We seem to be caught up in a national hysteria that confuses association with cause.  Everywhere there is talk of “graduation rates” and being “college-ready”.  There is a monochrome drumbeat about moving lock-step through a series of educational steps that equate with career-ladder steps.  And I know well the history of public education as a sine qua non for the inexorable employment demands of the industrial revolution.

But regardless of its potential manifestation as an employment-readier, education ought not to be about training workers to be capitalist cogs.  This approach is backwards, violating the existential right of a child’s development.  We bring life to our babies and want them to develop an understanding and appreciation of the vast possibilities that human intellect and talent and insight has brought to bear on our civilized world.  There are so many ways to be and things to learn and possibilities for contributing to society meaningfully.  Building the tools to be a part of this is the meaning of education:  that is what we parents should want to bring to our child’s educational plate.

But it takes a lot of time to get a good sampling of these possibilities, time and exposure to the richness of our culture.  To herd our children into a path dictated by possible future employment is to set them onto a chute that limits their possibilities.  And it winds up being backward, children select a path not for its trajectory, but for its endpoint.  As if there were not time enough to specialize in the elements that might assist one’s career later, closer to the start of that career and after establishing a deep, broad foundation of experience.

Moreover, the obsession with the next step, now, at the expense of readying oneself in the here-and-now, contributes to this weak foundation.  Here is where a fixation on the goal is justified by confusing association and cause.  The conferring of a degree does not in itself render the student “educated”; it is the work that is prerequisite to an authentic degree that signifies “education”.  The degree itself just represents the work, not the other way around.  The scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz did a nice job demonstrating what happens when degrees are conferred independent of learning.  While we may all have the stuff of education within us, simply associating ourselves with a label will not cause ourselves to become “educated”.

Children being passed through classes just to get to the end, result in graduation rates that are gratifyingly high, but do not represent a learned population.  The poor readiness of our graduates once they matriculate to college belies the notion that they are in fact “college-ready”.  And the intense focus on being “college ready” without becoming ready for college is driven by the confusion with observations of college graduates.  While it may be the case that college graduates are far more likely to escape poverty and possess any number of other positive demographic attributes, these are not necessarily caused by attending a college.  They are rather consequent to acquiring the learning that comes with being a college graduate.  If instead children are passed through to college without acquiring the necessary foundation to be there, and conferred degrees by virtue of attendance, this presence alone will never secure positive future outcomes.  Learning raises the poor from poverty, not attendance.

So while the confusion of association with causation provides an explanation for inadequate schooling, its justification comes from the Big Lie of the new Common Core.  This program arrives freighted with excess verbiage claiming to instill just this: a newer, deeper understanding of academics.  And yet in story after story from the field, in anecdotes galore from teachers, parents and students throughout the nation, it seems that this program is not about teaching on a deeper level.  It seems this program is all about and only about an entirely different agenda, testing on a different level.

This is the analog of the sort of backwards thinking that drives conferring degrees upon students of inadequate preparation.  Forcing children to engage in academics that are entirely age-inappropriate for the sake of testing them on this material alone, will not result in a population of deeply prepared academics.

Everywhere we look in education, we see a tail wagging the dog.  The dog gets more and more jangled as the tail gets hooked to the ever-increasing speed of the electronics world.  We can of course stop this.  We could de-couple our learning curriculum and policy from that of giant electronics corporations.  Just because Bill Gates claims an interest in educational policy that he will not submit his own children to, does not mean we must follow this lead.