This last week I had the pleasure of seeing former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich speak at InstructureCon in Park City, Utah.
His talk was quite boring for me honestly, because he spoke of the obvious. He spoke of rising tuition costs, continued cuts to education funding, increased debt taken on by students, and a lack of employment prospects for recent graduates. At one point, Mr. Reich made the point that our economic strength is based on the backbone of a good education system. Someone standing near me said out loud “I never thought of that”. I was at a conference full of educators. Facepalm.
I grew up in Canada and Australia and moved to the United States when I was 18. Since then I gained a BA and an M.Ed. in the US and a Masters in Art and Design in Australia and started on a PhD there as well. The difference I’ve noticed between education systems in different countries still astounds me.
In the United States and education is becoming more and more a luxury, a product we consume, whereas in other places I’ve worked and studied, it is considered a right and not not in any way a commodity.
The ultimate purpose of education is for an individual to learn new skills, both in citizenship and in the workplace. Learning should teach us how to contribute to the advancement of our society and not just limited to our job skills. It should give us the ability to question the authority over us and the power to organize to bring about changes that will benefit us all. In other countries I changes in government that bring about changes in policy and legislation. Sometimes this benefits the citizenry, sometimes it doesn’t, but sadly most changes I see lately are changes that ignore constituents and benefit corporate donors.
Tuition rises year after year, far more than is justifiable by any financial formula. It is all because of reduction of investment from our state governments and our Federal Government and an inability for the funds that are being disseminated to be used efficiently. With continued decreases in funding, education is starting be be run more like a business than a place of learning. Marketing an education when the cost is getting higher and higher is becoming a harder sell. But we shouldn’t have to sell education at all.
How do we fix this? This is the ultimate question.
I honestly believe it not just our education system that is flawed, but a flaw in our national priorities.
“The Market will decide?” No it won’t. It hasn’t.
It hasn’t really helped to secure jobs for Americans, to secure their health, their mental and physical well-being, or provide a comfortable life.
When students are done with school, most of them have to immediately go to work to start paying of the massive debt they took on, far more than the debts taken on by students overseas. I am a member of this group, like many others. On many occasions, I have not traveled, I have not taken time off to write, or create because I just needed to make money and have health insurance.
We have become indentured servants, not tied our passage to the New World, but tied to the empty promise that an education will help us attain the American Pipe Dream.