Friday, September 30, 2011

An Open Letter To Wisconsin State Assemblyman Mark Radcliffe

I was sent a copy of your e-mail introducing your bill authorizing local school boards to create vocational diploma programs that would not include the current course requirements in Social Studies, English, Math, and Science, but instead would prepare students to enter the local workforce directly upon graduating from such programs.

It should be said that a number of programs, over the years, have addressed the teaching of vocational skills at the high school level, some of them called “Capstone Courses” designed to teach specific skills for particular trades. And, for many years most Wisconsin schools had agricultural and industrial arts classes that provided the kinds of skill you seem to be calling for in your bill.

But there are differences. Your bill seems to imply that the core curriculum of Social Studies, English, math and science is unnecessary for students of a particular type. I’m not sure, and your bill does not explain, who the target audience is for these vocational courses. Is it those who lack the mental acuity for the mastery of the core academic subjects? Or is it those who through lack of motivation, or through personal preference would rather not take those courses and would welcome a chance to get a High School diploma by taking only vocational courses? Or would school districts make the determination of who should and should not take such courses? Finally, perhaps the local employers would have a say in what students were enrolled and how they would be taught. A lot of unanswered questions.

As a retired Social Studies teacher who taught in a school district not far from the legislative district you represent, I have serious concerns about the effects of such a program if it were to become law and if it were adopted widely.

My first concern is that the bill seems predicated on the belief that one does not need a broad education but can function well if only trained in a narrow specialty. That approach has two major flaws, in my opinion. It sets the student up for failure in an economy where jobs evolve quickly and skills become obsolete over night. But it also assumes that work is the only important part of a person’s life; that an ability to understand current events, to discuss and participate in public life, to judge the soundness of public policy or to grasp the concepts of our economy are not needed. That is terribly short-sighted and would, if widely implemented create a class of “drones” whose only purpose is to do the menial tasks of our society.

My second concern is that your bill would only perpetuate an ignorance of history that is so evident in several of our politicians and elected officials of the last several years. In my opinion, our nation is being swamped with a wave of anti-intellectualism that threatens to destroy the gains our culture has made in the last century. Your bill would only add to that dumbing-down of our nation’s culture, creating a class of people who presumably would retain the rights to vote and even run for public office but who would lack the historical perspective to be wise leaders or to choose wise leaders.

I call upon you to recall your proposed bill and instead offer one that increases funding for public education, holds charter schools, and voucher schools to the same standards of excellence that our public k-12 schools are expected to meet. Provide funding for special programs to assist those students whom you seem to feel should not have to endure education in Social Studies, English, math and science, and establish or re-establish programs in vocational education that are linked to good solid general education; programs that give the graduate not only the skills for his or her first job but skills to easily enlarge his or her horizons when that first job no longer provides for his or her needs.

We need smart educational policy and our present Governor, Scott Walker, is leading in the opposite direction. He is a demagogue, ignorantly dividing our citizens, degrading our state’s culture, empowering moneyed interests, and demoralizing those who serve our state as public employees. And that is only a shortlist of the damage he is attempting to inflict upon our state. There are no members of his party willing to speak truth or wisdom to their leader. You and your party need to provide a counter to the Governor’s destructive policies.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please feel free to leave a comment. Comments are moderated and will appear as soon as possible after posting. Follow these steps:
1. Write your comment
2. Select a profile
(Anonymous or Name works best)
3. Select Preview
4. Sign word verification
5. Select Post Comment