I once told a group of parents that preschool prepares kids for the elementary grades, which in turn gets them ready for middle school and from there to high school. Then it is off to college. College of course prepares students to drink, have sex, go to sporting events, pay back enormous loans and seek employment in a field that had nothing to do with their degree. Perhaps this is a bit simplistic, but I was trying to point out a treadmill form of learning that is pervasive these days. This treadmill is steeped in history and tradition. It is also antiquated and costly (to the tune of up to $45,000 per year when speaking of college). Oh yeah, despite all of this some pretty good learning goes on (mostly due to human nature). With this said, too many learners are having a hard time staying on the treadmill. We can do better.
In many ways we are at a crisis point in how young learners are to be educated. All day kindergarten, standardized testing, Common Core standards, technology, along with the cost of college, all confront students and their parents with an assortment of challenges.
Sometimes confusing, often expensive, navigating through the latest fads, methods, standards and trends now is tied to politicians and reformers, as well as testing companies. All the while, the kids get lost in the shuffle.
Where did you learn to walk? Where did you learn to speak, count, get dressed, use a spoon, read and ride a bike? Chances are pretty good these (and many other things) were learned at home or your neighborhood. In fact, without many of these being learned – success at school would prove quite difficult. While school provides important skills and information for learners, it is certainly not the only place where an acquisition of knowledge takes place.
Oftentimes a crisis can offer opportunities. This is especially true when it comes to how we educate young people. Many are now crying out for new information, innovation, delivery models and lower costs. Also, due to new job markets, technology, a shrinking world and the fact that people change careers numerous times over their lifetime, what constitutes learning, as well as skills development, perpetually evolves.
Pedigree learning has a long history of acceptance. Those who have gone to Princeton, Harvard, MIT, Stanford, etc., are considered smart, while those attending other institutions are not so in descending order (based on a school’s reputation). Those who do not go to college are “smart too,” in their own way. These are the people that fix your car, roof houses, deliver mail, provide stay-at-home parenting and join the military. An elitist thought process has been etched into our academic worldview for years. I cannot begin to tell you how many youngsters have felt “less than” because their skill set could not be measured by traditional schooling. On top of this, young learners are often categorized and grouped based on tests. Such dynamics can have a lifetime impact.
Coming soon a paradigm shift will sweep across the educational world. Some of this will come from necessity. A portion might be due to academic availability through technology. Intellectual hubris and antiquated ideas play parts as well. Already, some districts are looking at embracing new models that encourage working in teams, critical thinking, interdisciplinary cooperation, flexible schedules, internships and re-examining the college experience. I hope this will be increasingly encouraged.
For a number of years I have asserted that schools actually created many societal problems. Chewing gum in line, talking in class, skipping school, wearing a hat, cell phone use and not paying attention, have been, or continue to be, ways to get into trouble over a 180-day period. On top of this, an abundance of measures that promote conformity and compliance do more to curtail learning than encourage it. The overreliance on standardized tests and Common Core standards that limit academic curiosity make matters worse. Then when you have finally graduated high school, college loans await and trying to find a job in your field can prove futile. At least there is drinking, sex and football games at many universities. Absurd perhaps. But let us be honest, if we send kids off to college to prepare them for future employment, is this indeed happening?
About a year ago I asked a group of high school students if they knew what they wanted to do for careers. Of the 20 to 25 kids in attendance, a small portion (say 5 or 6) raised their hands. Then I proceeded to ask, how many of you are planning on going to an expensive four-year college? At least 60 percent of the youngsters raised their hands. According to this logic a lot of money was about to be spent so that young people could discover themselves and then career options. Couldn’t they do this at CCRI?
To me, CCRI makes a lot of sense for kids who struggle to sort things out. It is also a great option for young learners who choose this path anyway. Junior college is less expensive and CCRI has excellent associate degree programs. Also, credits earned are accepted by many four-year schools.
Being good at (high) school does not mean that one has cornered the market on intelligence. It means that you are good at school. Perhaps saving about $45,000 per year, in some cases, makes sense – especially if one is not sure about their direction. OK, you might not get to brag about where your kid is going to school, but they would have a lot less pressure on them (and do not forget that student loan thing). Obviously college can provide wonderful opportunities for learning. However, the present delivery system must be questioned.
We have drunk the Kool-Aid in terms of believing that pedigree educations are of great value. For some, perhaps. For many, it is “20 years of schoolin’ and they put you on the day shift.” Lots of money, all too often resulting in minimal reward. Prestigious universities have their place – but learning occurs elsewhere as well.
Over time, many schools have become academic silos surrounded by moats. Because of this, change comes slowly. The world now calls for critical thinking, being able to work in teams, having the ability to engage diverse populations and the willingness to adapt. Basic skills are necessary for sure, but teaching people how to use information in ways that create viable paradigms is more and more essential.
The commodification of education has gotten to the point where money has created absurd advantages. Just look at the districts with the highest standardized test scores if you don’t believe me. The playing field is not level for all.
Goethe once asserted, “The highest to which man can attain is wonder.” I often wonder, where is the wonder? Where is the creativity? Where is the fun? The perfunctory nature of today’s delivery system has truncated many of these dynamics.
Learning is a lifetime endeavor. When encouraged, it flowers and brings a spirit that enlivens the world. Steven Hawking has been on a long quest to discover “a theory of everything” that links the components of the universe. In an odd and simplified way, there is a unified theory of learning as well. Humans desire knowledge. Humans seek knowledge. Knowledge is eternal and cannot be denied. Its possibilities are endless and all we have to do is welcome those possibilities. Lincoln learned at home. Mandela expanded his knowledge while in prison. Frederick Douglas persevered and found a way. Change is upon us and it is going to draw from many places. If embraced, we are in for one exciting ride.
At present, too many are seeing their pursuit for knowledge impeded or minimized. Creative measures that allow all citizens the opportunity to obtain skills necessary for meeting present and future challenges must be considered.
A counselor, Bob Houghtaling works with young people in East Greenwich.
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