Education is Labor, Right?


W.J. Astore

So, the Trump Administration wants to merge the Department of Education with Labor.  What a surprise.  According to Mick Mulvaney, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, “They’re [Education and Labor] doing the same thing.  Trying to get people ready for the workforce, sometimes it’s education, sometimes it’s vocational training – but all doing the same thing, so why not put them in the same place?”

I saw this push for education as workforce development when I was a professor of history in Pennsylvania.  Education was largely reduced to vocational training, in partnership with business and industry.  My classes in history (including the social history of technology) were essentially “filler” classes, and indeed I had a student tell me he might see me again if he needed another “filler” class.  I wasn’t angry; I was amused at how perceptive and honest the student was.

Of course, America will always have the Ivy League.  Education as training for a job won’t really drive the curriculum at Yale or Harvard or Princeton.  You can still get a decent liberal arts education in America, assuming you have money.  But if you don’t, it’s off to “workforce training” for you.

When I was still teaching, I used to argue that my history classes were especially valuable to students at the college where I taught since they might be the only college-level course in history that they’d ever experience.  I’d argue that plumbers and welders and nurses needed to know history too.  Why?  Because they’re not just aspiring plumbers and welders and nurses — they’re American citizens, and the health of our democracy is based on a well-informed and broadly educated citizenry.

The Trump Administration doesn’t want such a citizenry.  Their vision of education is not about creative and critical thinking, and it certainly isn’t about challenging authority.  Rather, it’s about job training, workforce development, preparing people for a lifetime of labor — and supine obedience.

Well, as our “stable genius” president said, “I love the poorly educated.”  Under this latest proposal, he’s putting his “love” into practice.

An Addendum: When you treat education as a business, as administrators have been doing in higher ed, is it any surprise when education is reduced to a feeder and filler for labor, for business and industry, for the workforce?  As a professor, I had plenty of experience with administrators who sold education as a commodity, who talked about students as “customers” and professors as “providers” of a product.  One high-level administrator insisted that we professors meet our students “at their point of need.”  Another big push when I was a professor was on retention.  Keep those students in college!  If only to keep enrollment up and the tuition dollars flowing.

We have reduced education to a business and classes to commodities, so why not combine education with labor?  It makes perfect sense … and supports perfectly authoritarian rule.

16 thoughts on “Education is Labor, Right?

  1. Education derives from educar, to draw out, so the primary sense of educate is to draw out or unfold the powers of the mind. All our minds are unique and different, so the process, properly done, must differ with the student.
    This isn’t the case in most schools, unfortunately. I don’t know about you, but in high school we likened it to a prison. Sit down and shut up. It still prevails, only more so, teaching to the test, math & English, they’re easy to test, and if one doesn’t grasp algebra one is classified as stupid even though algebra is mostly useless to most people in everyday life. Go figure!
    People are all different. Howard Gardner did some seminal work in defining seven types of intelligence, and there are probably more. We’re all especially good at some things, but what? That’s the task of a proper education, discovering ourselves. Henry David Thoreau wrote about the importance of self-discovery (Walden).
    We all know that initiative and creativity probably count most in a successful life, deriving from a proper education, but unfortunately that runs counter to what the government and their corporate sponsors want, which is well-trained compliancy and complacency.


  2. I trust this site, but had to click the UTube on Trump’s “I love the poorly educated”. No, it’s not a cyber attack: Our contemporary world is going truly insane*! I’d expect such a comment out of a 18thC Southern plantation owner, or executive for the Dutch East India Company – but a 21stC American President?
    * Not that insanity is reserved for America; our stooges in Europe seem to be following diligently, but they too have a new group of Astore’s raising. The ‘migrant’ issue is freaking them out; once again the issue is ‘education’. Is it worth it, for say a Mercedes or Siemens executive to save money on a factory floor sweeper, yet his daughter is unable to visit a department store, for fear of being raped in the street?!
    An Astore style commentator was on the news today, stating the immigrant problem won’t end until we stop making their countries of origin unlivable with wars & sanctions.
    I’m not with Astore 100%, and feel today with the death of the DREADFUL neo con we may be closer to peace. But it’s gonna’ take a lot of hard work, and humility.
    911 must be re-examined, and people like Krarthensomething -or- other, also. His name is not worth remembering after the damage his ilk have done to US.

    With awful people like him gone, we decent Americans have a chance to rebuild the damage they’ve inflicted on USA, and tried, and failed, on the rest of the world. PS: Not word in European press of his death….


    1. It’s not the students’ fault that they were poorly educated, and I don’t get the point of anything else you’ve said. Blame everything on neocons? How about the neolibs? Washington has been a united front for all war, all the time. How about Obama with the unearned Nobel, for example, sending 70,000 troops to Afghanistan? And how about that war-queen Hillary we thankfully avoided, all thanks to Trump?


      1. Alright Don Bacon, I’ll meet you 1/2 way. I’m an old man, heard the NeoCon angle for years, and still waiting for ONE of their successes. The NeoLib is relatively new in comparison, but boredom is fast setting in.
        My problem is the actual titles; sending 70,000 troops into danger is hardly ‘liberal’, yet supporting various wars bankrupting America is hardly ‘conservative’.
        Yes, it’s a relief not having Hillary for Prez, but I think you give Trump too much credit for her defeat. Something went terribly wrong with her ad campaign, and the Podesta’s are NOT ad people. They never ‘branded’ her like Carville did for Bill, and they’re so conceited never gave him the credit – took it themselves. What the hell happened to a BILLION$ budget? As an example of ad budgets, Coca-Cola spends about $100Million a year in the States – and you can’t escape it.

        Which leads me to invent a new word: ‘NeoThieves’.


  3. I would genuinely like to see this merger take place. After all, it can’t be any worse than the current grade school system. For instance, more and more college students start out on the five-year plan from having to take so many 00-level courses to make up for things that they should have learned in high school. I discussed this in one of my very first blog posts:

    And I can’t seem to add a hyperlink in a comment… oh well.

    Anyway, the job market requires much more highly skilled people than it used to, meaning that a much larger percentage of jobs require specialised training than thirty years ago. There are far fewer opportunities for non-college graduates than there used to be, so the education system must be reformed, such that college is not needed for EVERY job out there. I have pages of examples to share, but I think I’ll save them for later. Well, there is one that is far too important: having a high school diploma is no longer a guarantee of LITERACY.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Don Bacon >> “and if one doesn’t grasp algebra one is classified as stupid even though algebra is mostly useless to most people in everyday life.”

    I was not good at Math, but I did remember how to solve for unknowns. I wowed some of my fellow workers once solving a problem using Algebra. By contrast my wife was in the Mathletes in grade school and high school. Back then late 1960’s and early 1970’s woman it seemed were consigned to “Kitchen Math” how many cups to a pint etc., so they could make cakes for their husbands. Whenever my daughters needed help in Math, they went to my wife.

    When I went HS (1962-66) as a male you had two choices: College Prep or Shop Classes. Most of the adult males who resided where I grew up in the South Chicago area, one way or another worked in that great industrial belt.

    It was around this time the War in Vietnam was heating up and the draft was grabbing shop class kids after HS. Those that went on to College received deferments. It was a “Class Sort” that was unheard of in WW 2, or at least not so apparent.

    As our host has mentioned the importance of history has been downgraded. As a friend of mine once observed a few years ago – rote memorization – has replaced critical thinking. The Betsy De Vos system is perfectly suited for today’s corporation controlled delivery education. Add in the De Vos and Mike Pence theocracy thinking and the you have near perfection for turning out the obedient student into the adult that accepts authoritarian rule.


    1. Yes, ML. Well put. You have DeVos, who is all about “school choice,” which means privatizing schools so as to profit from them. And not just profit, but also controlling the message, which I’m sure would be corporate-friendly, a “respect your (rich) elders” message. Then there’s Pence, whose basic message is to obey evangelical teachings, based upon a close reading of the Bible: their close reading, of course. Interpretations that favor authoritarian rule by “experts,” you know, men like our attorney general, quoting scripture about obeying the government.

      We’re all supposed to be “educated” to obey DeVos, Pence, and Sessions. Of course, that’s not education: it’s indoctrination.


  5. Your 4th paragraph is most telling & sad. I was in HS 1959 to 1963. I’m actually excellent at math, and roared through Algebra. Yet when it came to GEOMITRY! I was totally lost. Failed in school, failed in Summer School; finally solved the problem, by memorizing the NY State book of questions asked. To get my ‘College Prep’ diploma.
    The irony is I made my life’s income on ‘proportion’ – I should have been a genius in Geometry!


  6. Is it possible to restructure the architecture of this blog so we can reply to someone whenever we want?


      1. Don Bacon is referring to the fact that in the comment of BMCKS beginning with “Alright, Don Bacon”, there is no Reply possibility/button, which might be due to the fact it is already a comment to a comment to a comment, meaning perhaps you cannot go on indefinitely replying to the same post (perhaps because of the indentations which are created by a reply)


        1. Thank you. “Nested comments” was set to 3. I have reset that to 5. That should allow a “reply” in this case.


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