Harrop: Education should have 2nd, 3rd acts

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On the HBO series “Girls,” Hannah asks her boss at a publishing house for a salary. The 24-year-old has been working as an unpaid intern for over a year, and her parents will no longer support her.

When the boss responds in the negative, Hannah notes that another young woman hired as an intern is now getting paid. “Joy Lin knows Photoshop,” he explains.

Education and the tech skills even straight-A English majors need: All come together in the new world of employability. They should flow like water, and some already do.

Hannah could have picked up Photoshop at a local “learning connection” or through free online tutorials. Likewise, a master of Photoshop could have gathered the literary requirements with a library card or online courses now offered by leading universities. Same would go for a laid-off pipefitter.

Of course, in-person attendance at a school of higher learning remains the main path for academic certification, but must that always be the case? The information revolution says otherwise. And for all the emotional connections these venerable institutions have built, the debt their high prices dump on students is a scandal.

Remaking education to prepare Americans for good jobs in the 21st century is a fine thing. But education must also be about creating good citizens and good people. Building a society we want to live in requires more than tech savvy. It requires well-rounded participants who know history as well as computer code, who can express themselves in writing, who know something about how economic systems work.

Values debate

We have a values debate on our hands. And with government a major source of education financing and student loans, we have a political struggle, as well.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott gave us a taste of discussions to come. The Republican proposes “shifting funding to degrees that have the best job prospects, weeding out unproductive professors and rethinking the system that offers faculty job security,” wrote Zac Anderson in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Meanwhile, Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, has introduced a bill mandating that postsecondary schools provide their graduates’ average annual earnings, among other data.

Ending teachers’ job security (tenure) makes sense. Less appetizing is giving politicos of whatever flavor the power to decide what makes a prof unproductive or otherwise undeserving of an academic job. Nor are all important modern skills directly tied to professional or technical expertise. The increasingly collaborative work model calls for employees with some grasp on how others think and feel.

The best way to remove politicians from deciding what kinds of study are worthwhile is to make the education product cheap and plentiful. Online or informal learning should lead the way. Independent of age, income level or past grades, Americans should be able to get the education they need and the education they want.

Froma Harrop can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com.