•What does it mean to be educated? What is the purpose of education? Is it an end unto itself? Or is an education equivalent to having the skills for a specific job?
•How do we determine which knowledge is worth learning? What of knowledge that enlightens the soul but does not fill the bellies of hungry children? What of the arts, philosophy, astronomy, or the comparative study of religions?
•Does it matter how your education was acquired? Is it necessary to have a proscribed number of courses at a specific level of educational institution in order to be educated? Aren’t there differing levels of educational attainment required for differing sorts of occupations?
********** ********** **********
These are all good questions, and they represent only a tiny number of the ones that we should be considering when creating an educational system not only for our state but also for our nation.
If we believe our governor of less than two months, the answer to them all is that many fields of study, especially the liberal arts, are not to be valued. Calling the individuals who have dedicated their lives to advancing our understanding of our souls and our cultures the ‘educational elite,’ he believes that courses not focused on specific jobs should only be available to those few lucky enough to afford private school educations.
“I’m a big vocational training advocate,” McCrory told Bennett. “I think some of the educational elite have taken over education, where we’re offering courses that have no chance of getting people jobs.”
Governor McCrory’s focus on technical schools isn’t enough because it limits the options for our young people and fails to recognize that there is more than one kind of business in our state. Other nations have long recognized the importance of education that meets the needs of those preferring fewer years of education. Many still have apprenticeship programs, too, another idea that existed here in the 1970s and 1980s. Yet these nations do not limit the available opportunities to their lower income students by reducing access to alternative educational paths.
Not everyone wants to be hands-on in their career. Many want to do research. Many want to become social workers, psychologists, artists, writers, historians, or attorneys. All are needed occupations. None should be unavailable to people who cannot afford a private university education. But our governor, who attended a private college, believes that some fields of study should only be taught at private universities, and those who cannot afford those private schools should not have access to their study at public universities.
“In response to a dig that Bennett took at gender studies courses, McCrory expanded on the theme of connecting classes offered to potential employment.
“You’re right,” McCrory said. “That’s a subsidized course, and frankly, if you want to take gender studies, that’s fine. Go to a private school and take it, but I don’t want to subsidize that if that’s not going to get someone a job … It’s the tech jobs that we need right now.”
The problem, of course, is that specific job skills change rapidly. The software you need to work today will not be the same you need in two years, regardless of what that job is. Training someone to work one kind of machine, rather than learning broad skills and knowledge that is adaptable to many careers, limits their usefulness to the job de jour. If your college or community college education focuses on technology available while you are in school, your education will soon be out-of-date.
Moreover, research requires broader knowledge that can only be gained from a broad-based education, including not only core sciences but also liberal arts and the humanities. Politicians, for instance, frequently study law or economics, and those both require history, philosophy, sociology, and economics. Where will the researchers of the future come from? Not our public universities, if Governor McCrory has his way.
Specific departments or focused study areas would likely disappear, as our governor has suggested is appropriate for gender studies, an area that Republicans are unlikely to support. Would the companies that make large grants for these social science or humanities programs continue to donate to our public universities, or would those funds go to private schools? I’m certain the private schools would be happy to accommodate those study areas and their wealthy students would locate lucrative careers after graduating in programs unavailable to their colleagues in public institutions.
An example of this is the recent announcement of a large grant from Merck to NC A&T that established the Center for Outreach in Alzheimer’s, Aging and Community Health.
“Merck & Co. Inc. has awarded the College of Arts and Sciences at North Carolina A&T State University with a $1 million grant in support of the university’s new Center for Outreach Alzheimer’s, Aging and Community Health.
“N.C. A&T State University is excited about the proposed center, which will significantly expand the university’s capacity to impact education, outreach, and policy in Alzheimer’s and aging,” said Dr. Goldie Byrd, dean of the college of arts and sciences.
“The Center will attract an interdisciplinary team of faculty, staff and students across the College of Arts and Sciences, and the university, to conduct community based outreach activities that influence healthy aging.”
Many people recall when businesses began shifting the training of their employees to our secondary schools and to the community college and university systems. It began with the idea that high schools should offer vocational training that would include apprenticeships at local businesses. This is not a bad idea in theory. The students were paid and acquired transferable skills. Often this new method of educating students for future jobs was accompanied by modest monetary or facility donations to specific schools or commitments to hire graduates. They could afford to do this because they were transferring responsibility for training their employees to the government, and to the citizens that the government represents.
Businesses, especially large ones, now feel entitled to having citizens pay for the training of their employees, saving them a fundamental cost of doing business. It seems logical that the best people to train an employee are the people doing the job. This is true for all levels, from the janitor learning the preferred practices to the CEO learning the ropes from his predecessor.
These cuts to our higher education system, proposed by the Republicans and Governor McCrory, and pushed by the various Tea Party groups who object to our government providing services such as free public education as well as religious organizations that want curricula to represent what they consider factual and acceptable doctrinally, will harm our state economically. They will harm our children, our future workforce.
Once again, the Republicans and Governor McCrory are standing with global corporations and large businesses, providing them with yet another entitlement at the expense of the citizens of North Carolina. Their legacy, when finally they leave office, will be the decimation of our economy and our citizens’ awareness that the Republicans take care of their own: the rich who can afford private education.