President Donald Trump has proposed combining the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor. After asking educators for their opinions about the merger, Education Week reported that “educators, by and large, don’t seem to be fans of this idea.” Anthony Carnevale, the director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce has a different view. In a June 22 Washington Post op-ed defending the merger, he wrote, “Because education and careers are inextricably bound, we need to take an ‘all one system’ perspective that connects the education and career dots from middle school through college and early careers.”
Carnevale is right that a large majority of students—and their families—value education primarily because they want better careers. In a 2015 national poll of incoming college students from the Cooperative Institutional Research Program, 85 percent of respondents ranked being “able to get a better job” as a very important reason for pursuing a college degree. But he is mistaken when he advocates merging the departments of Education and Labor. Too many of education’s other gifts are at stake.
Education’s purpose is more than career preparation. Leaving curricular decisions up to employers is not healthy for America. For example, Thomas Jefferson’s rationale for supporting public education was the need for an informed citizenry in a healthy democracy. Today, the lack of an informed citizenry may be our country’s biggest problem. Only 36 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the last midterm elections four years ago.
Schools are responsible for preparing students for active roles as public citizens, as I have argued in these pages before. The 2018 “Brown Center Report on American Education” from the Brookings Institution shows very wide gaps in students’ knowledge of civics by race, ethnicity, and income. As racial and ethnic minorities grow in population and well-deserved political power, these gaps remain persistent and troubling…
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