It is popular in anti-testing circles to assert that students should not be compelled to acquire a set of skills prior to graduation. Students should be allowed to follow their passion. If they need to learn some skills, the task of teaching those skills should be the responsibility of employers, not that of educators.
Jeremiah Shinn, @booneshinn , articulates the position succinctly in a Tweet:
I had been thinking about Shinn’s comment before I sat down to read The Wild Olive, a 1910 bestseller by Basil King. I hadn’t gotten far into the novel when I saw the controversy over whether employees should be expected to have skills predates No Child Left Behind.
Being reluctant to be hanged for murder, the protagonist, Nonnie Ford, flees the US with no definite destination in mind. He hears that in South America what was “needed most was neither men nor capital, but intelligence.” When he meets a couple who are returning from Buenos Aires, Ford inquires if they have heard of the American firm of Stephens and Jarrott located there.
“Wool,” the Englishman grunted again. “Wool and wheat. Beastly brutes.”
“They were horribly impertinent to my husband,” the woman spoke up, with a kind of feverish eagerness to have her say. “They actually asked him if there was anything he could do. Fancy!”
The wife goes on to say, “We wanted people to know who we’d been before we got there; but that branch of knowledge isn’t cultivated.”
“Oh, there’s lots of cleverness among them,” the lady observed, before [Ford] had time to get away. “In fact, it’s one of the troubles with the country—for people like us. There’s too much competition in brains. My husband hit the right nail on the head when he said there was no chance for any beastly Johnny out there, unless he could use his bloomin’ mind—and for us that was out of the question.”
Ford never speaks to the couple again, but he realizes they are right: He has no chance unless he can use his bloomin’ mind.
Before he gets to Buenos Aires, Ford has started acquiring skills that, 18 months later, make him an attractive entry-level employee of the firm for which he wants to work.
As an employer and teacher, I’m decidedly in the employees-need-skills camp. I would like to believe that using their bloomin’ minds is not out of the question for high school graduates.
There’s still competition in brains.
People who have them ought to use them to acquire skills for the kind of work they want to pursue. That’s how people prove they are worthy of an employer’s investment.
I suspect my opinion will be greeted by many educators with a single word beginning with F.
And I suspect that word will not be “Fancy!”