I'm reading Seth Godin's manifesto attacking industrial strength schooling, and I think I've found an oversight and contradiction that seems to be common in some people's arguments about current school models being out of date because they don't align with idealistic/futuristic ideas of work.
This quote largely catches it:
If you do a job where someone tells you exactly what to do, he will find someone cheaper than you to do it. And yet our schools are churning out kids who are stuck looking for jobs where the boss tells them exactly what to do.The US economy has apparently only offered 600,000 "boss tells you what to do" type jobs over the past 20 years. But are cleaners, sweatshop workers, burger flippers, retail shop assistants, police, the military, students and welfare dependent unemployed really on a downturn in the US as Seth implies? I'm a bit confused to be honest. Is Seth accepting the impact of Globalisation on western economies, and seriously arguing that our mass education system should completely change to fit the work profile of a privileged few? is Seth's manifesto another example of bourgeois writing leaning on working class experience to progress a poorly considered idea that ultimately benefits the bourgeois position?
Why should schools stop churning out factory workers? Seems to me that's what schools were designed for, not much has changed, nor could it be changed. Perhaps schools should be preparing people for military service, scab labor, homelessness and docile unemployment. We can't all be engineers, designers, culture creators and the like. Someone's still gotta take the garbage out, violently steel resources for the State, and make affordable food for those poor impoverished souls right? Or are we accepting that that is all done by migrants (who we assume don't go to school, at least not schools like ours). Unless we succeed at building cheap robots to do that work (and preserve the idea of welfare for those who would be displaced by that), the majority of work remains in that class, and so mass education should as well.
This is the problem with trying to use the vocational education argument back on itself, to prop up a change argument that is less about new work models and more about promoting a different level of social ideals - freedom and conviviality.
If Seth had of referred out to others writing on this topic, he might have at least encountered Ivan Illich, namely but not least his books: Tools for Conviviality, In Defense of Useful Unemployment, and Deschooling Society. A consistent thread through all of Illich's work is the anarchic idea that institutions like school, compel our cultural dependence on those institutions, and that we need to develop a viable alternative to industrialised living entirely, to begin breaking our dependence on those institutions. Reforming those institutions to drive such change is a tail waging a dog. And so it's not until we get much closer to a post industrial society, that we can hope for a more convivial experience of learning from one another, doing valuable, self sufficient and flexible forms of work, relying a lot less on schools to care for kids that must limit their learning to industrial strength vocational application. You might try and change the school system in the hope of shaping that more ideal society, but not without frustrating and disappointing those who are subjected to your engineering. Or you might simply make it more possible for people to forgo school entirely and discover and develop alternative ways of learning and being, but not without some fear and anxiety. We're a long way from either option, because in the end people need jobs to survive, those jobs are still very industrialised, and people caught in that need someone to take care of their kids while they're at work! A cruel and vicious cycle that seems to be getting worse with pre and post school childcare centres booming because both parents and grandparents have to work, just to pay landlords, financiers and banks off!
Maybe Seth will get to all this later in his manifesto - I hope so. It seems to me we have to stop using the "work is changing" argument, and look at the alternatives to our present ways. Those who are trying to break through the dehumanising effects of industrialism have some ideas and examples. The counter culture movement as they once were, the transition towns, the permaculturalists, the homeschoolers, the pre industrialised societies, cottage industries, free universities, small and ethical business, and hopefully many things I haven't found yet. If we can study their models and experiences we may find a way through to a viable alternative for more people, so that unschooling is viable for more people, and deschooling is more possible for others.