Monday, November 5, 2012

Robert Reich's I'll Be Short 3: Education

In my latest reading of I'll Be Short: Essentials for a Decent Working Society, Robert Reich focused on education.  I have three items.

1.  Somewhere in the book, Reich says that businesses should form apprenticeships for local students who are not planning to go to college.  I cannot find where exactly Reich said that, but that sort of idea corresponds with something that Reich says on page 44: "We'll return to the older view that corporations are, in a sense, citizens of our American community, that citizenship carried duties as well as rights, and that there is and must be an ethical basis to doing business in America."

This caught my attention because of the debate concerning the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Citizens United.  Critics of that decision, many of whom are on the Left, argue that corporations are not citizens and thus lack First Amendment rights (i.e., to make generous political donations, to make Hillary: The Movie, etc.).  When Mitt Romney said that corporations were people, many from the Left attacked him for that.  And so it's ironic to read Robert Reich say that corporations are citizens and have rights.  The problem is that there's a feeling that corporations do not act as citizens, for many believe that they're primarily pursuing their own self-interest, regardless of the social impact of what they do.

2.  Reich appears to support school choice, but only for public schools.  He emphatically denies that he supports vouchers, or at least vouchers that don't put "a lot of extra money behind poorer kids", since that would "drain resources from our public schools" as well as encourage the better students to leave public schools, while the "more needy or troublesome" students are left behind (pages 69-70).  The problem today, as Reich notes, is that many people from poorer communities go to public schools that do not have a lot of money, and so they don't get as good of a start in life as people from richer communities, who go to better-funded public schools.  Not only is the lack of money a problem, Reich contends, but if a person is around other people who (say) don't have plans to go to college, then peer pressure will likely discourage that person from going to college.  A way to address this problem, according to Reich, is to "Let any public school compete to enroll these kids and receive the money that goes with them" (page 69).  To meet their budgets, public schools would have to attract students.  And they probably wouldn't cherry-pick, for every student would have money that goes with him or her.

The problem here, I think, is that schools would cherry-pick, for they would try to attract the best students, since the best students would give them the higher test scores.  As far as I could see, Reich does not talk much about No Child Left Behind, under which public schools have been awarded or penalized according to how their students do on standardized tests.  But Reich does lament that public schools have become testing factories, which he considers sad because he does not believe that standardized tests adequately measure a student's competence or intelligence.  Perhaps a kid does poorly on standardized tests, after all, but he's able to learn and adapt material in other ways.  This brings me to my third item.

3.  Reich argues that people are getting left behind in terms of higher education, as schools narrow their admissions and seek to attract the students who do well academically and score high on standardized tests.  Reich also notes that, in some areas, guidance counselors are so over-worked that they cannot meet the individual needs of students.  I was thinking about whether or not this agreed with my experience.  I was fortunate to have a family and guidance counselors who cared for me and my future.  I also did well in school, and so I got into college with a scholarship.  But, as Reich tells it, there are people who are not so fortunate.  That makes me wonder about what happened to the students at my high school who did not do as well academically.  Did they go to college?  Maybe not.  At the same time, I can't say that everyone who didn't make the top ten lost out on going to college.  I don't think that would be accurate.

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