Opinion

Teachers should educate students, not train them for the workplace

Businesses need to pay their tax obligations and butt out

October 4, 2021 3:33 am

That the Kansas State Department of Education so desperately seeks the input of corporations is a PR stunt, writes Aaron Schwartz, not a productive dialogue that supports educators. (Maja Hitij/Getty Images)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Aaron Schwartz is a writer and teacher in the Kansas City area.

Recent surveys and presentations from the Kansas State Department of Education’s “Kansas Can Success Tour” demonstrate that Kansas educators are doing more for students than ever.

Graduation rates are higher than ever, and more students are seeking post-secondary education or training. This is cause for celebration. However, we see a widening gap between students who display post-secondary readiness and students who are working behind grade level in reading and mathematics.

It is misguided, then, for the State Department of Education to seek the input of businesses and corporations that don’t see the value in promoting language and mathematical literacy, but prefer our students to have corporate “soft skills” instead. What an insult to our students, and what nerve businesses have to ask schools to be workforce trainers rather than educators. The fact that KSDE has asked businesses what education can do for them, rather than what businesses can do for education, is an absurdist joke.

I’m not being facetious. It’s absurd to outsource workforce training to education.

It’s ironic that businesses and corporations that lobby for tax breaks — breaks from financially supporting the full funding of education — are allowed any input on how best to train students. It’s obscene that they’re allowed input on how to train workers for them. Why is KSDE, an organization whose sole existence is to support teachers and students, siding with corporate interests? Why is it, in effect, criticizing teachers for producing underdeveloped workers?

Is a teacher’s job to produce employees? I don’t see that anywhere in the English standards given to me by KSDE. What I see is that I am to produce literate readers and writers who can adapt their thinking to a variety of contexts, audiences, and purposes.

Why, then, do we give businesses and corporations the title “stakeholder,” as if they should expect a return on an investment that they aren’t fully making? Corporations aren’t people; they have no stake in our students. They exist to keep existing by increasing profits. It’s that simple.

Effectively outsourcing workforce training to the education system by saying “we won’t hire them because they aren’t as employable as we’d prefer” is a hostage situation, not an amicable partnership. That KSDE so desperately seeks the input of corporations is a PR stunt, not a productive dialogue that supports educators.

KSDE effectively joining the criticism of educators not training better workers is a betrayal of trust on the part of the governing body to which educators answer. The department should not stand shoulder to shoulder with corporations in criticizing the performance of the system of education; it should stand face to face with them in defense of the system it represents.

Businesses don’t want to pay for the education of the future workforce or their training, don’t want to train these workers themselves, and then have the gall to call students “unemployable.” Please. Of course they’ll employ our students. They have to. And they’ll be glad to know that our students, while not as compliant as they may like, are thinkers who, when respected and given equitable opportunities and compensation, can provide greater value to their businesses than the malleable drones they imagine they want.

Business and education should be separated like church and state, or perhaps should be separated as far as businesses want to be from taxation. That’s not to say that businesses can’t be productive partners with education; many small businesses are incredibly generous toward students and educators with their time, resources, and support. However, it’s important that educators, and foremost KSDE, not mistake philanthropy and generosity for funding in the form of taxes. We are grateful for sponsors, but sponsorship is not a substitute for civic duty. We need less philanthropy in the place of funding and more funding in the place of philanthropy.

Let me give some education advice to businesses that want better workers: When my students lack a skill that I think they should have, and whether or not I believe they should have already acquired that skill, it is incumbent on me to train them in that particular skill if I want them to exhibit mastery.

It is no different with adult learners. If you want better workers with better “soft skills,” then train them, but do it on your own dime and in your own time. I train writers and thinkers. Employers have the rest of their lives to make them compliant and productive earners.

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Aaron Schwartz
Aaron Schwartz

Aaron Schwartz is a writer and teacher in the Kansas City area. He has taught high school English in two districts for fourteen years and served as an adjunct English instructor at the college level for four of those years. He was a 2016 Kansas Teacher of the Year nominee. When not writing opinions, he writes short fiction.

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