Friday, November 10, 2017

What Is A Child Worth

If you are a regular reader, you know how I feel about the idea that education's main or sole aim is to prepare children to be the worker bees of tomorrow, to become a "product" to be consumed by the future corporate overlords.

Snacktime's over, you little slacker. Go get a job!

I've been tracking this baloney since I started blogging. Here's Allan Golston from the Gates Foundation website:

Businesses are the primary consumers of the output of our schools, so it’s a natural alliance.

Or then-corporate exec Rex Tillerson:

But Tillerson articulates his view in a fashion unlikely to resonate with the average parent. “I’m not sure public schools understand that we’re their customer—that we, the business community, are your customer,” said Tillerson during the panel discussion. “What they don’t understand is they are producing a product at the end of that high school graduation.”

Or members of the Florida legislature:

The purpose of the public education system of Florida is to develop the intellect of the state's citizens, to contribute to the economy, to create an effective workforce, and to prepare students for a job.

This is all alarming because it is such a narrow, cramped, tiny vision of education, a low bar to clear, an unworthy target at which to aim. All the depth and breadth of human experience, all the joy and heartfelt fulfillment to which humans can aspire, all the glorious discovery of one's best self, all the varied and beautiful experience of being a human in the world-- these folks would have us toss all of that away to better turn children into meat widgets who can serve not their own human aspirations and dreams and goals, but the corporate need for drones to fill jobs so that the rich can get richer.

This is all awful. But something else is rotten in this point of view.

In this view of the world, children are worthless.

In this view, children are lumps of raw material, useless and therefor worthless until they can be molded into job-ready drones. These are people who would look at my new twins and my beautiful grandbabies and say, "Well, they're pretty and all. But they're kind of worthless, aren't they."

These folks are impatient for children to be made into useful tools. "Hey," they bark at the kindergarten teachers. "Stop screwing around with all that playing and start teaching them to read and write-- you know, things that will make them useful to a future employer." Perhaps this is why some hard-right folks complain about child labor laws-- after all, a child who's not working is a child who has no value.

They have even inveigled their language into the language of school and teacher evaluation-- we look for "value added" which means value added to the children in our care who, by implication, lack value now.

It's a stumper of a world view. How exactly do we convince grown-ass human beings that children are valuable (and not just because they have "potential" to someday become useful tools). How can any human with a halfway healthy heart not look at a small child and think, "You are quite enough, a valuable being, deserving of love and protection and care. You are absolutely enough, just as you are, right now." How do you get through to anyone who looks at a child and feels anything but full and unconditional love (or who thinks the way to express that love is to try to convert that "worthless" child into a worthy drone)? And if we can't get to that person, how do we get them to stay the hell away from matters of educational policy?


  1. Have you read Neil Postman's "Disappearance of Childhood?" This is exactly the sort of thing he's talking about.

    Everyone loves their kids, but not all cultures have made a big fuss of childhood as a phase of life. Postman argues that our modern idea of childhood, as a beautiful, important and extended period of self-discovery and self-realization, is the product of a set of cultural and technological forces (roughly, Protestantism and the printing press). He argues that today's electronic technology might make childhood redundant.

    And this is just the kind of thing he means: an impatience to get kids past that phase where they can't wipe themselves or write their names properly, and hurry them into their economic role in life.

    Things are changing in some very profound ways. And I'm really not having a "Bliss-was-it-in-that-dawn-to-be-alive" feeling about the changes.

  2. My son studied sociology and he came to the conclusion that our society hates children.

    I always thought of my children as special beings whose care had been entrusted to me by a sacred trust, and that it was an honor.

    The kids that I taught I always saw as individuals who were to be given respect, no matter how they acted or what their abilities were, just because they were human beings, human beings in the process of figuring out who they were.

  3. Bravo, you crusty ole guy! This old gal applauds the way you get right to the heart of this educational issue. Unfortunately the actions of many of my fellow teachers showed that they too felt this way, even if they spoke of "educating the whole child."