Monday, February 22, 2016

It's the Humanties, Stupid

The Toronto's Star's top story right now is about how employers are saying that young people don't know how to read and write.

Keeping in mind that the "employer survey" is not a terribly scientific document, and are usually used to signal employers' desire to flood the market with a particular kind of workers (whose wages coincidentally go down due to the glut of people) The solution  being proposed would be something akin to an SAT test, which generally test you more on test taking than critical thinking! 

However, the thing that really shocked me about the article was how the obvious answer, that there has been a decades-long assault on a humanities education at virtually every level of secondary and post-secondary education, was completely ignored.

Instead we're treated to the usual bromides about how kids these days are all sheltered babies who cannot be more than five seconds away from their cell phones without going into withdrawal. Or that schools have lowered their standards.  All of which may be true (although in my teaching experience I don't really see it, except for the cell phone bit), but the reality is that the place where students best learned critical thinking was in a good old well-rounded liberal arts education.

However, universities, starved of public cash and hungry for private money, listened to these same employers who, in the 90's, declared that learning a foreign language and reading Chaucer would ill-equip you for the "real world" and have been shutting down or reducing the sizes of humanities departments, a culling that has only intensified since the 2008 financial meltdown.  Now it turns out that those things also, coincidentally, benefited employers, who are now seeing the results of their influence in the 90's come back to haunt them! 

So instead of blaming these anecdotal problems on the Internet or bad parenting, perhaps we could look at the actual systemic changes we have made to education over the past 20-30 years, and question that.  Or failing that, simply stop listening to employers.