Education has always been a big issue for the nation, even since before the establishment of the Constitution. The national government set up support for public education almost immediately after the war for independence. The Confederation Congress passed a set of bills called the Northwest Ordinances. It could be said that these ordinances set up the public schooling system for the country. These Ordinances were passed in 1785 and in 1787 by the Confederation Congress. They were meant to establish policy on the development of the land west of the Appalachia Mountains. The 1785 ordinance called for settlers to support education, ; it went on to call for one section within each township to be set aside for the support of public schools. Later, the 1787 ordinance even set up a mission statement for this new public schooling system to promote “Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and happiness of mankind”.
The purpose of public education has been debated ever since. The debate circles around whether the role of education should prepare students for working life or to broaden their mind. It seems to me that the Northwest Ordinances is leaning towards broadening the mind as the mission for education. I tend to agree with that. High school education and later educational programs should focus on broadening the student’s mind. The reason for this is best described by Albert Einstein when he said, “The value of a college education is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think”. The world is changing at an astonishing rate. Schools can’t train for an environment composed of things yet to be invented. The fast pace of today’s world almost mandates that schools need to build thinkers vs. using the vocational approach to education.
Public opinion on this subject is varied, with a slight preference for preparing people for the work world. A 2014 poll by the National School Boards Associate concluded this when an overwhelming number of their respondents said that schools should prepare students for the work place. That type of vocational approach might have worked 30 years ago, but I am not so sure today. Training is the process of imparting a special skill or behavior to a person. Schools in years gone by would develop programs to teach students job skills like carpentry. This was to prepare them for the work world after school. Even 20 years ago the career aspects for graduates were very predictable and quantifiable. So as a result, schools could set up a curriculum to meet the market’s needs.
That isn’t the case anymore. Nowadays there is a great deal of turbulence sweeping the world at ever increasing speeds. Students need to be educated. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, “The value of an education is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think.” They need to be taught on how to develop a sense of judgement, reasoning, critical thinking and the ability to think. They need to be prepared for the jobs which haven’t been invented yet.
Nobody knows what the economy will look like in 3 months, let alone 30 years. That makes it hard for schools to set up curriculums to help students find the perfect jobs. The perfect job is viewed as the preferred means to the middle class. The path to a middle class lifestyle for mere high school graduates is becoming narrower and narrower. Old types of jobs which have employed millions, like manufacturing, are disappearing or have already gone. USA Today on January 12, 2017 reported that in the last 10 years alone there have been significant losses in jobs of office work, manufacturing, and construction. Those job fields used to be prime areas for those with just a high school diploma. Other vocations like cashiers, machinists, manufacturing line personnel, telephone operators and others are also drying up. It seems that the job fields which are hiring these people are the low wage jobs of retail and hospitality.
The stories of the very successful high school dropouts, or graduates who changed the world like Rush Limbaugh or Bill Gates are inspirational, but also infrequent. Higher education still seems to remain the best ticket to the middle class. A recent 2016 study by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics found out that generally, the higher your education, the higher your paycheck. The study found out that the lower your education, the higher your potential unemployment rate. The unemployment rate for those with a high school diploma was 5.2%; bachelor’s degree was 2.7%, and masters 2.4%.
Even if you find the perfect job right out of school, the odds nowadays are people won’t stay there long. 50 years ago, people came home from WWII and they stayed in one job until they retired. Now that is not the case. People now frequently jump from job to job for a variety of reasons. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the average worker will currently hold 10 different jobs before the age of 40 and that number is projected to grow. Some experts today predict younger workers will hold 12 to 15 different jobs in their lifetime. This degree of job change is common across all levels of educational level.
This change has amplified. Technology and changing market values are creating new jobs which did not exist 10 years ago. Uber drivers are a great example of this new trend. Other examples of new popular jobs are things like social media mangers; social media strategists, e-commerce consultants, and mobile app developers. Now, countless other jobs are dependent on these new jobs just to stay employed.
New products in development are on the horizon, which threaten to accelerate this trend. Things like drones, 3-D printing, driverless cars, artificial intelligence and robots all possess enormous potential to revolutionize the way the country conducts business, much like the combustion engine did back in the early 1900s. Just as the engine put the buggy whip makers out of business, these devices will push some people to unemployment. Whilst this is occurring, there will be a new army of people to maintain this new technology. Once this technology is being used, the process of change gets faster. Product makers receive new information about the utility of their products, then armed with that information, producers push new product changes into the market.
As you can see, the work place is undergoing a great deal of turbulence. Even if schools are able to train people for the perfect job and people find those jobs, they won’t be there long. They will change to another job or their job will change underneath them. The culture and world all around us is changing just as fast as the workplace. Nations are closer than they ever have been before. The internet and ease of travel puts everyone within arm’s reach of everyone else. It seems common nowadays for people to take vacations overseas. It seems most American’s have access to the internet – at least through their phones. Social media platforms like Twitter or Facebook give us a pipeline of information into our minds and communities at ever increasing rates. More and more people across the world are connecting through these platforms. There are 845 million monthly active Facebook users. Twitter sees 50 million tweets a day, 600 a second. There are 31 billion searches on Google every month, increasing from 2.7 billion in 2006. The number of internet devices has grown from 1,000 in 1984 to one billion in 2008. 3.8 billion people out of 6 billion in the world now use the internet. The amount of information flowing across these networks and devices is doubling almost every two years.
This high volume of information is changing the world around us. It changes expectations of what is possible. It motivates people to change their behaviour to meet those expectations. It expands markets to new levels. It matches sellers with new customers.
The mission for schools is clear in this turbulent workplace. People need to learn how to think critically. That ability will help them to properly analyze these new developments in the workplace and in the world around them. That ability will also enhance them as parents, workers, business owners, taxpayers, in order to understand this great deal of change overtaking the country. The ability to think critically helps students find new opportunities among this change, so they can succeed in new jobs yet to be invented. That ability doesn’t come from a vocational program. It only comes from a true education.