. Around the time of the industrial revolution, public schools were set up to be worker training factories. Nice, neat little rows of chairs with an authority figure doling out information and keeping strict control over the behavior of children. Did it work? Sort of. Part of that system, vocational learning was almost always required in some form. Even the girls had to take Home-Ec classes. The boys were involved with a wide variety of shops.

    To use Todd’s favorite term, the oligarchs, things have changed dramatically since 1920 as a result of financial manipulation. When WW II broke out, just a little more that 2/3 of Americans were literate. But with the GI Bill allowing men and women to go to or return to higher education in some form, the literacy rate skyrocketed to around 95%. Of course, the cold war and the space race drove our politics to get these engineers to work on defense and military offense equipment. The Apollo projects, in today’s dollars, would cost around a trillion.

    Since the oligarchs were allowed to send good-paying, middle-class jobs to other countries, the pressure to produce vocationally-educated citizens went the way of the horse and buggy. Schools can no longer afford to establish, maintain and insure vocational programs to any great extent. Those children who are not college oriented, or able to afford going to college are left in the lurch – mostly by Republican policies that keep adequate money away from public education. That said, it is a sick joke to have “lawmakers” create the public school curriculums. These corrupt fools answer to their corporate sponsors and will do anything they say.

    So, why aren’t Indiana parents standing up to this theft of learning from their children? Are rural Hoosiers really that backward and stupid as to keep electing these assholes who keep screwing them? Sadly, pathetically, it’s not just Indiana. It’s in every state where the hate for Democrats overwhelms reason and far-sightedness. And the Republican election strategy is to keep fomenting that hate in the form of racism, bigotry and “family values”.

    What a sick, sick joke the Republicans have been playing on the people. What’s even sadder is that so many people buy into this lie and the de-construction of our nation so willingly with blinders and earplugs firmly in place to reason and doing the right thing for subsequent generations.

    I’m glad I’m old.

  9. We have had this debate before. I would emphasize that it cuts across ideological lines. There is not a Republican or Democratic position when it comes to this education debate. I have a conservative friend of mine, a full-blown Trumper, who has been involved in K-12 schools and who insists that education is not about preparing people for employment, but rather creating well-rounded individuals. He would concur 100% with Sheila.

    I couldn’t agree less

    I have plenty of formal education – 19 years and two degrees. I also taught. I wasn’t a full-blown professor like Sheila, but I taught as an adjunct instructor for about 25 years. And I was teaching a subject – political science – that most people took as an elective. Most of my students were going on to work in other fields than politics. And I don’t dispute that part of K-12 and post-secondary education is about creating a better educated citizenry. But the notion that education isn’t about training for employment does a disservice to the students we who worked in education are supposed to be serving. Their No. 1 goal post-education is to get good paying, productive jobs that leaves them fulfilled. The purpose of educators is to give them the skills and knowledge so that they can land those jobs. That’s the expectation of students going to school and they’re spending a boatload of money for that purpose.

    I quote from the article that Sheila quoted from:

    “Part of that could include making math “more relevant” by tying components like financial literacy, simple interest and mortgage rates into coursework, he said. Other options include more apprenticeship programs — and making those types of opportunities more easily count towards a student’s diploma requirements.:

    Now here we’re not just talking about knowledge and skills for employment, but practical knowledge and skills one needs to live life. I am baffled by what is wrong with Huston’s proposal. So many people are held back in life because they don’t have financial literacy. They don’t understand things like how compound interest works , the difference between appreciating and depreciating assets. I go to my gas station and see people lined up to spend $50 a week on lottery tickets…because they don’t understand odds and that they’d be better off “betting”,” i.e investing, that money on stocks and bonds. What is wrong with tying things one learns in the class room to things they need to know to succeed in life? That is precisely the job of a teacher.

    And regarding the last part of the Huston quote, what in the heck is wrong with internships? That’s one of the best ways to learn. you learn by doing, not by reading.

    Returning completely to the issue of job training, I am troubled by all the liberals who want college to be free but have no problem with lower and working class individuals having to pay their own way if they instead want to be trained to be a plumber or an electrician. That just smacks of elitism. Universities and college are not for everyone. You would be shocked by the number of college graduates we have working in Indiana factories and warehouses, doing work one can do with a high school diploma…or less. They graduated with degrees that were not in demand with employers.

    Again, with all due respect to Sheila and her experience in education, I couldn’t agree less with her column this morning.

  10. Why train children to work in factories that don’t exist? Paul.
    Of course you don’t agree with the Professor and I’m so glad that I didn’t take your political class. Sheesh. You bible thumpers are living in a time that doesn’t exist. Why waste your time getting an education when you’re waiting for Jesus to come take you to the promise land? Why not go live in a commune? Folks like Paul shouldn’t be teaching young minds.

  11. Paul,

    I don’t know where you get the idea that liberals don’t want free vocational education. If those apprenticeships are part of a broader-based system, they too should be free of cost to the students. That way, we’ll alleviate yet another leg of the stool of poverty.

    If you taught political science, it’s amazing that you’ve succumbed to tribalism.

  12. as i see in other states the finacial side of education is being focused at,saving money,present finacial smarts,and loans. seems no one is educating how the walls street greed keeps average joe citizen in debtors cottage,instead of debtors college. or how they have minipulated laws and politicians to the greed side of life.
    why have wages and a progressive income been off the table in discussions? how about ed for a fair economic lifestyle. or does school educate merely for the need to remain in debt? the crap about anyone can make it is in full view with the homeless and poverty,and how only a few walk away with the profits the working class generate ,and seldom see. why is isnt there a bonus plan with employers when they do good the employee is rewarded instead of those who buy a poilitcal apparatus and suck up everything with no regard who does the work. of course,the greed side says,be lucky you have a job. educate to improve, reveal why theres poverty and homelessness.

  13. Paul:
    in regards to your education,bravo. seems somewhere your reply it makes me wonder what you think of half eduacted working class as fools who have either never been given a direction for a better life or were some how hampered by a few to make sure they,the working class remain in a constant struggle. the working class has become today a mere thought to anyone who like your self,demand their own self indugence over anyone elses pain. we dont want to be in debt,we want a fair and equitable lifestyle without washington sucking up the dirty ass of wall street,,,,,without higher ed.. were not asking to be rich and in a position of status. were common folk who do the ass padding..p.s. interns are not paid,right,you mean work for free eh?

  14. Technology changes so quickly that educating students for today’s jobs may leave them unemployable by the time they graduate. Society needs people entering the workforce who are equipped for lifetime learning. Higher level thinking skills, excellent ability to communicate and a love of learning are imperative.

  15. So, is this how the once “Great” Greek, and Roman civilizations began to crumble?
    An old description of a classic, good education emphasized preparing a student to be
    able to carry on an inteligent conversation with a wide range of people, have foundations
    in a wide range of areas of knowledge. That goes way beyond being able to tell the difference
    between java script, and whatever else.

  16. Republican donors are easy for politicians to understand. The expectations behind their donations are clear but much less so with voters. No list of expectations accompanies each vote. Interpretation is required. Anxious for both donations and votes, politicians try to clarify the why behind both gifts.

    The why Republicans are led to understand is to restrain the change of US culture from what benefited Republican donors and voters in the past. Of course that requires cleaving off the US from the rest of the world and the forces that keep recreating culture as adapted to changing reality. Also away from global science. In fact everything global except as a market for our goods and services.

    Capable career politicians know enough not to make too many unfulfillable promises. At some point too many makes failure to deliver almost certain. Those using politics though as just a stepping stone to a wall-funded early retirement don’t worry so much about delivering. The gifts of money and votes are made on the promise, not the delivery.

  17. Paul has succumbed to establishment thinking that believes we ALL should serve a capitalist economy versus capitalism serving us. He also thinks that education should serve capitalism’s interest instead of fitting what society wants.

    I also wouldn’t give the teacher’s union any say in a new curriculum because most of the “union leadership” has sold out teachers in their pursuit of bureaucratic power, meaning they also serve capitalism’s interests.

    While all the capitalist agendas get flushed out, it will be interesting to witness McCarthy trying to navigate $75 billion in Pentagon budget cuts which he handed to the “right-wing populists” to hold a gavel.

  18. Sharon is exactly right. Lifetime learning and the tools to continue to learn throughout students’ working lives and beyond should be the basis for k-12 education. That time should include economic, domestic and mechanical learning as well as civics, social studies, science, math and history. Music and art should be included as well. All of those subjects are foundational to a rich quality of life.
    Universities have done the society a great disservice by falling into the trap that corporatocracy has set. Foisting off the cost and time necessary to train to specific skills upon the taxpayer through public education is theft, not only from the common good but the individual student/employees.
    One of the most important things I learned very early from a wonderful librarian and a gifted high school teacher was that it was more important to know what and where to look for answers, the tools of learning, than to have the individual pieces of knowledge.
    The other thing to contemplate is that not everyone has the mental capacity to manage complex critical thinking. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t able to have quality of life. Learning at their own pace and mastering tasks that others may disdain or not understand, using the tools of life experience, may allow them to become very adept at problem solving in particular areas of their lives. Respect for all levels of educational experience, making sure everyone has that access available in order to insure an informed citizen should be the goal.
    Article 8, Section 1 of the Indiana State Constitution:
    “Section 1. Knowledge and learning, generally diffused throughout a community, being essential to the preservation of a free government; it shall be the duty of the General Assembly to encourage, by all suitable means, moral, intellectual, scientific, and agricultural improvement; and to provide, by law, for a general and uniform system of Common Schools, wherein tuition shall be without charge, and equally open to all.”

  19. “We are cheating students when we fail to at least introduce them to the intellectual and cultural products of those who have gone before. Making a living isn’t remotely the same thing as making a life.”!

  20. We are also failing students when they are not introduced to occupations, especially those that are not readily seen. Most if not all have observed the construction trades at work, however how many have seen welders, machinists, electronic techs, HVAC techs, etc, etc. My doctorate is in Occupational and Adult Education. I first taught machining in a vocational school then went on to teach industrial technology and applied engineering in higher education. Typically I would include a “bonus” question on the tests that related to Greek & Roman civilization. If one takes the time you will find out that Thomas Jefferson also included work in the “Practical Arts” as part of his ideas for higher education. This does not mean all education should be focused on helping the students become employable. They also need to learn how to think & solve problems two components of the curriculum that is included by those of us who teach applied engineering.

  21. Paul, I trump you in the education experience, taught K-12 for just over 32 years. Education is not training. Education helps the indiviual gain knowledge and develops methods to use that knowledge. I have a BS in Education and two Masters Degrees in Learning Theory and Educational Psychology, so I think I have know what I am talking about.

    As Sheila said; “I am so tired of these persistent efforts to redefine education as job training.”
    And I am tired of it too.

  22. BTW, take a look at the employment rate of those who have doctorates and Masters in Fine Arts in the humanities. My late wife had her MFA from Yale and in the 38 years we were together she was only able to find a full time job for one year. All the other years it was part time (adjunct) positions. That is fairly typical of those in the humanities. So the result was that I became a patron of the Arts not only supporting her, but also making it possible for her to go to Art Fairs and enter her paintings at shows in various museums.

    My current wife teaches English so the situation is much the same. She teaches full time, but earns a salary that fails to recognize her efforts and skill set.

    We’re building a house here in the Philippines with the money I invested in the house in KY. She is unable to do that on just her salary.

    Those who claim education is not just job training are correct, but those who ignore vocational-technical education are dooming the students to a life time of poverty.

  23. The number one “thing” which we taught our students was problem solving as that is the core of an industrial technologist’s skill set.

  24. So much fun attending this collection of hoary cliches about education, vocation and lifestyle choices, along with obsolete views on sociology and international relations.

    Not ONE of you even mentioned the educations available on the internet, from YouTube tutorials on how to replace a car window motor to complex and well-done instruction manuals on chemistry, physics and critical thinking.

    Jordan B Peterson has his entire lecture series on Myth and Meaning posted on YouTube. Almost any book is available, audio or written, most for free.

    Art? Glad you asked., an astonishing assemblage of painting, craft and architecture, etc.

    Wanna fix your car, freezer, install a heat pump, explore insecticides or the universe, critique religion or rhetoric, politics, the theories of Darwin or William James or the preppers, recipes, fashion, electric car drag racing, discuss with the knowledgable?
    At your fingertips, and much cheaper than college courses.

    There’s a presumption underlying this discussion that education must be in the hands of educators.

    Maybe so, but that’s not my experience. I’m very much an autodidact.

    I thought Paul made a lot of sense, and many others didn’t.

    I’m still waiting for this blog to get replies, likes, and structure.

    Jack Smith seems younger and more aware of the realities of life.

    Why is that? Constant contact with the backbone of society, truckers.

    Sheila should go on Substack. Lightner has good views. Smekens is from ’60s Berkeley. Lotta absolutist ranting. Still, here I am.

  25. Mr. Otvos, who do you think does all of the assembling/recording of those videos and organized all of that online material? Who taught those performing the information vidoes? Who taught those who organized the written material? Someone taught them at some point.

  26. Paul, I often feel as if you read Sheila’s column looking for something to disagree with.

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