How do you Measure a Unicorn?

“What is the purpose of public education?” my college kid asked me this past summer after his first year away at college. 

“Well, at its core I think it exposes kids to a variety of topics.”

“But is that the purpose?”

This conversion between him and I went on throughout the summer and added hours of conversation with discussion points, banter and debate between us. 

Recently, we learned that his former high school was cutting the Latin program which happened to be the language he took in high school. To say we were devastated would be an understatement (sons comment to the BOE.) 

“What is the purpose of public education” came roaring back, but now with a more critical eye. 

After seeing the school districts’ defense, it wasn’t that I didn’t understand on their data why they would make this decision but I still came back to “what is the purpose of public education?”

This is when I realized what I WANT public education to be is a vastly different world than what public education wants itself to be. 

I don’t want public education to pressure my 10 year old into doing career surveys. I don’t want public education to push my kids onto beliefs that the highest income paths are the best paths for them. I want there to be varied options among all the subjects and topics. I want there to be fair and balanced views. I want them to be inspired by educators who are inspired. 

But my unicorn granola nirvana landscape of what I would want public education to be is…not the reality of public education as I know it today. 

Today, our public education system continues to align with the capitalistic society values and every year the system marches all hail towards Corporate Management of Education (CME.)

CME is laser focused on results, output and value, but only if that value is found on a measurable data chart.   

Running education on the CME platform lends itself to highlighting and parading Big Money in tech, finance and STEM related fields. Arguably, those fields are the highest measurable data points out there and what better way to have a school system succeed than to push those fields and reflect upon its monetary offerings to society. 

Everyone has heard the stat “65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist.”

So the fact that public education systems use current data to shape education now to predict future education needs seems awfully arbitrary. And yet, I also understand the need to grow, change, and at least attempt to meet the needs of current students to build the skills that MIGHT be useful/profitable in the future. 

But you know what I also think is useful? Taking a class for just the heck of it and not some promise of future financial gain. Also, thinking. Thinking in abstracts and making connections over many topics and subjects. It was after all, the cross sections between journalism and social science that led my son to help pass a bill in Illinois that is now a mandated media literacy law. There is value in being absurd in thought and direction and somehow ending up with something….different than a formulated and scripted education driving straight to the next New Tech Valley.  And you know what? Many of those big tech companies would agree. 

This situation has brought me some clarity. NOW if you were to ask me what the purpose of public education is, I would have an answer that aligns more with what public education is. 

Public education is a system that funnels lives and minds into the public college system that feeds the corporate and capitalistic community in hopes of the American Dream of Wealth and Power.

But is that what younger generations even want to be prepared for?

There are 100’s of articles on why Gen Z is not here for corporate life let alone what generations after them might want in their lives. 

One step public education has taken to try and humanize CME is by introducing SEL into curriculums. On paper, this sounds and looks like a good idea but what does the CME + SEL balance sheet look like?

When a class or topic or subject doesn’t meet the CME data points needed for relevance or value, do the SEL data points take their place? Does rating education value on SEL ever take preference over the CME data? Can it? 

I question if it’s possible to manage public education goals in conjunction with social emotional based needs under the CME style. I also know that managing things by “gut feelings and emotions,” intangibles and the unmeasurable doesn’t always make for the best financial decisions.

My hope is that once in a while (and this my unicorn granola showing) SEL driven education has a chance to win on that data chart, and if it does, it will make for better people to add to our global society. And ultimately, isn’t that what the purpose of public education should really be.