"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Teaching Human Capital Widgets to Behave More Like Humans

What is the most important subject a student studies in school today?  It might surprise you what one school believes is the path to success for a student.

Arne Duncan would have you believe math, science, and technological courses are THE paths for students to succeed.  Patrons of the arts bemoan the cuts taking place in music and visual arts.  English teachers are concerned that fictional readings are being phased out in favor of non-fiction; there's no time to read for pleasure or to tweak creative thinking.

Shop classes are a blast from the past as technical, hands on skills are frowned upon in this era of computerization.  Even though we're told that childhood obesity is a pervasive problem in the United States, physical education classes are being cut because the new assessments are taking too much time for children to play.

Some education gurus insist classes be taught for:
  • healthy eating
  • bullying
  • sex education
  • diversity training

It seems as if every group has its own agenda for what's important for human capital.  These small human capital widgets need to perform and be trained for the workforce so they can become productive workers for the Department of Education, Department of Labor, and Department of Health and Human Services.  Happy and productive workers mean a happy and productive country.  Does this sound a bit like China's view of its citizens?

It does to me.  A child's individuality and personality is being wiped away for the efficiency and good of the country and a specific agenda. In the quest to never be judgmental toward anyone (regardless of behavior or actions) and being raised by parents and in a society with this same attitude, students are lacking an important skill.  What is that missing quality in some students that is all important in 'life skills'?  According to a state school in England, these students have not learned...manners.

The school has decided that etiquette must be taught to state students not to necessarily give them a moral center and to treat others as they would like to be treated (I suppose that's too much like the Golden Rule)...it's to make them more employable.

Students will learn such skills as:
  • posture
  • dressing for success
  • how to eat properly
  • clear speech and voice training

In fact, there are etiquette lessons for three year olds in Britain to ensure proper behavior as they grow up so they can become useful citizens.  From a commenter on etiquette lessons for the 16 year olds:

This ties in neatly with the PMs idea about improving family life.  However, it seems to also take it as read that families no longer have the input into their children’s upbringing that they once had.

This situation and the one that Mr Cameron seeks to improve have arisen from several generations of poor parenting.  Whilst he is to be commended for trying to change this situation by using an interlocutor, I believe that he will be disappointed with the outcome.  There needs to be an understanding of how this process of family degradation developed.

The fact that many parents do not now have the time or the inclination to help their children through the ways of natural parenting is not only sad but it is also a dereliction of duty.  Teachers, social workers and the police do not and cannot offer a separate way of teaching children that will allow parents to abrogate their responsibilities.

Will this be another new social program adopted in schools, teaching behavior and good manners traditionally reserved (and expected) for families to impart?  What purpose do families serve (other than paying taxes and supplying the children for the public education system) if students do not even know basic etiquette?  How can parents be held accountable so the schools can return to teaching academic subjects instead of teaching students how to behave so they can land a job and then keep it?  There actually is some accountability in this situation as the parents are being asked to pay toward the classes their children have to take because the parents did not/could not/would not teach them appropriate social behavior.  The parent's lack of initiative and/or laziness is costing them financially and should be a source of embarrassment for the parents and students.

Miss Manners must be aghast at this serious breach of etiquette by parents.  It takes time away from the academic teaching to their children, and instead focuses on how to make them behave responsibly so they can become employable.  Teaching etiquette is reserved for the parents, not the state.  Parents should want what is best for their child so he/she will become a worthwhile and decent person.  The state wants the student to behave well because that is what's best for the state to succeed.   Learning and integrating etiquette in daily life for the purpose of becoming a decent and caring person is much different than learning it to advance the cause for the workforce.  

Here's a question about the data to be gathered on students on the longitudinal data base to be provided to the workforce: how will rating manners and etiquette fit onto a spreadsheet?  The skills learned from the touted 21st century goals in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) may fit well in data collection...human behavior and/or personal skills, not so much.  Maybe human capital widgets really aren't widgets at all.   

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