Our education leaders need to come to grips with the fact we don’t have the children they wish we had, but instead we have the children that we do and then should start planning accordingly. Today’s kids aren’t like the ones from just a generation ago. They have been raised on fast food, video games and MTV and not the MTV where they played music videos but the MTV that glorifies bad choices (The Real World, Jersey Shore, Teen Mom, etc).
Many kids today don’t read books to get information or heck even for fun anymore. They hit a few keystrokes and their computers take them to Google and Wikipedia. When they do read it is usually an article or a passage about whatever subject they are being forced to learn about and I use the word “force” on purpose.
These Ritalin popping kids who can barely sit through a ninety-minute movie don’t look at education as a way out or even as a way to do what they want. They look at school like it is hoops they have to jump through before they and three of their friends can get their own apartment working minimum wage jobs. They don’t look to the future unless the future is three o’clock and the dismissal bell rings, freeing them.
Society can’t keep looking to what worked in the past to find our solutions to the problems facing education today. Just a generation ago we had four channels and one was PBS and instead of having aliens, zombies and stolen cars spoon fed us, we had to go into our neighborhoods and use our imaginations to create them. Then when the street light came on we had to find them in books because we couldn’t find them in video games or in the hundreds of channels kids today have to choose from.
When I grew up thirty years ago I did so on a steady diet of comic books that led to a whole world of literature, Heinleim, Howard, and Adams among others but have you read comic books recently? They are written for guys that grew up reading them 30 years ago.
Who knows if I would have spent so much time at my desk reading if I had had the SYFI channel, the History Channel and the NFL network to watch on TV or Resident Evil, Grand Theft Auto and Metal Gear Solid to play?
We have to look at today’s kid and find today’s solution and we have to come to grips that reading may not be a big part of it; who a generation ago could have predicted society would give up on cursive writing.
I believe step one is to recognize that not every kid is going to go to college and we should be okay with that. Somewhere along the way we lost sight of the fact that the country needs tradesmen and a skilled workforce and that those are honorable and in many instances high paying jobs. A kid marginally interested in school thinks of the light at the end of the as a freight train rushing at them, especially if they have to gut out four more years of college to get a decent job.
What do you think would happen to our kids’ interest in school if we could promise them a job making 15-18 dollars an hour upon graduation, not “maybe” four years down the road, when they will most likely have tens of thousands of dollars in student debt as well? I think they would eat it up like they do their video games and MTV now.
There are all sorts of trade and skills programs we could be teaching kids in unison with their reading, writing and arithmetic. We could graduate nursing assistants, certified child care workers, plumber and carpenter apprentices, mechanics, chefs, kids with certificates in the computer or technology fields and cosmetologists among many others. You know all those positions that aren’t being outsourced to third world countries and emerging markets.
We make school irrelevant to kids. We make it such drudgery. We put the kids in one-size fits all curriculums and then we wonder why so many of them do so poorly. Do you know what the difference in curriculum between a student with a 130 IQ at Stanton who wants to be a doctor and a kid with an 80 IQ at anyone of our neighborhood schools who wants to drive a truck is? If you answered there is none then you win the prize. Unfortunately the neighborhood school kids prize is to spend four years in high school learning things they aren’t interested in and most likely will never use.
After kids are in the workforce for a while they can then decide if college is for them. I didn’t finish my degrees until I was thirty preferring to bounce around in special needs camps. It was only when I was passed over for a few jobs, I believe because of my lack of education that I became serious about school. However do you see what had to happen? Education had to become relevant for me; it had to make a difference in what I wanted to do.
I am not saying blow up the basics. I am saying for many what the basics have become is immaterial. Kids today have to take Algebra II and Chemistry whether those things will be applicable to what they want to do or not. There are so many jobs that don’t require a working knowledge of those subjects to be successful. Do you know what class I wish I had taken in high school that would have helped me out as an adult and here is a hint it wasn’t any math class. It was typing. What do most of you use more often, your keyboard or your advanced math skills?
We can also use the basics as carrots for the classes they like. You want to be a draftsman, okay we will need to see at least a C average in Algebra I (a genuine algebra I class, not the move on through classes that have replaced the legitimate classes of yesteryear). Want to take cosmetology classes, sure but I need to see those grades in English come up.
In a way kids are more sophisticated than they were a generation ago. I went to school and made an effort because I was told it would lead to a brighter future, but with jobs being shipped over seas, a nine plus percent unemployed rate, double that is we count the under employed; kids today buy that same line of thinking with a wink and a nod. They know somewhere inside that it isn’t true. They have a sinking feeling that unlike their parents with their grand parents, they aren’t going to have it better than mom and dad.
We don’t have to give up on reading but it’s time we took an approach to reading, an approach to education that serves the kids. Like how changing times have forced schools to take a different approach to writing in cursive, it’s probably time we lumped reading in along with it. Once again, we don’t have the kids we wish we did, we have the kids we do and it’s time we planned accordingly. It is time we came up with solutions that will make more of our kids successful even if that means they don’t go to college right away or ever at all. It’s time we had programs that gave all are kids a chance, even if they “don’t read so good”.