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Common Knowledge

Dear Readers,
It takes a long time to break the habits that have taken a long time, and a lot of money, to install (invent?) to start with! The myth of  “our failing schools” is one example, and the idea that the U.S. suffers from a shortage of STEM workers is another. It’s embedded even in the bipartisan support for one section of the latest proposed immigration legislation.

A few weeks ago I blogged about the NY Times editorial acknowledging that there is no STEM shortage. It was also was nice reading the prestigious Columbia Journalism Review (May/June) by Beryl Benderly exposing the same oft-repeated nonsense about STEM.

But, when will fact-checkers start questioning writers who claim (often in passing on another topic altogether)  that our schools need to emphasize math and science more because that’s where the shortages are, and that’s why our economy is lagging?

I’ve been intrigued over the years at what fact-checkers at reputable magazines call me on—demanding “the evidence”—and what they don’t.  Maybe it’s because I write for some publications and not others?  I don’t think so because the range is pretty wide, although of course slanted toward the liberal/left side.  Why would such a claim be more attractive to the Left than the Right?  When do some contentious claims enter the sphere of “common knowledge”?  What is required before something becomes “common knowledge,” how can we help the truth go viral.  Can we turn it around?

Then we had better take on the whole issue of “failure”—who is and who isn’t, and what that tells us about ourselves.  For example, if Massachusetts were a nation—and it’s bigger than Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong—whose test results are reported as though they were nations, Massachusetts would come in  Number One on math and literacy testing.

P.S.  Have I already told you to read Public Education Under Siege, edited by Michael Katz and Mike Rose (University of Penn Press)

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5 Responses

  1. Right on, Deb.
    Once every generation, the efforts to turn liberal arts education into VocEd and technological training re-surface. It’s like plaid. But let’s call it what it really is.

  2. Education is a failure and one of epic proportions. Its amazing to me that Debra doesn’t see this. Any system that demands of a person 13 years of their life ought to result in something remarkable….amazing. And yet the results of the education systems worldwide are at best mediocre. Its really a horrible horrible system. Watch a kid in class. Watch the boredom, the restlessness and ask yourself what could justify so much suffering?!!

    The only failure greater than the education system is the world of work. But education is a system designed to prepare you for the world of work. Only Paul Goodman seems to have had any grasp of how absurd it all is.

    • I guess you are new to Deborah’s work. She agrees with your critique of much of schooling, and has created public schools in low-income areas where what you describe is not true with remarkable results. However, that has nothing to do with what she wrote above.

  3. Deb, I’ll be damned if I can see how you can posit ‘The myth of “our failing schools” is one example, and the idea that the U.S. suffers from a shortage of STEM workers is another.’ And I’ve been reading you weekly for years!

    Failing schools is what we do to black children. Yes, there are plenty of low-quality white rural schools. And suburban schools. And yes, poverty (of both purse and spirit) contributes hugely to the achievement gap.

    But when we talk of failing schools, we’re talking of systemic failure to adapt. Slow, continuous slipping behind. The kinds that can only come in a monopolistic institution to long insulated from it’s customers, shielded by the force of the State.

    Of course, poverty is extended by non-school actions of the state. Detroit is the classic example of this.

    Detroit is a “Progressive’s” heaven. For forty years, it has been run more as ‘Progressives’ desire than almost any other city.


    As to STEM, the remedial classes required at community colleges are proof enough for those who would listen. So are the tech and medical jobs waiting nationwide to be filled.

    Now, a good argument may be what constitutes a STEM education. I’d be open, for example, to computer programming as a substitute for some students for their math requirements. Ditto for Prob/STAT.

    In fact, I’d argue that financial analysis and accounting should be required for anyone who is given a college degree. I’ve seen too many teachers and writers toss around the word ‘profit’ when they have not a clue in the world what it means.

    Don’t get me wrong. We’re also short on learning history, rhetoric, and arts!

    But the way out of systemic poverty–for Blacks and everyone else–is lots more STEM careers (and the other jobs they enable).

    • We may need more STEM jobs, but there is no evidence that more education in such skills has anything at all to do with creating such jobs. As most who study education and the economy agree, in a developed country a better educated populace has little to no effect on the economy or job creation despite all the rhetoric to the contrary. However, changes in the economy does effect what fields people pursue as well as educational policies.

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