Sunday, June 11, 2017

Money, That's What I Want.

The early Beatles sang:
The best things in life are free
But you can keep them for the birds and bees
Now give me money
That's what I want

Interestingly, after getting all the money they could possible want, they sang, All You Need Is Love

In the post below, deBoer challenges the unquestioned assumptions about schooling in America. These assumptions are so unquestioned that he calls them "dogma".

"6. The purpose of education, from a policy perspective, is predominantly or purely financial/vocational; civic education, humanistic inquiry, socialization, aesthetic appreciation, cultivation of emotional intelligence or compassion, or similar are presumed to be of secondary importance if they are deemed important at all."

The entire reading is profoundly counter-cultural. It challenges many unquestioned assumptions. And this particular point that I highlight above is central to his argument because our culture defines "success" as being wealthy or at the very least working in an esteemed field. Politics aside, or at least partly aside, Donald Trump was perceived as successful despite his many, many faults. It is why he is president. One's happiness, one's dedication to family and to spouse, one's contributions to arts, science and the humanities all are considered less important than wealth and a great teacher, artist, or social worker is not esteemed the way folks such as Donald Trump, Jamie Dimon and Steve Jobs are esteemed. Remember the scorn heaped upon "community organizers" in the 2008 election? Is it really any wonder that "the purpose of education, from a policy perspective, is predominantly or purely financial/vocational?"

I'm guilty of this kind of thinking even though I'm cautioning against it. Let me tell you that I've worried that my daughter, an English major, will have a hard time upon graduating. At least I've had the grace not to tell her that and have had the wisdom to keep my mouth shut. I too am guilty of defining success, under the guise of "wanting what is best for her" by how much money she WON'T make!

Of course, I know the race for "success" is indeed a race to nowhere. It truly is fool's gold. Did anyone see the Silicon Valley start up owner who decided to pay himself and everyone who worked for him $70,000? He read studies that show there is a close correlation between happiness and money up to that point. It makes sense. At that salary- in most places in the USA- one will have a house, car if wanted, enough to eat, enough to buy clothing, enough to have most creature comforts and enough to go on a vacation. After $75,000, more income does very little to make someone happier. Many in America thought him a fool, including his brother who is suing him.

DeBoer gets it right. The primary purpose of schooling in the United States is financial and vocational. Everything else is secondary- even if the schools themselves don't fully buy in or claim to not fully buy in. I teach at a religious school where we proclaim morals and values are primary. Yet at my school, the bottom line is still the bottom line.

Consider this: every time schools are seen to be in crisis, mayors, governors and presidents empanel blue ribbon commissions of business leaders to fix schools. You know what we should have done after the financial crisis of 2008? We should have convened a panel of teachers to fix the mess! (I'm only half joking.) Have you noticed that we don't ask teachers their thoughts on how to improve schools and that instead we ask business people? Y'know why? We aren't "successful".

About my daughter, I want her to have enough and so I worry. She's the eldest of 5 and though she will leave her undergrad years debt free, we can't afford to help her at all for graduate school. I fear the debt she will carry and so I start playing that mental game and think about "success" even while recognizing that our traditional measures of success are sorely lacking. This argument is implicit, I believe, throughout deBoer's post. Americans are miserable. Our happiness index is falling in comparison with other countries. Some of us may be wealthier, but we aren't healthier or happier. As we define success in terms of wealth and career achievement we create unhappy people. Rich folks always want more money. Successful people chase more successes and neither of these paths will lead to happiness and well-being. They may increase pleasure, but they won't increase, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being. I'm not against money or success. I wish I had more of both myself.

Schools mirror broader societal values. And these values have messed up many of us. Sadly,  to challenge the broadly accepted dogma is all but impossible. It's sad.

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