A Civic Crisis in Education

Science and math are the keys to global competitiveness.

Science and math are where the jobs are.

Science and math are…

Now you finish the sentence. I’m sure you’ve heard this line of thought before. As an avowed humanities scholar, I sometimes find it frustrating that my field of choice is ignored beyond its connotations for literacy and national standards of reading among young children. Once they can read, start them in science, where they can be useful.

That’s one (albeit selfish) reason I’ve chosen “Dehumanized: When math and science rule the school” from Judy Rabin, based on an article by Mark Souka, for the next ProfoundNet. Here’s a snippet:

[Mark Slouka] argues the emphasis on mathscience and the devaluing of the humanities by those who control education and write and talk about education in the general media have framed the discussion within the context of economic success and competition.

He asks the question, Why is every Crisis in American Education cast as an economic threat and never a civic one?

Take a look at any publication coming out of the department of education or from political pundits debating national standards, or pre-K education, or community colleges. You’ll see a theme: education recovery = economic recovery. Better schools = better economy.

This theme underscores what is, to me, a bigger problem in our way of thinking about education. From the original article by Souka:

It’s about the victory of whatever can be quantified over everything that can’t. It’s about the quiet retooling of American education into an adjunct of business, an instrument of production. […] only by studying this world can we hope to shape how it shapes us; that only by attempting to understand what used to be called, in a less embarrassed age, “the human condition” can we hope to make our condition more human, not less.

Foremost in concerns about education are not the familiarity of individuals with the U.S. constitution, understanding of the  judicial system, or intelligent dialogue about foreign policy, scientific ethics, or personal responsibility.

Science and math are important, certainly. But such a single-minded focus comes with the risk of ignoring the civic, as well as economic, value of education.

Don’t forget: what made the United States different (or has set it apart) from its inception was the way its civic society, not its economic system, was established.

Thanks, Judy, for a thought-provoking post.

“The very spring and root of virtue and honesty lie in good education”
– Plutarch

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