Training the Economic Underclass

There is a big difference between education and training. In education, the student is given instruction in a broad variety of subjects, usually related to the career path being pursued. In training, the student is instructed in accomplishing one of more specific tasks in the most efficient, cost effective, and error free manner possible.

Video and computer training courses are gradually replacing live instruction. That is because they are  cheaper, consistent, and people with short attention spans are more likely to sit and watch a TV type program than they are to sit in a live classroom.

One large coffee franchise has such video programs on making coffee, displaying pastry to best advantage, and recording orders and sales. The trainee need no longer worry about properly ringing up a complicated order. The numbers on the register have been replaced by color photos of the product. If you want to ring up the big beef cheeseburger, you press the button with the picture of the big beef cheeseburger on it. No need to count back money either. The display tells you the exact change owed the customer based on what was bought and the amount given you.

What training doesn’t do, is prepare you for bigger challenges beyond the front line, entry level job. Yes, there are additional training courses for such things, but you may not even learn about them unless you display both aptitude and performance.

The logical extension of all this, I have read and been told, is that an employer can make a decision early on as to a candidate’s potential with the firm, and train them accordingly. In other words, their growth may be capped very early on based on some manager’s assessment of their value to the company, and their ability to learn.

This could be a real issue in keeping the economic under class in the economic under class. These people are not always getting educated in the schools. I am amazed at the numbers of people who leave high school at age 16, or even after graduation, basically unable to read, write, or even speak the language properly. Assuming they are honest and conscientious young people who want to work for a living, and get ahead in life, how will they ever be prepared for anything beyond entry level jobs?

And whose fault is this? As usual, there’s enough blame to go around. It starts with the kids themselves who have little to no interest in schools or learning. It includes the schools who are more anxious to get these kids through the system than they are to educate them. It has to do with teacher unions that have more interest in protecting jobs based on seniority more than achievement. It has to do with taxpayers who are reluctant to take on the tax burden of new schools, programs, and staff. It has to do with politicians who speak support but vote otherwise, it has to do with the parents who see all this happening and don’t even try to do anything about it.

What is the answer? I wish I knew. Never before have the schools been so packed with young people, only some of whom are there to learn. The days of “hall guides” have long gone and been replaced by closed circuit TV, metal detectors, and even armed police officers. It’s not even always clear who is in charge, the staff or the kids themselves.

Some years ago, there was a movie called “Blackboard Jungle.”  It had to do with a big city school system being run by threatening and intimidating student gangs. We all considered it fantasy. It wasn’t. It was a peek into the future, where we all live today.

I do know that our educational levels as compared with other industrialized countries seem to be lowering, year by year, bit by bit. Maybe we need some sort of “Peace Corps” equivalent, not in some far off country, but right here in P.S. 22 just down the street. Maybe the Corps would be retired educators, disciplinarians, counselors, people of accomplishment and integrity who can see the problems, jump in, and help resolve them.

Whatever we do, we need to do it soon.

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