Education for What? 3 Kinds of Prep for the Real World

One of the questions posed to stakeholders in the Asheville City Schools strategic planning process is: How well does ACS prepare students with the skills they need to be successful in employment or at college?

I’d venture to say there are the old, current and evolving roles.


Old Role:  Worker Prep

Based on a manufacturing model of many years ago, public education was viewed as a production line of good workers:  People who were literate and could follow directions.  Private schools were for the elite who would own the companies and employ the others.  Levels of achievement in public education translated to levels within business – managers, trainers, supervisors.  Still, there were opportunities through a public education to go on to college, secure advanced degrees and enter a variety of professions.  But employers were looking for dependable “assemblers” and led the charge for public education to prepare students for work.  Graduation from high school wasn’t a particular interest of business if they could hire young people at age 16 who had the capacity for the work.  Employers today still seek good workers but the workplace is a bit different.  In addition to basic math and language/writing skills, they want employees who show up on time, focus on and take pride in their work, respect each other and seek to learn more.


Current Role: Thinker Prep

Over the years, the notion of an education has advanced.  Along with advances in technology, the manufacturing sector requires higher skills of its workers.  Math and science have taken on new importance in public education.  The ability to read and comprehend complex materials as well as the ability to write clearly and professionally has new significance in the world of work.  And because employment often requires additional and more advanced training - even college, high school graduation has a new importance.  Employers need people with critical thinking skills and problem solving skills – workers who may not know all there is to know about a job, but can locate the information and resources they need to get the job done well. 


Evolving Role: Citizen Prep

My mother told me the job of a parent is to help your child move away from you and learn how to live in the world.  I now see it as part of the job of public education (as well as the job of parents).  Schooling has always included lessons for youth on how to get along, work in groups, and be a good citizen.  And as the world around us changes, schools have the opportunity and the challenge to teach those skills in bigger, broader ways.  Understanding different cultures, different belief systems, and different values requires teachers who have that knowledge without judgment.  Understanding the significance of seemingly unsolvable human problems ranging from homelessness, violence, mental illness and diseases require teachers who have that knowledge without judgment.  In addition to the skills it takes to be a good employee and to solve problems at work, public education is now charged with helping young people go out into the world and be contributing members of a community. We need young adults who can interact across differences and who can advance the common good.  We need students who understand that what happens to one person affects all of us and that we all need a chance at a good life.  That can happen only when we have teachers, principals, staff, and administrators who also believe these things about our society and pass that belief along to the students in their care.