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With flawed schools exposed, real-world experience is needed

What kind of school systems are our taxes supporting?

This question becomes very critical given the fact that jobs are being outsourced to other countries by the thousands and many leaders of public schools have lost touch with what’s important. Educators better get with the program and start teaching real skills along with the ability to learn and compete.

The latest decision to outsource jobs comes from J.P. Morgan (which now includes Bank One) to shift 7,000 financial jobs into India. While that’s good for future graduates in India, it’s not good for those in the United States.

As with so many others in industries that aren’t yet affected by outsourcing or offshoring, educators don’t see that their future is questionable as well. There needs to be a radical shakeup in an industry that has touted itself as professionals yet continues to deliver some very questionable results. The latest is a controversial assignment in Wisconsin.

Stop teaching fantasyland
The old adage of “Those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach” must be replaced with “those who can must also teach”. A different set of criteria for hiring teachers should be invoked in order to upgrade the quality of education in America.

This observation comes after teaching both graduate and undergraduate courses for twenty years where the adult students enrolled, many of which were deeply immersed in the job market, were looking for practical insights from those that have a hands-on experience rather than a theoretical philosophy.

For example, it is difficult to be credible teaching a course on international marketing if you never have been outside the country. Many factors (including cultural differences) can’t be properly conveyed.

The best visualization is Rodney Dangerfield in “Back to School” telling the academic business professor that he missed a lot of things on his laundry list of putting together a manufacturing company. When the professor discounts Dangerfield’s practical insights, he answers the professor’s final question as to where to build the factory: “How about Fantasyland?”

Teaching from the Rodney Dangerfield” approach, the merging of pragmatism and academics into “pracademics” became a must in many information systems and telecom management courses. People wanted to learn from those who had real backgrounds and not those who had just read a book. There needs to be this blending of real world with teaching in lower levels of education across the whole curriculum.

Pawns, sheep, competition

There was national attention given on Tuesday to an assignment given to third graders at a Madison, Wisconsin, school to write an anti-war letter. While this was touted as a lesson in civics and handwriting, the reality is that it was a way of using children as political pawns to promote an individual’s political viewpoint.

What is more appalling is the parent of one of the students (who is also a teacher) going on FOX television to support the assignment and trying to put a positive spin on it as something good for the students to learn.

You could tell she was reading off a prepared, bulletpointed list as to the “relevancy and learning experience” the assignment provided as if she was the spokesperson for the teachers. I suppose she responded in “educatorese” by supporting a very questionable assignment that wasn’t at all structured objectively.

Another parent who was interviewed got it right when she claimed it was nothing more than a brainwashing exercise and questioned why this assignment (which was mostly pre-written with an anti-war slant) was given to children to finish up and mail out. It was also an assignment that was supposed to be repeated every 12 days until the war ended.

What if the assignment was writing about repealing Roe vs. Wade? Would more people be up in arms? Sending a letter every 12 days until it is repealed would be the assignment. Would you feel any different now? Do you not like when kids are used as sheep to promote a political agenda with which you may not agree?

Using impressionable children to promote any political agenda is wrong no matter the issue. Let kids be kids and not be burdened with adult issues that are too complex to fully understand at that age.

If we had the same metrics to measure schools and teacher effectiveness as we do in manufacturing, we would be seeing the product they’re cranking out is not a quality product. The tired comparison educators always use that “if they had a job in corporate America, they would be getting paid so much more money” would be superfluous.

They would be let go for cranking out an inferior product that they wasted a huge amount of resources to make. Superintendents who view themselves as CEOs should see that CEOs don’t get a raise if they aren’t doing a good job and they get bounced if their company isn’t turning out a quality, world-class product.

What are the real goals?

Where is the quality control in public schools?

Political correctness and slanted ideology should be replaced with political accuracy and strong, fundamental and objective learning skills. Schools should also concentrate on developing skill sets to compete globally. A focus on creativity, flexibility and adaptability – rather than rote, repetition and routine – should be the critical objective of today’s school goals for educating tomorrow’s work force.

While cute curricula with whimsical goals, folksy ideals and subtle promotion of political objectives might sound good in the coffee room, teachers should be pushed out into the real world and be replaced by those who have worked in it. If nothing else, students would get a much broader insight into what they will need in the future and teachers would get the education they are missing.

Carlinism: Socrates was a teacher. He was not an educator.

James Carlini is an adjunct professor at Northwestern University. He is also president of Carlini & Associates. Carlini can be reached at or 773-370-1888. Copyright 2005 Jim Carlini.

The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.


Kenneth Stubbe responded 9 years ago: #1

I agree that schools must focus on teaching more practical skills in schools. I know many that already are. I also agree that students should not be used to push political agendas.

However, jobs are not being outsourced to India because of real or percieved weaknesses in the preparation of our workforce. Jobs are being outsourced to India because Indian workers are English speakers, well-educated and yet are considerably less expensive than similarly educated American workers.

Douglas Alexander responded 9 years ago: #2

From my experience teaching 9th grade Social Studies for 4 years I appreciate this article and add the following:
--the root problem is that our government schools are a bureaucracy, with no real competition. To wit:
--when a school performs poorly, it historically receives more money. If it were a business, the leadership would be fired.
--teachers and principals are not rewarded or penalized by how well their students learn. As in all bureaucracies, they are retained as long as they don't bring negative attention to the bureaucracy.
--the underlying solution to getting government schools to focus back on education is to allow the consumer (partents) to choose among all available schools. That would pressure schools to take steps toward putting out a good product.

Tom Layton responded 9 years ago: #3

"CEOs don’t get a raise if they aren’t doing a good job"

It is obvious that you and I are not reading the same newspapers, watching the same nightly news shows or looking the same websites. The ones I consume say that a growing problem is that there is little relationship between CEO salaries and company financial health. The difference between New York Public Schools and Enron is that the school CEO does not have a golden parachute.

James Carlini responded 9 years ago: #4

Thanks for all the comments and I do think that what Mr. Alexander points out are some excellent points.

As to Mr. Layton and CEOs, I went to a Compliance Conference in Washington, DC in October where several CEOs spoke including Jeff Immelt from GE as well as the new Disney CEO.

Boards are starting to focus on pay for performance instead of "pay for failure". GE's policy for all division heads are make your numbers or you're out. The golden parachutes are still out there but I see the trend going more towards CEO performance pay which is a good thing.

Your comment about the school CEO doesn't get a golden parachute may be true- but how many people in business get 80% of their pay with medical benefits which is pretty standard for all levels of teachers and not just the "CEO"? There are many reforms that could be done in the education sector as well that are sorely needed today - one being pension reform.

With GM and Delphi as well as other companies looking at their pensions and saying they cannot fulfill the obligation, do you really think that we can keep supporting fat education pensions? Something has to give and the taxpayer has already been giving too much.

Thanks for your feedback as these topics need a lot more light because people are concerned.

Terry Ludeman responded 9 years ago: #5

What an absolutely absurd notion it is to blame U.S. educators for the outsourcing of United States' jobs. Without a vigilant US army policing the world, the Morgan Trust would not be investing our money in third world countries. I would imagine that it is U.S. educators who are to blame for firms moving their headquarters offshore to avoid paying taxes in the U.S. (They also want the protection of US intervention, they just would prefer not to pay for it.)

James Carlini responded 9 years ago: #6

ABSURD NOTION? As stated in my article, Terry:

Schools should also concentrate on developing skill sets to compete globally. A focus on creativity, flexibility and adaptability – rather than rote, repetition and routine – should be the critical objective of today’s school goals for educating tomorrow’s work force.

Dust off those obsolete lesson plans that you haven't changed in years and create something new and in tune with the global economy to prepare students to compete.

You are right about one thing - a smaller tax base means teachers have to start thinking about paying more for benefits (like EVERYONE else does) and not think that the taxpayer has an unending flow of cash.

Certain things like carrying over "sick days" over years and years until you take a year of "sick days" off has to end. If you don't take sick days in the year they are issued - you lose them. There are many other ways to reduce educational costs and those must be implemented.

Library Mary responded 9 years ago: #7

I am a media assistant in a small high school in the mountains of North Carolina. Our state end-of-course scores are very good, SAT scores are excellent, music and art departments are exceptional, and our students are, overall, good school and community citizens. With that said, you have stated what I have been saying for several years. The rubrics we use to evaluate academic skills are not related to success in the real world. We are truly part of a world economy and need to be preparing our students to compete and succeed in that world. Our educational institutions have become dinosaurs intent only on keeping themselves well-fed, indifferent to the needs of the rest of the world.

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