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If It’s Not About Jobs, What’s Education For?

By Bob Shimabukuro, Associate Editor of the Retiree Advocate and member of PSARA’s Executive Board

We urgently need a paradigm shift in our concept of the purposes and practices of education. We need to leave behind the concept of education as a passport to more money and higher status in the future and replace it with a concept of education as an ongoing process that enlists the tremendous energies and creativity of schoolchildren in rebuilding and respiriting our communities and our cities now, in the present.—Grace Lee Boggs

Robby Stern once asked me, ”If it’s not about jobs, what’s education for?”

The question stumped me, for a second or two. . .

My dad, an immigrant from Okinawa when he was 17, had learned enough English (and the dialect used in Hawaii, “local pidgin”) to express himself well enough for daily conversation, but had difficulty expressing “deeper thoughts” about “da kine stuff hard fo’ explain.”

For him education was about more than getting a job. In addition to the usual immigrant parent telling his kids to “study hard, listen to the teacher,” Dad would often say, “If you get college education, even if you garbage man, you can be happy.”

I had pondered that often, especially while attending a college that most students called, “a graduate school prep.” (And also when I learned that “sanitation workers” in New York City were making way more than college professors,–at least those in Portland, Oregon). Going to graduate school did not make any sense if you were happy with a college degree. But it didn’t really matter, because when I was a kid, I thought my dad was crazy.

Dad also saw education as a way for a community of people to grow together, “increasing knowledge” and helping everyone attain as much education as possible so that everyone would rise together to some lofty status of understanding.

He also drew a tapered spiral cone, like a spring that tapered in at the top. And he also mentioned this cone as “tipped.” But I never asked him the real critical thinking question, “What happens when the community reaches the lofty goal?” and “Why is the cone tipped?” I never bothered to make sense of this either. Until recently.

Earlier this year, I was advised to rest (for health reasons). That gave me an opportunity to read “The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century,” by Grace Lee Boggs with Scott Kurashige. In it, Boggs made the case that: “as citizens of a nation which had achieved economic growth and prosperity at the expense of African Americans, Native Americans, other people of color, and people all over the world, our priority had to be in correcting the injustices and backwardness of our relationships with one another, with other countries, and with the Earth.

“In other words, our revolution had to be for the purpose of accelerating our evolution to a higher plateau of Humanity. That’s why we called our philosophy ‘dialectical humanism.’ “

Grace Lee and James Boggs were developing these thoughts on theory and the practice of activism in “conversations” with friends and comrades. Upon reading these passages, I conjured up images of Dad and Zenwa Uncle “talking story” with their immigrant friends and “rising to a lofty status of understanding.” Sounded very similar to evolving to a higher plateau of Humanity.

As for the tipped spiral or coil, well, if the coil is tipped and you try to walk up a tipped coil, at many points, you will be walking downhill. If you don’t understand this, try getting a spring from a flashlight and just tip it a little. And let your fingers do the walking. You’ll find that even when you’re forging ahead, you may also be backsliding.

Frieda Takamura also gave me an interpretation of my dad’s thoughts on being happy if you “graduate college”: “If you are educated, no one can take that away from you.”

I’ll take that. I’ll also take that he was an early pioneer of Grace Lee and James Boggs’ dialectical humanism, in fact pre-dating them. It’s certainly much better than thinking he was nuts.

Answering Robby’s question: Education is a process by which people learn to solve problems, ask and answer questions necessary to advance the common good. That involves critical thinking and critical questions. We need problem solvers. We have a lot of problems to solve, such as how to change the minds and the wills of the one percent, and how to change our own behavior so we can bring about the kind of fair and just world we want to live in. This is why we can’t go along with the “education reformers” controlled by Bill Gates and his friends.

May 2013: “Frieda, I want to write about the so-called education “reform.” Where should I begin?”

“Common Core,” she said. “It’s a microcosm of what’s happening in our lives.” After a little research, I realized she was right.

September 19, 2014: The most important change in Race to the Top and Common Core since last year is that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s gang has gotten a lot meaner in their war against the teachers and students. Last year, many teachers were still supporting the Common Core Standards, because they thought the curriculum was still in their hands. But as more teachers began to see what was really going on, they began to fight back against Arne’s gang and their union leaders who bought into it.

The harassment of teachers and disregard for children are good reasons for banning Arnie’s corporateers from having their big part in determining the skill set and knowledge of the next generation of working people.

My dad was kicked out of high school and like lots of other folks, couldn’t go to college. But he showed me we all need to pay attention and do our part. Joining the struggles over who controls education is bringing me closer to my dad and my uncle than I ever expected.

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