Homeschool, Public School and Career Development

A few years ago, when working at a non-profit with my good friend Russ, we had a discussion about career development as it pertained to the youth we served. All of our kiddos were in foster care, and we were attempting to help them graduate high school and go on to college. The high school success rate for students in foster care is pretty abysmal, so our organization was trying everything it could to help these students see the value in education. But the conversation that Russ and I had, was about how school wasn’t always about education, or rather the information that we learned during the hours of 7-3, but rather the other skills that we absorbed that were important in preparing us for the working world. Russ and I participated in a leadership team that was guiding the future of the organization and yet we often found that the “leadership” wasn’t really listening to those of us that were on the front lines. I wish I could remember the study that told us, that freshman year was a great predictor in graduation rates, and how the “soft skills” that were learned were actually more important than knowing all of the presidents or when WWII started.

How does this relate to my class today?

Well, Russ and I are now both “professors” at this local college. And we re-connected a few weeks ago in a work capacity, talking about how our students are prepared or unprepared for life on a college campus. We rekindled this discussion from a few years ago, and I mentioned that in the self-reflections that I had my students write the home schooled students mentioned things like, “I haven’t taken English in over 3 years so writing this paper is hard for me,” and “I am not used to turning things in on a deadline, so I guess I have to work on that,” and ” I’m used to studying things I like.” My public school students said things like, “I am worried about turning in all of my homework,” and “I’m worried about not showing up to class like I’ve done before.”

In this way, I feel like both models have failed our children in various ways. Because, as Russ and I keep talking about, education/schooling is really (whether right or wrong) about preparing workers…drones…people to work in offices from 8-5. The byproduct of education is knowledge and a passion for learning and a curiosity for life around us. It helps to foster discussions and probably makes us better, more informed, people. I love learning about new things, but what I also learned, from kindergarten-12th grade, and then on into higher education was: show up on time, do the work you are asked to do, follow directions, interact with people, pay attention, turn things in on time, sit still, etc. All of these skills are transferable to the workplace, predominately office work of some type.

So, my home school students, who have been encouraged to study things they like and are interested in, will hopefully benefit from their education by finding a career that interests them, because they have had the empowerment to already begin to explore those interests. What worries me about my home school kiddos, is that they haven’t been forced (such  a nasty word!) to do things that they aren’t that interested in, just because “this is the way the world works,” or “this is the way we do it.” If they don’t find a career right away in the interesting field of their choice, or even if they do, will they know how to be timely in assignments that they don’t like? For my student who hasn’t ever had a deadline for things, will, at 19, it be too late for them to learn? How much harder will it be for them to conform to a mold of “normal” career development or as a worker when they have been allowed years of unbridled educational freedom? Or, can we envision a new workforce that allows for this to not be the case? (Things like, the rise of flex-time, and online work, perhaps might fit this).

And, for some of my public schoolers, who have been, seemingly broken down and lack a drive for education (the pursuit of knowledge and information), but also have not learned the soft-skills of timeliness, and turning in work that they don’t see the value in, what hope do they have? When they do come to class, they do the work (most of them), which shows a good work ethic, regardless of whether they find value in the actual assignment. When explaining the per-requisite nature of the classes for the major, I hear no grumbling like with the home schooled students, because these student seem used to the ‘jumping through hoops’ nature of the education system. In theory, though, public school does teach these skills of being on-time (and natural consequences are getting a lower grade, which would equate to a reprimand and firing at a job), sitting doing “work” for hours on end, short breaks (5 minute passing time), and being forced to do some tasks that you don’t really want to do.

I don’t know the answer, but it does seem like, in theory, our education is supposed to prepare us for our jobs, and it’s seemingly failing both sets of my students. I wonder how a mainstream teacher, not dealing with “high school dropouts” or “non-traditional students,” feels about how their students are prepared/unprepared for college work and/or work post-school. Is the disillusionment that our time is our own and we can do what we want and study what we want better to happen early in our education career (ala public school) or at the entrance into college (ala my homeschoolers)?

Bucket List Letter

I heard this article:  James K. Flanagan: A Grandfather’s Last Letter To His Grandkids on the radio yesterday, and knew that I had to present it in class to my students. Not only is it poignant and full of really great advice, it also fits right along with our This I Believe essays that we are writing. As I re-read this letter to my students in class, several of the pieces of advice stuck out to me:

Everyone in the world is just an ordinary person. Some people may wear fancy hats or have big titles or (temporarily) have power and want you to think they are above the rest. Don’t believe them. They have the same doubts, fears, and hopes; they eat, drink, sleep, and fart like everyone else. Question authority always but be wise and careful about the way you do it.

I’ve reasonably gotten the ‘question authority” bit down, however, it is more recently that I am learning to do so in a respectful way. As a teenager I would yell and scream or sulk or pout, all that showed a lack of maturity in my rebellious questioning. Though I would like to thank my dad for working in radio and showing me the truth behind the fact that everyone, even celebrities, are just normal folk.

Be kind and go out of your way to help people — especially the weak, the fearful, and children. Everyone is carrying a special sorrow, and they need our compassion.

While I don’t necessarily go out of my way to help people, like I’m “not looking for trouble,” I do find that I am surrounded in many ways by people who seek me out for advice or solace from life’s shitty storms. I loved how he put that everyone is carrying a “special sorrow” because it reminded me so well of my favorite quote:  “be kinder than necessary, everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.” I don’t always do a good job of this, in fact, I’m struggling right now with 2 students from a very conservative and churchy background who seem to be very arrogant in their schoolwork, that I am finding it difficult to see how young and small and scared they probably really are.

Travel: always but especially when you are young. Don’t wait until you have “enough” money or until everything is “just right.” That never happens. Get your passport today.

While I long to go back to India, I am glad for the opportunity that I did have to travel when I was younger. And I’m happy that Boof and I travelled when we were newly married and dating. Because, while I like traveling, in theory, the process wears and stresses me out tremendously, now that we have a kid. Gone are the moments where I felt rested and energetic enough to get on a plane and fly to Delhi or Manhattan or Atlanta.

Pick your job or profession because you love to do it. Sure, there will be some things hard about it, but a job must be a joy. Beware of taking a job for money alone — it will cripple your soul.

I do believe having a job that is a joy is a luxury for many, and is something that I have been striving for since I went to graduate school. While I don’t believe that my job will fulfill all of my heart’s desires, I do want to feel inspired and wake up every morning without fearing or dreading what’s to come.

Always keep promises to children. Don’t say “we’ll see” when you mean “no.” Children expect the truth; give it to them with love and kindness.

I think this one resonated with me the most. I remember hearing so many times “we’ll see,” or other vague parenty phrases, which left me confused. I know, now, that my mom/dad/grandma/uncle/etc. was probably trying to spare me the disappointment, putting it off or softening the blow, but the limbo-land was worse than just hearing the word “no” to begin with. It is almost worse than getting the answer “dinner” when I would ask, “what’s for dinner?” JUST TELL ME DAMNIT!, but I know that mom was trying to spare herself the whining that would have accompanied the answer.

What pieces of the list stuck out to you? If you were to write a letter to your children or future grandchildren, what lessons would you include?