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)?