Recent events in Michigan Illustrate Differing Philosophies and Concerns
The Ann Arbor District Library presented a panel of educators and Michigan business people discussing the future of education in Michigan on May 27, 2015. The event focused on the skills young people need for successful careers in the age of technology and information. Panelists included Dr. Jim Duderstadt, University of Michigan former president (1988-96) and director of the National Science Foundation and National Commission of the Future of Higher Education, and David Schroeter, senior vice president sales, Gale/Cengage Learning. Dr. John Austin, president, Michigan State Board of Education, gave a pre-recorded address. Duderstadt captured the panel’s sentiment best with his definition of education as more than training for a job or career, but education that provided the foundation for lifelong learning. The panel agreed the concept of producing educated citizens was jeopardized when politics moved education policy too far in a skills and training direction. Austin’s taped presentation posed the question, “Why, when critical thinking is so valued, are the liberal arts and humanities so devalued?” and stressed that a Liberal Arts education was the underpinning everyone needs to succeed in career and life. Panelists also expressed alarm at a study released just a days earlier by Education Trust-Midwest, which reported the state’s reading proficiency rank had fallen from 28th to 38th since 2003, including an especially steep drop throughout the state rather than only in troubled districts. The Detroit News also reported on the ETM report, saying that “Over the past 12 years, Michigan’s fourth-graders have plunged from 13th to 45th in reading proficiency and will fall further to 49th — ahead of only West Virginia — by 2019 if the state keeps its current policies in place.” The panelists expressed further concern that many high school graduates were disadvantaged by cuts in financial aid, and that today’s Michigan college students were the first generation for which the number of students receiving Pell Grants had actually dropped. Just two weeks later (June 11, 2015), Governor Snyder signed into law the “parental responsibility act” under which the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services was given statutory authority to cut off Family Independence Program assistance to an entire family if one child under age 16 is chronically truant and interventions fail. While proponents consider this a positive move in response to the ETM report, opponents argue that non-truant children in the same family will be adversely affected under this law.
The decline in reading scores and confusion over the value of humanities courses and a liberal arts curriculum are important issues for Michigan to address in the upcoming months.