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The Manufactured Education Crisis and the Bogus Solution

February 23, 2015

“Knowledge Isn’t Power”, Paul Krugman’s op ed column today, takes on the canard that businessmen cannot find enough skilled laborers because of a skills gap. After several paragraphs describing how this “skills gap” notion has become an accepted truth, he counters with this paragraph:

(T)here’s no evidence that a skills gap is holding back employment. After all, if businesses were desperate for workers with certain skills, they would presumably be offering premium wages to attract such workers. So where are these fortunate professions? You can find some examples here and there. Interestingly, some of the biggest recent wage gains are for skilled manual labor — sewing machine operatorsboilermakers — as some manufacturing production moves back to America. But the notion that highly skilled workers are generally in demand is just false.

After debunking the notion that the “skills gap” is the reason we have inequality, he concludes with these paragraphs:

Now, there’s a lot we could do to redress this inequality of power. We could levy higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy, and invest the proceeds in programs that help working families. We could raise the minimum wage and make it easier for workers to organize. It’s not hard to imagine a truly serious effort to make America less unequal.

But given the determination of one major party to move policy in exactly the opposite direction, advocating such an effort makes you sound partisan. Hence the desire to see the whole thing as an education problem instead. But we should recognize that popular evasion for what it is: a deeply unserious fantasy.

But as I noted in my comment, Krugman doesn’t acknowledge another reason the billionaires are promoting the “skills gap”:

Here’s what is happening right now, Dr. Krugman.
The investors have created a “crisis in education” and simultaneously introduced a solution: markets! You see if the monopolistic public schools are expensive, inefficient, and ineffective the solution is to subject public schools to the free market where they will become less costly to taxpayers, far more efficient in the delivery of services, and, yes, miraculously egalitarian. The folks who offer this as the solution to closing the gap between students in affluent districts and students in high-poverty districts conveniently overlook the fact that the “market” has not provided residents in the Bronx with the same array of choices in shopping as the residents in Scarsdale…. But no matter! Even if the market fails to provide equal opportunity for all at least the “wasteful spending” on education will no longer go to those greedy teachers… it will go to the shareholders of the privatized companies who operate the deregulated for-profit charters. As your article implies, those who have the power are not seriously interested in addressing inequality; they are more interested in keeping the power structure just the way it is.

The businessmen promoting the “skills gap” are the same group who are bending the ears of governors and state legislators… and those of us who want to see public education as the means of achieving equity are fighting an uphill battle because the siren song of “free, unregulated markets” resonates with many voters and the idea of using vouchers to attend ANY school resonates with parents who are currently paying out of pocket to attend private schools. In fighting this uphill battle it would be helpful if columnists like Krugman saw what is happening and called out the politicians on it now… before it is too late.


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