, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Neera Tanden and Drew Gilpin Faust, Center for American Progress' "Investing in the Future" event (screen shot), Washington, DC, December 10, 2012. (http://americanprogress.org).

Neera Tanden and Drew Gilpin Faust, Center for American Progress’ “Investing in the Future” event (screen shot), Washington, DC, December 10, 2012. (http://americanprogress.org).

I was supposed to attend the Center for American Progress event “Investing in the Future: Higher Education, Innovation, and American Competitiveness” yesterday morning (who does a two-and-a-half-hour event two Mondays before Christmas, really?). But my son happened to have his worst night of sleep in his nine and a third years of life, compounded by a minor asthma attack. So I didn’t get to go.

I’m glad that I didn’t attend, though, as the above link to the site and video will indicate to even an educator with the patience of Jesus. After watching and skipping through the 138-minute recording today, I realized that passing a kidney stone (which I’ve actually done) would be preferable to hearing the drivel that the Center for American Progress, Harvard University and Google sponsored yesterday.

It was a tour-de-force of K-16 education as preparation for practical careers and scientific/technological innovation. Period. Not education to formulate a critical mind. Not education for the betterment of society, for social justice, for changing the world. No, Americans, our very future depends purely on the willingness of Harvard (and other elite universities), corporations and government to work together to turn out millions of students to work in STEM fields, apparently the only fields that matter in the twenty-first century.

Yesterday’s Center for American Progress event proves, more than anything else, that K-12 public education has lost the battle for educational equity and US higher education is in the process of becoming a two-tiered system. The comments and answers from Neera Tanden, Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust, Glenn Hutchins, Gene Sperling, et al. were indicative of a class of folks who hold little interest in providing the resources necessary to level the educational playing field for poor and struggling working class students.  Or, when they did address K-12 education, it was purely in technocratic scales-of-efficiency terms, as they gave K-12 most of the blame for America’s reduced economic competitiveness.

Box of Cracker Jack bags, December 11, 2012. (http://crackerjackpopcorn.com).

Box of Cracker Jack bags, December 11, 2012. (http://crackerjackpopcorn.com).

But this is the problem with leaders involved in American education these days. Instead of opening up K-12 education to real innovations in philosophy, curriculum, a teacher’s ability to use all of their skills (measurable and intangible) in a student-centered classroom, critical thinking and neuroscience, we were given the typical mantra of testing, teacher effectiveness and cost-cutting. It means that even among our alleged best thinkers — apparently still White, mostly male and over fifty years of age — the best ideas involve an expansive education for the well-off and a Cracker Jack education for the growing numbers of the poor and those struggling to remain above the poverty line.

As for higher education, I’ve already noted that we are well on the way to a two-tiered system in the US (see my post “edX and Ex-lax (& Higher Education’s Future)” from September ’12). One tier will consist of group of schools that will remain elite and near elite, the top 500 or so colleges and universities in the country. The other group of colleges (public, HBCU and for-profit) will struggle mightily with the weight of providing a specialized education for the masses of unprepared and underprepared low-income first generation students, of color and otherwise. They will increasingly lose out to the elite university/corporate/government partnership that will lead to a cheaper, streamlined college education, and mostly online. And all without the complications of providing a well-rounded, liberal arts education.

Ben & Jerry's half baked ice cream flavor, December 11, 2012. (http://bestuff.com/).

Ben & Jerry’s half baked ice cream flavor, December 11, 2012. (http://bestuff.com/).

The speakers at “Investing in the Future: Higher Education, Innovation, and American Competitiveness” also discussed the need to make higher education cheaper. Their solutions of cheaper loans and more stringent requirements for students to meet in order to obtain merit-based aid is nothing new, and in fact reflects trends that date back to the late-1970s. Even Faust’s encouragement of spreading the Harvard solution of providing need-based aid for low-income students only works for high-achieving students, the “low-hanging fruit” strategy that allows the other grapes on the trees to rot.

To be sure, the speakers at this event also talked about comprehensive immigration reform, green jobs/economy and universal health care. But without sufficient attention to the millions and millions of poor and of color people affected by their words and deeds, the Center for American Progress event might as well have been called “Investing in the Oligarchic Past.” Same new-old solutions, same half-baked ideas that show that as long as American education and industry leaders try to force solutions on our poor, we’ll be about as competitive as the USSR was between Stalin and Glasnost/Perestroika.