Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Great Expectations

I want my reader to imagine they are a teacher or a parent. Let us assume the kid is around 14-16, not yet on the verge of graduating but past junior high. You want this kid to do well in school. The child seems unmotivated. When you ask if they care about how they do in school, the answer is no. Imagine they ask why they should care.

How do you answer?

I'm a member of the high school class of 2002. My generation believed that working hard would lead to college, which was seen by our parents as a gateway to success. We were pushed to go to college, largely because a college degree for the generation before us had weight behind it and truly opened doors. In the world we live in today, that's clearly not the case. College is a risk and a large one at that. It is hardly a guarantee of success, though it usually does guarantee a huge debt that cannot be rid of through bankruptcy. Many jobs that do not require college are not going to be particularly picky about high school grades.

So why should these students care?

Many students are self motivated and wish to go to college; many are motivated by their home environment, but a huge segment are missing these elements. They have no real reason to go to college; they will not obtain a professional job in a market like this and those jobs tend to disappear very quickly come recessions. Their skills and interests tend to be more blue collar, jobs that do pay reasonably well. Many do have a vague idea as to how they will get by and it does not involve the French Revolution, trigonometry, or Shakespeare.

Should we be trying to get these kids to care about school?

Considering how much money we spend on education and how badly people could use that money for other things, anything less than an immediate, resounding yes to that question is proof that something is terribly wrong. I can only speak for myself here, but I did not come away with a "yes" to that question.

I don't have the answer here. As a social studies pre service teacher, I would love for students to care more on their own, but I cannot say school is really the answer for all kids under the age of 18. Indeed, most could find a better use for their time and we could find a better use of our tax dollars rather than paying many mediocre teachers and insane pensions. I can come up with a strong argument as to why all citizens should have a strong background in civics and history, but even I cannot argue that having a higher grade will help most students in the long run.

Our expectations have changed. Our educational system needs to change, too.

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