"Don't Know Much About History"

Twenty-five years ago Education Secretary T. H. Bell presented to his boss, President Reagan the report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, entitled “A Nation at Risk”. It’s findings were a shock to both Bell and Reagan.

“The educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and as a people,” it warned. “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”

I would be hard put to say that we have made much progress in 25 years. The same forces of inertia control the agenda of education. What can be done? Are we teaching the right subjects?

I throw out one more piece of data that complicates the matter. The conventional wisdom is that you are doomed without a college education and yet more than 30% of high school students drop out before graduation. But Manpower, Inc just released their list of the top ten hardest jobs to fill.

1. Engineers
2. Machinists/Machine Operators
3. Skilled Manual Trades
4. Technicians
5. Sales Representatives
6. Accounting & Finance Staff
7. Mechanics
8. Laborers
9. IT Staff
10. Production Operators

Could it be that we have drunk our own “knowledge society” kool-aid and are neglecting the manual arts training aspect of high school for those that could fill most of these jobs?

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0 Responses to "Don't Know Much About History"

  1. Morgan Warstler says:

    If you can’t get hired to do it, they shouldn’t teach it. Liberal arts included. Sales Manager 101. Marketing assistant 101. Traffic manager 101. SEO 101.


    This is how they teach art. This is how they should teach everything.

    What we don’t need is French, Interpersonal Communications, everyone take a science credit.

    Kill schooling. Train workers.

  2. Nikc says:

    Yeah drop French and learn Chinese.

    Interpersonal skills should probably be increased though.

    You should take sport out of schools. Especially elite sport. What a waste of money. School sport hasn’t really helped the obesity problem has it?

  3. Patrick Freeman says:

    Sales Manager 101. 1984, just a few years too late.

  4. Rick Turner says:

    The “knowledge society” KoolAid came from an inherently racist point of view…that the “little brown and yellow people” were not intelligent enough to be engineers, programmers, designers, and inventors… Well, they’re plenty intelligent, and guess what? They work harder than the mis-educated, over-entitled white kids in the US…to make a very general and broad statement.

    Don’t get me going on basic manual skills. I run a small guitar manufacturing facility, and I now mainly hire out of a privately owned guitar making school, but still the grads have precious little experience on power tools, and they can’t mentally translate fractional inches into decimal inches into anywhere near metric, as we really need to be able to do a lot.

    It’s much worse, though, with the average high school grad who can’t even read a tape measure…”It’s 25 and one quarter plus a line…” Yeah, I actually heard that one day… I thought he must have just done a line or something…

  5. woodnsoul says:

    You know I was doing something quit different for a long time, and now work “in the trades” as it were. I keep hearing that no one does what I do anymore. I can charge ludicrous rates and no one bats an eye – there is simply no one around who knows how to actually do anything…

    It beats being a “government relations specialist” by a long shot – and the pay ain’t half bad either.

  6. William Jackson says:

    I think a lot of the “problem” kids in high school are the ones that can’t or think they can’ make it to college or any post high school education. If the vocational school track was reinstated, it would give these kids another option. Our local high school has started a small line chef program, and the kids that finish are getting hired as fast as they graduate. And I live in a small town.

  7. John Kelly says:

    In general I agree with the idea of re-emphasizing a trade education track in the US. A whole lot of people are being pushed by cultural emphasis into college who shouldn’t be there, having neither the prep nor the interest. And skilled trades are usually a locally delivered skill, making outsourcing your job to Asia that much harder.

    However, that still leaves the college bound to be the executives at the Fortune 1000. I believe that the idea of “kill schooling, train workers” would lead to even more of an ownership society than we have today. As in some of us, the broadly and deeply educated who parley their USC (just funnin’ Jon) degrees and contacts into executive positions in big corporations, own the rest of us, the trade-school educated who live more and more like serfs every year.

    I like the idea though of letting kids who want to do a job just learn how and start doing it. Maybe a side benefit would be to reduce the brutal competition facing those kids who want a college education. Having one kid in college and one in high school I’ve seen a whole bunch of very competitive kids, mostly Indian and Chinese, scrambling to pack their resumes full to get into a top ranked school. They routinely apply to the top 20 ranked schools with little or no thought about the school itself. Some are not that smart but work the system in every possible way. Weekly parent conferences with the principal (in public schools!) to criticize teachers who give their precious offspring less than an A are completely routine. And at least half of these kids say they want to study business in college. Just in general. Not to do anything so much as to prepare to be an executive somewhere. What a waste of potential that seems to me. As well as clogging the colleges with filler.

    Of course it will be hard for me to find a trade school for the next kid to go to. He wants to be a Research Oncologist. God knows why he wants to kill mice for a living but he seems to have some weird dream of curing Cancer.

  8. treadmarkz says:

    Is it possible that we need to go back to teaching kids a trade when they are about 12 years old, like they did 200 years ago? Get them going early, get them the headstart we need in America to get our workforce in the leading position again?

  9. zak says:

    Then you feel there’s no need to learn history. . . slavery, the civil war, voting privileges, pearl harbor, the holocaust, civil rights, the draft and vietnam,

    You don’t think Americans need to have an understanding of history to make informed decisions, when, oh I don’t know, voting?

    let’s cut English classes too, literacy is SO overrated

    Communication skills are typically prioritized as numero uno by employers. Since we’re all interdependent, it would be good if we could explain ourselves now and again.

    a friend of mine is an elementary school teacher in NJ with an MA; her little brother barely got out of high school and he makes more money than her as an apprentice plumber.

    schooling is not necessarily as important as being able to fill an open niche. there are plenty of services needed, that, while not the sexiest jobs, are requisite to keep the system up and running

  10. STS says:

    I’d be happy to replace the age-cohort assembly-line model of schooling with something which better reflected the individual motivations of learners. That way, people who aren’t much into traditional academics while young could focus on acquiring trade skills they enjoyed acquiring, yet return to the well for liberal arts subjects when some further life experience gave them a stronger sense of how they are relevant in real life.

    Academic tracking traditionally filters young people out of “real education” based on the level of interest and application they display long before adulthood. That usual means that the children of the affluent and influential have an advantage: their parents understand how the game works even if the kids themselves are clueless.

    But a form of tracking which let people take their own winding paths through a variety of subjects in the order the are motivated to take them would achieve both the filtering: only motivated students are involved at any given time; and the democratic access we value: take liberal arts early or late, the same level of performance counts either way.

  11. Rachel says:

    Morgan sez: “What we don’t need is French, Interpersonal Communications, everyone take a science credit.”

    Yeah, French never helps when you’re trying to close a deal with Canal Plus or Alcatel. Or at an international conference or trade show. Never. Silly me, I should have spent more time on chemistry. It’s so much help in the entertainment industry.

    No language is wasted. Technocrats who think science is everything are only using half their brain. Science is important, but diminishing other study says something about a major insecurity problem.

  12. Morgan Warstler says:

    vos can narro ut iterum , in latin

  13. Morgan Warstler says:

    “a friend of mine is an elementary school teacher in NJ with an MA; her little brother barely got out of high school and he makes more money than her as an apprentice plumber.”

    she should have been a plumber. crossapply: previous discussion also about jobs women choose. I know it is hard for you to imagine that teaching is dwindling in value (cause teachers rock!), just remember more teachers =| more education. Napster didn’t kill music, ask bertelsmann, and education is the new music.

    zak, you should go read “my ishmael.” well actually you should read first “ishmael,” but I dont care if you skip ahead. there’s a talking gorilla, you’ll love it.

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