Weighing the Proposed Department of Education and the Workforce


Last week President Trump proposed to merge the U.S. Department of Education with the U.S. Department of Labor.  Such cabinet-level changes, however, require the approval of Congress, and no one anticipates immediate action on this matter.

Is the proposed merger a good idea?  The National Association of Scholars is weighing the arguments on both sides. 

The proposal would result in a new Department of Education and the Workforce (similar to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce). The official proposal is online here.

As we see it, the arguments in favor of the proposal are that it would:

  1. Cut bureaucracy.
  2. Reduce duplication of programs currently run through both the Labor and Education Departments. 
  3. Focus more on apprenticeships, vocational education, and other job-skills programs.

The arguments against the merger are that it:

  1. Treats education as job preparation, with no mention of the liberal arts.
  2. Reinforces the anti-intellectualism of the Common Core's focus on "college and career readiness."
  3. May give businesses too much say in the content of education by focusing on job skills and apprenticeships.
  4. Emphasizes data collecting that could compromise student privacy.

We expect these points will be thoroughly debated in the months to come, and we will watch to see whether the value of the liberal arts is appropriately recognized and protected. The Department of Education as it has stood since its creation in 1979 has seldom helped and often hindered genuine liberal arts education.  When it comes to colleges and universities, it has mostly advanced the cause of mass higher education at the expense of academic standards, institutional independence, and clarity of purpose.  Would merging the Department of Education with the Department of Labor help to solve these problems or make them worse?

NAS does not presume to know the answer. The merger could leave the humanities to collapse under the increasing weight of political correctness, with no effort to rescue them or set them aright. Or it could free higher education to pursue its original purpose: preparing students for responsible citizenship in the republic.

The question comes down to whether the new department would treat higher education as solely about STEM and vocational training, or whether it would include a section devoted to higher education aimed at sustaining the knowledge of our republic and the civilization of which it is part.

We welcome observation, counsel, and debate on these matters. Let us know what you think.

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