I’ve never been a big fan of schools and schooling. I recall there were about 12 years in which boring adults talked at me and expected me to read things and answer questions. Compare and contrast this and that, they said. Write a 500-word essay about this thing you don’t care about, they said.
There was a singular moment of clarity in third grade. I had lived in New England for four years, but moved away, and was given a school book to read in the new school that said “New England has maple trees.”
Then I was asked to answer in class, “What kind of trees does New England have?” So I said, “Well, we had elms on our street and down the hill they had walnut trees but in between there was a level spot that had birch trees and pine trees, right together,” and I was told I must not have read the assignment. I said I’d read it but it didn’t make sense to just say New England has maple trees, as if they were the only kind it had.
They said, “When I ask you a question you’re supposed to give the answer in the book, not what you know.” I thought that was a fine, informative and clear directive, and probably the truest thing any teacher ever taught me.
The point of answering questions such as, “What kind of trees does New England have?” wasn’t to state a truth but to demonstrate having read the book, because the teacher wasn’t about to just take my word for it. I was a known child and therefore probably a liar and a cheat.
Eventually I figured out that pretty much the whole exercise, of school and all, was to get me to learn to follow directions, do what I was told and otherwise stay out of trouble.
Now the Trump administration is proposing to merge the departments of Education and Labor. It’s just one of many proposals issued from the president’s office to reorganize the U.S. government in a 132 page report (“Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century”) that’s now bookmarked in my dreaded “homework” folder.
I like the idea on the face of it. Finally we can expect to see a blunt admission that the purpose of education, as far as the government is concerned, is not to help children develop critical thinking skills, but to prepare them to be busy workers who keep their mouths shut. I thought so.
The proposal is to merge the Department of Education and the Department of Labor into the Department of Education and the Workforce (dew). Because that’s what we call people who do jobs — “the workforce” — as opposed to people who get people to do jobs, which we call “the masters.”
I am thinking the proposal doesn’t go far enough. How about a Department of Education, Workforce and Prison Pipeline? dewpp, pronounced “doop.”
We need to train our kids in the skills they’re really going to need in life. Nobody needs to learn algebra. When was the last time you algebrated? When was the last time your boss or your warden told you to algebrate a hundred algebrations by noon? I am certain you’ve never heard that, and no one else you know has either.
For some crazy reason I always thought the Department of Labor’s main purposes were to protect the rights of the employed, ensure their safety in their workplaces, see to it workers get health benefits and unemployment benefits.
Boy, was I wrong. It turns out the whole point of the Department of Labor was to expand the worker class.
A great consequence of the merger, if it happens, will be that Betsy DeVos will get a shot at being the head of the merged department, permitting her to achieve a new level of excellence in her role as least competent Cabinet appointee ever.
I was thinking an awful thought — that America’s workforce will get expanded just in time for all of them to lose their jobs to robots. But that’s not fair. Surely, when they say they are going to train our kids to be the workers we need, they mean we are going to need them to know how to maintain the robots. For every thousand robots we’ll probably need tens of robot technicians.
The future is also looking good for well-trained jailers and homeless encampment sweepers. n
Dr. Wes Browning is a one time math professor who has experienced homelessness several times. He supplied the art for the first cover of Real Change in November of 1994 and has been involved with the organization ever since. This is his weekly column, Adventures in Irony, a dry verbal romp of the absurd.
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