I love the tone and maybe half the content of Paul Krugman’s provocative and trending post, “Knowledge Isn’t Power.” It is refreshing because he attempts to unwind real diversions and names a kind of national pundit syndrome that maybe really should make a diagnostic manual between naivety and narcissism.
And (speaking of narcissism) I can’t help but like the way his naming of the education-centric story mirrors the one I tried to layout in this TEDx talk.
But as a student of our national discourse on education committed to addressing inequality of opportunities and outcomes, I come to different conclusions.
Krugman isn’t wrong on his title. And he isn’t wrong on his statistics about the growing concentration of wealth not mapping to educational outcomes. But he’s wrong to limit the power of education to create power. Just as he rejects conventional wisdom of the pundit class, we also need to reject conventional wisdom on the purpose of education and what skills, habits, and qualities we teach.
We have a long history of educating at cross-purposes and we have for too long been training a nation to be employees, consumers, and marginal voters. If we think about schools as centers of community, we can imagine taking the tone and spirit of Krugman’s piece (and for that matter pair with David Brooks writing on empathy and Ta-Nehisi Coates on reparations) and the work of refocusing our national discourse and reimagining and repurposing what happens in schools and our communities is pretty clear.
These contradictions – between the roles, of poverty, civic agency, and education – are not easy to hold and certainly have limits as talking points. But if power is the goal – let’s not miss what knowledge and experiences give access to it.
We have to have a larger national imagination and find ways to weave rather than slice our way through the complexities of making America less unequal.