I've been the president of two colleges -- one I founded, the other I saved from folding. Over the past 40-plus years, I've taught entrepreneurship, innovation, and change management at another dozen universities around the world. Finally, I've invested in numerous ed-tech startups over several decades. This journey hasn't exactly made me an expert on education -- no one actually is -- but it's taught me a great deal about what it means to be a successful teacher.
My pedagogic aspirations have been straightforward and consistent since my earliest days as an instructor and lecturer. The benchmark I use to measure my results is simple: It's not so much a question of what I taught (or how good I felt about that process) as it was a matter of what my pupils actually learned and took with them. Teachers don't teach subjects; they teach students. And it's the students' takeaways -- not the teacher's thoughts, feelings, or theories -- that matter.
But education that imparts practical knowledge is now being attacked in West Coast think tanks and school systems in places like Oregon, where it seems that wokeness is subverting wisdom when it comes to things like teaching mathematics. A case in point is an 82-page instructional manual created by Education Trust-West and passed along by the Oregon Department of Education; the ETW guide seeks to "help" teachers root out the awful and pervasive ways in which white supremacy is perpetuated by everyday teacher actions in math classes. You can assume that ETW means well and has children's interest in mind; but good intentions in this case add up to a lot of baloney.
Two of the horrible behaviors which are specifically called out as grievous wrongs guaranteed to cause educational harm, particularly to nonwhite students, are: 1) simply asking students to show their work in class using words and numbers; and 2) focusing on getting the correct answer. The ETW guide goes on to say that the idea that math is objective and that answers are either right or wrong is unequivocally false.
Similarly, tracking students' success and, in fact, simply grading students are equally verboten. These are tools and tenets of white culture, as is the "worship of the written word." In their free time, teachers are also asked to "identify and challenge the ways that math is used to uphold capitalist, imperialist, and racist views" and to share this knowledge with their students.
I always felt that my primary responsibility to my students was to help prepare them for successful employment in the real world. This obligation entailed considerably more than just prepping them for a particular job--it was an attempt to prepare them for the lives ahead of them. Another of my overarching objectives was to work hard to remove the sad and ill-conceived stigma that we've attached to vocational and technical education in this country.
These days -- where everything in our world seems to involve and incorporate technology -- it's a little less difficult to convince people that there are many different and equally attractive ways to earn a decent living. They understand that well-trained car mechanics are as likely today to be using a computer as a crescent wrench. Software engineers -- straight out of school -- earn multiples of what an English major might and, when your pipes are busted, a great plumber is worth at least three philosophers.
But whatever career you aspire to and wherever you go to school, it's always been a given that you will need a solid foundation of certain knowledge and skills to succeed. You may not need to be a math whiz, but you've got to at least know the basics. Eventually, you'll build upon and enhance those capabilities -- you'll earn the right to do things in your own ways -- but only after you've mastered the fundamentals.
But sadly, people who are setting policies like these can potentially impact the educations and lives of thousands of students who ultimately are the victims of this lunacy. It's the kids -- the student "customers" -- whose futures, employment prospects, and livelihoods are being imperiled, and someone needs to speak up for them before it's too late. We're facing a serious problem when the high schools (and many colleges) aren't doing their jobs and the graduates that we hire don't have the chops to do theirs.
Much like the insane debates over vaccines and wearing masks that have become so highly politicized, political correctness has invaded and infected even the most sacrosanct principles of education in ways that threaten to deprive an entire generation of students of the tools, skills, and substance that they will need to succeed in the new digital economy. The likely net effect of these kinds of claims and policies is that the students in their charge won't be able to adequately function in the real world because -- apart from no longer understanding that there are actual and factual differences between correct and incorrect -- they won't have a clue that 2 + 2 always equals 4.
Education is a business that's too important and too valuable to be left in the hands of educators. Inefficiency and incompetence in business are serious problems; in education, where misguided efforts to right past wrongs can mortgage the futures and mess with the lives of our students, they are sins.