My brother has a job that did not exist until the year before he graduated college. He’s a social media manager for a large company in New York. Essentially, he visits Facebook and Twitter all day. Eighteen years ago, when he was just starting school, there was no such thing as a social media manager. Ten years ago, Facebook and Twitter did not exist. Yet today social media manager is one of the fastest-growing jobs in the country.
It’s the same with people who write apps or analyze piles of data for market research. Both are extremely new, high-growth professions. Job descriptions for positions such as video editing and many health care and pharmacy jobs have been entirely rewritten in the past decade. Even farming is an extremely high-tech industry today. My cousins who farm are proficient with weather and earth science like you wouldn’t believe, and they analyze and recalibrate cutting-edge instruments each day. With technology changing so quickly and working within nearly every profession today, there is no reasonable hope of teaching children the exact skills they’ll need when they enter the workforce down the road.
Think of that the next time someone tries to pawn some educational program off on you because “it will prepare children for college and a career.” I’m willing to bet college, too, will be drastically different 12 years from how. How does it make sense to say we know what skills children must learn now to enter college or the workforce a dozen years from now? Certainly, it won’t be PowerPoint or XHTML. The latter was standard when I learned it a decade ago, but it has morphed into more advanced Web coding language that is now standard.
Most school systems in the country have adopted a new set of teaching and testing requirements called Common Core, whose central promise is to graduate children “college- and career-ready.” Think for five minutes about that promise while applying any knowledge of our economy, and it’s clear that it’s empty-headed. The global economy is an increasingly specialized system that rewards flexibility and diversity, not one-size-fits-world programs. Common Core will work only in a fairy universe, and it is likely to damage the real-world prospects of the 43 million U.S. children thrust into it.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we should just give up on education—far from it. What the Common Core advocates are selling is job prep. Education means something different.
Public education exists in the United States because a democratic republic needs adults who can govern themselves. Therefore, children need a broad education worthy of the name, not “college and career readiness.” In this economy, education seen as job training will ultimately fail children because job skills are narrowly defined and change quickly.
To educate a child for an uncertain future requires a more reflective education based on time-tested general knowledge and proficiency at reading, writing, doing mathematics, and evaluating arguments. In short, education must be about content and academic skills, not job requirements. Knowledge of the world and the ability to think are what will enable today’s children to deal with whatever confronts them in 2025.
Proponents of Common Core-style progressive education will tell you they are teaching children critical thinking and collaboration. But they do so through repetitive, mind-numbing, and faddish skills training rather than through giving children the contextual knowledge they must have to construct their own futures. In so doing, these educators reflect their own stunted understanding of the world. That would be their business, not ours, if they weren’t making it our kids’ business.