Respected author Jonathan Kozol, who is an outspoken supporter of public education, takes issue with the idea that the primary purpose of education should be to create the next workforce.
He wrote: “The notion of kids as workers raises a question: Is future productivity the only rationale for their existence?”
“A lot of the things that make existence wonderful are locked out of the lives of children seen primarily as future clerical assistants or as potential recruits to office pools.”
Certainly education must prepare young people to be productive adults. But there is danger in focusing exclusively on the employment aspect of their lives, he wrote.
We can’t overlook that they will also need to be consumers, voters, audience members, and participants in our entire culture.
They may well be parents or volunteers, and may have a hand in running a household or a committee.
They may coach, they may tutor, they may recycle. After they work, they will likely retire and have more years to contribute and enjoy life well beyond the activities of the workforce.
Kozol argues passionately that we must remember all these roles that citizens fill in our democratic society.
We must absolutely acknowledge that most will be workers and must be prepared for those roles. But we must also keep that goal firmly rooted in the context of an overall productive existence.
Otherwise, he warns, we remove the joy that connects young people to their communities and gives meaning to their lives.