Monday, February 20, 2012

Do what I tell you or do what I say

The Nearby Progressive County is opening its third early college academy next fall (and don't I wish I were finishing my graduate degree this May!); this newest will even be gender segregated.  The other two are held on nearby college campuses, and this third is vying for a position on another local campus, though it isn't set in stone yet.

I applaud the efforts we make for those students who are advanced.  In addition to the early-college academies, NPC also has several competitive charter schools.  As best I can tell, Nearby Progressive County has a more-than-decent selection for those students who are academically gifted or competitive.  My question is, what are we doing for those students who aren't academic super-stars, who actually don't like school all that much, and would be much happier earning a GED and getting into the working world earlier?

I recall during my brief years teaching in a rural school that there were a good number of students who - by the age of 16 or 17 - were done.  They already had jobs and were happier out of school working independently on something that interested them.  When we removed the GED track from counting towards graduation rates, we did our students a disservice.  Because, of course, that meant schools would stop alternative tracks and force those dissatisfied students back into the traditional classroom, just so the school had appropriate "graduation rates" (let's not even talk about all the other inflated numbers and corner-cutting that comes from this fabulous statistic).  Could we set up a special program for those students who want out at 16 but may want to return in 5-10 years when they are curious about more options or can maturely handle the self-discipline required?  Could we develop some special program which would be easy to access and allow them to pick up where they left off?  Of course, we could -- I just wish we would.

I just think the current traditional system does nothing to teach those students to appreciate learning.  In fact, we're teaching them to hate it: it's a drudgery you get out of the way the first 18 years and then can do whatever you want after that.  We're gradually adding some alternatives to the traditional school model, and I'm glad of that.  But I think we might be overlooking the students who really need something different.  We need to stop alleging that there is ONE acceptable path to prove your worth.  I suspect we're caught in a moment of circularity: we don't offer multiple paths because colleges accept this particular diploma; therefore, if students do later want the option of college, they're stuck.  So, we'll just stick with what we've got.

I say balderdash.  If the system shifts and offers more options, colleges will figure it out.  They will want the students, if only for reporting academic diversity and (more importantly) that student's tuition fees.  They will evaluate the new options and set their own standards for what they will accept.  Germany and Finland are both countries I think of as models who offer a variety of secondary education choices for adolescent students, and their universities have made adjustments & allowances in what comprehensive exams/degrees they accept.  Colleges will figure it out.

There are many things wrong with the current education system.  That's a "duh."  For me, this would probably be a priority on my education wishlist.  Can we please give these kids some options?

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