The Economic Utility of Education

I clipped these lines from Neil Postman three years ago, but find that this continues to be relevant today, especially in light of the teacher’s strike going on Chicago this past week in the fight (not really for increased wages or better contracts as others like to emphasize) to improve the quality of education by demanding that communities be allowed to free schools from market mechanisms and neo-liberal policies that now organize the educational system in the United States.

Here’s the excerpt from Postman:

…so many believe it to be the preeminent reason for schooling. It may properly go by the name of the god of Economic Utility. As its name suggests, it is a passionless god, cold and severe. But it makes a promise, and not a trivial one. Addressing the young, it offers a covenant of sorts with them: If you will pay attention in school, and do your homework, and score well on tests, and behave yourself, you will be rewarded with a well-paying job when you are done. Its driving idea is that the purpose of schooling is to prepare children for competent entry into the economic life of a community. It follows from this that any school activity not designed to further this end is seen as a frill or an ornament–which is to say, a waste of valuable time.

If we knew, for example, that all our students wished to be corporate executives, would we train them to be good readers of memos, quarterly reports, and stock quotations, and not bother their heads with poetry, science, history? I think not. Everyone who thinks, thinks not…economic utility is a by-product of a good education.

-The End of Education, Neil Postman


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