When Ebenezer Scrooge first sees the ghost of Jacob Marley, his old friend and business partner, he is puzzled by Marley’s appearance: The ghost is burdened with a chain made of padlocks, ledgers, cash boxes, purses, deeds and other business symbols.
“But you were always a good man of business,” says Scrooge, thinking that perhaps Marley is an economic failure.
“Business!” the ghost cries, correcting Scrooge’s misunderstanding, “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business.”
Such humanistic concerns were what Marley, in pursuit of money and profit, had neglected while he was alive.
I was reminded of this scene in “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens when I read the article “ McKernan defends Common Core” in the Dec. 6 Bangor Daily News. Jock McKernan, once governor of Maine and former CEO of Education Management Corp., a for-profit college company, was the keynote speaker at the heavily attended 2013 Educate Maine Pipeline to Prosperity Conference in Portland.
McKernan argued that the salvation of Maine’s economy depends on closing the “skills gap” by transforming public education. This term, “skills gap,” states the article, can be defined as “the notion that employers across numerous sectors can’t find enough qualified workers.” The Common Core, McKernan said, will help close that gap.
The Common Core is a set of educational benchmarks designed to provide public school students with a common set of knowledge and skills needed for success after high school.
SAD 27 Superintendent Tim Doak echoed McKernan’s argument. What we need in Maine, he said, is an educational system that will prepare our children for the workforce.
“Are we preparing our children for that workforce or are they just sitting there every day consuming information, taking notes and having a test next Friday?” he said.
I could not disagree more with McKernan and Doak.
It is not the job of public education to prepare students for the world of business. It is our job to prepare students to be citizens of the world. It is our job to make our students better writers, better readers, deeper, more informed and disciplined thinkers and actors on the world stage.
Mankind, humanity — that’s our business. If we take care of that, the pipeline to prosperity will take care of itself.
William J. Murphy teaches English and history at Belfast Area High School.