"Is Education the Cause of America's 'Men Without Work' Crisis? Or Maybe the Solution?"
by Nicholas Eberstadt
For part two of our Education 20/20 speaker series on the purpose of K-12 education, we were joined by Kay Hymowitz and Nicholas Eberstadt, who discussed parenting, soft skills, the decline of male labor participation, and what schools can (and can’t) do about it.
Young people today are routinely lambasted for their low work ethic and inability to collaborate. These and other “soft skills” are often in short supply in a generation raised on high-fives, participation trophies, and a never-ending celebration of their individuality and supposedly unique talents. International studies also reveal that the child-centric approach to parenting is a distinctively American practice and particularly evident among middle- and upper-middle class families.
What does this mean for U.S. schools? Should classrooms adapt to embrace students coddled with inflated levels of self-esteem? Or should teachers take on the role of shaping future citizens and workers with the ability to think about others and work toward the common good?
The 2016 election illumined how many men are absent from the workforce—totally absent, not just “unemployed.” It’s not recent, though: the male exodus from the labor market has been accelerating for decades, dominated by those with high school diplomas or less. The modern information economy is an easy scapegoat, but the reality is more complex: family structure, government subsidy programs, and mass incarceration also contribute to their disappearance.
Education reformers and economists tout CTE and job training as the solution, but it’s not that easy. Solutions—if indeed they exist—are as complex as causes. And improved education may not be the silver bullet that many assume.