Yesterday I wrote about our high school graduates preparing to embark on their road trip to adult life. It was ironic that the evening news reported a major factor that will prevent many of our young people from leaving their driveway, and another that will send some crashing into a tree before they make it to the first rest stop. Too heavy-handed with the road trip analogy? Perhaps… My advice from yesterday still stands: good map, planned route, packed bag, God as compass. However, what I failed to mention is that some of our children are not ready to travel at all. They aren’t prepared for their journey through life and I think some of the blame falls on us as parents, grandparents, teachers, counselors, and leaders.
I’ll let the experts argue about who originated the idea that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”; I don’t care who said it. I only care that it makes sense, and we should all insist that the wisdom of it be applied to education. We have to stop preparing our children for college and start preparing them for life. College is ONE of life’s options. It is not necessary for every career path. It is not the best option for every student. It is not the only choice that should be presented to students. It is not the only one that should be supported and encouraged. Maintaining that stance automatically instills a sense of failure in those who realize at an early age that they are not “college prep” material…and believe me, they know. Don’t jump to the conclusion that I mean those who are academically low achievers. Many students who are gifted in sports, music, art, cooking, technology, agriculture, etc. may also be well-rounded students, but they don’t want or need to spend four more years in the classroom to have a happy, productive life. Maybe they need two years in a training program or three years as an apprentice or a year of intense instruction. The problem is that we try to equip every student for the same trip- the road to college- and that is simply insane.
It was reported last night that The National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as “The Nation’s Report Card” released their latest data on the achievement of high school seniors. Only 37 percent are prepared for college level reading and math. That shouldn’t surprise any of us because the numbers don’t represent a dramatic change from previous years. In fact there was only a 1% drop. But it should concern us for the same reason. One or two percentage points up or down is the best we can report after all the drama we’ve had about programs and budgets and the transformation of our education system? Oh, sure, the report says more of our brightest students are taking advanced (AP) classes and fewer of our lowest students are dropping out. But the NAEP also found that the reading level for the bottom 10% of our high school students is the “lowest level on record”. Think about that for a moment. The gap between the highest and lowest students is widening. And the gap between white and black students is equivalent to the Grand Canyon:
“While 32 percent of white students and 47 percent of Asian students scored at proficient or above in math, only 7 percent of black students and 12 percent of Hispanic students did.
Similar gaps were present in reading: 46 percent of white students and 49 percent of Asian students scored at or above proficient, while only 17 percent of black students and 25 percent of Hispanic students did so.”
If you are tempted to ignore that or even breathe a sigh of relief because your child is in the top ten percent or perhaps already attending college, wait for the other news report. It was the funeral of honor student Emmett Scannell, who recently died of a heroin overdose. He was a college sophomore who appeared to be well on his way to a good career and a happy life. But appearances, and test scores, can be deceiving.
“According to a Columbia University study, almost half of full-time college students binge drink or abuse prescription drugs, and almost a quarter of those college students meet the medical definition of having a problem with substance abuse or a dependence. That is three times the rate of the general population.”
It doesn’t matter if you are smart enough and educated enough to obtain a college degree if you don’t live long enough to use it! Apparently we’re failing to prepare students for the psychological and social stresses of college life. Some of our best and brightest academics endure far too much pressure to achieve. Others have lived with too much privilege and feel little, if any, responsibility for their actions. And frankly, being intelligent doesn’t make one moral. Sorting out the reasons and solutions for these serious issues is complicated, but it begins with treating our children as individuals. We have to stop treating them like “products of education”. We must stop the insanity of putting them through the education factory and expecting them to all meet the same specifications for a successful life.
We give lip service to “quality education”, but we use the factory method because it allows us to educate huge groups of children at lower costs. And each year we attempt to raise those numbers and lower those costs even more. We can’t talk about valuing our children or their education when facts and figures show we spend far more on entertainment than we do on edification. And it seems that matters are getting worse.
Prepared for life…that should be the goal for educating our children. Prepared for the path they choose. Prepared for the work they must do. Prepared for the challenges they will face. Prepared for the choices they must make.