We put so much emphasis on "college degrees." Well, in Germany students at some point come to a fork in the road, and they either go on to university or they go on to a trade school. Say you're a FedEx airplane mechanic working on one of our Boeing Triple Sevens. That's a $100,000-plus job. You don't have to have a college degree to get that job. You don't have to know Chaucer and The Canterbury Tales. You can go right to West Memphis, Ark., where we have a relationship with the community college, and be trained to be a licensed mechanic. Then you can come to work at FedEx. (p. 206, emphasis mine.)Now, I have mixed feelings about this quote. I've never believed that going to college, or getting an education in general, is solely about job preparation. We don't read The Canterbury Tales in order to directly prepare for having a particular career. Having said that, however, this quote resonated to me because once again it seems to be flying the face of most current education-reform movements, which all seem to promote academic skills and college admission as precursors to employment as the ultimate goals of K-12 education.
There are a lot of skills an airplane mechanic for FedEx needs - and some of them will be learned in school - but my guess is that knowing "there is a complex number i such that i2 = -1, and every complex number has the form a + bi with a and b real?" (CCSS, N-CN 1), or how to "prove the Pythagorean identity sin2(x) + cos2(x) = 1 and use it to find sin(x), cos (x), or tan(x) and the quadrant of the angle" (CCSS, F-TF 8) isn't quite necessary.
So, once again, I'm struggling with this idea that all students need to learn the exact same things at the exact same time. That doesn't mean that some students shouldn't read The Canterbury Tales, and that some (possibly other) students shouldn't learn trigonometric identities. But I worry that locking our students into a fixed, required, standardized curriculum that is supposed to meet the needs of all of them will end up meeting the needs of few of them. I worry that our "assumption that it does indeed provide a comprehensive, well-rounded education" is a fundamental flaw in our thinking.