The state has decided that competency in biology matters more than cooking, than music, than art, than shop. It matters more than learning a second language, more than theater, more than auto maintenance or civics.
This made sense back in the 19th century, when a family could be trusted to teach children how to get along in the world. How to slaughter chickens, how to grow grain, how to shod a horse or darn a sock.
This made sense back in the 20th century when a family could be trusted to teach children how to change a tire, replace a faucet, find the faulty tube in the television, sew a hem, or scramble eggs for breakfast.
For many of my students, maybe most, holding them to a minimum standard of competency in biology is no big deal. It is possible to pass a biology course without grasping much, and you do not need to be
Still, when we live in a time when many children would go hungry even if given a sack of fresh flour and a cup of yeast, we need to think carefully how we want children to spend their time in compulsory and public education.
Yes, families have an obligation to teach their children.
Yes, more children are in cities now than on farms.
Yes, an educated citizenry is vital for sustaining certain industries.
No, you do not need a college education to be useful, nor does higher education guarantee better government. We need literacy, we need numeracy, we need a sense of place, and we need a sense of time. Instead, this is the proclaimed aim:
A high school should be a place where all students are prepared with the knowledge and skills necessary to enter postsecondary education and pursue meaningful careers.
The neo-tech priests (bless me, Father Gates, for I have sinned....) confound capitalism with democracy, and colleges with competency. Our teaching/business/technology classes have been served well by higher education.
That it is possible to be charged with educating generation after generation of children without ever having set foot outside a classroom, without ever working a factory line, without ever picking up a shovel or a wrench or a clam rake, without ever having earned a living beyond the classroom walls has skewed our view of what education means.
No, you do not need to be a stevedore before you teach in public education, but it doesn't hurt.
What does hurt, though, is a generation of education specialists who literally grew up in classrooms, earning praise and grades for pursuing specialized knowledge chunked into particular subjects divvied up back in the 1890s.
How about this, Mr. Duncan?
A high school should be a place where all students are prepared with the knowledge and skills necessary to pursue meaningful lives as citizens of Bloomfield, New Jersey, and the United States.
I've worked on the docks, in hospitals, in barges and on boats, in a retail store, in shelters, and in a bottling factory. Now I work in a school building.
The scary part?
Just about everyone I've ever worked with outside of a school building had little positive to say about schooling, beyond the social aspects. A few did say they they wished they had stayed in school longer, doomed as they are now in a troubled economy, but an advanced education is not the panacea for employment that the policymakers believe (or say, anyway).
Highly educated is not synonymous with well educated. Just about anybody I know outside of education gets this. Many in education get this, too, but not enough of us, not nearly enough.
Yep, the inimitable (but emminently copyable) toothpaste for dinner