"We need to take into account that there are other factors that need to be dealt with. A simple lack of interest is not the bottom line. Finally, we need to keep kids in school, no give them a reason to quit."
Date: Fri, 9 Oct 1998 18:07:35 -0400 (EDT)
To: richardgeib (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Subject: comment about article
I think that there is definitely something wrong with the lack of motivation that students show. I do not however agree with some of your ideas. For example, when you say that if someone is not showing interest in school; that there should be a program so that they may get ready for the working world. I find this somewhat flawed. Firstable, a sixteen or seventeen year old at that age has not expirienced much in terms of life expirience. Perhaps some migth want to work a 5 to 9 job for the rest of their lives, but this and mainly the time after college is the time for people to truly find out what they want to do; not in middle school or high school. This seems like it limits their opportunities before they start. Another problem is that the idea of money migth encourage students which, again are not sure what they want to do, in a future that will get tedious and boring for years to come. The final point that I would like to make is that this program would make a very large social problem among low income schools. We need to take into account that there are other factors that need to be dealt with. A simple lack of interest is not the bottom line. Finally, we need to keep kids in school, no give them a reason to quit.
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Admitted is that many teenagers don't know what they want to do with their lives. But I would argue it is better to let them follow their natural inclinations and keep open the possibility of a return to college prep classes at a later date. This business of forcing teenagers to go to classes they don't want to take results in very little learning, in my experience. Of course students in low-income schools would in greater numbers opt out of the college prep route, since so many of them are not taught to respect that course because of a lack of education in the households which produce them. However, I would argue that it would not greatly change the situation since so few such students learn much as involuntary participants in their educations - as is presently the case. If we had so much to lose in our high-performing American public schools, maybe I would re-think what I have just said. But we all know the public schools are in dire need of drastic reform - especially in low-income areas. We hear all too frequently about the many public high school "graduates" who can hardly read their diplomas. You say there is "something wrong" today in the "lack of motivation" in students? Legion are the high school students who confuse occupying a desk for years -- more or less against their will -- with actual learning! It is waste of time on behalf of everyone involved. I have spoken with many, many ex- high school instructors who went on to teach at the community college or university level where they could teach students who actually wanted to be there. They speak with relief at gettting out of secondary school system and the apathy they found there. And legion are the students at the very end of their senior years who with enormous relief endure their final class, never to step into a classroom again in their lives. They are left with bitter memories of school during the thousands of wasted hours over many frustrating years.
Too much pressure is put on the public schools to be preacher, police officer, counselor, parent and teacher: we ask our schools to perform miracles. We should take young people more seriously and offer alternatives to the college prep route in our schools. Presently, we do not do that. We optimistically believe that all students should or can learn at the level required for university study and have so designed the curriculum with no provisions for vocational classes. Not all people by a long shot live to study and love books and numbers; and I think once everyone has learned how to read and do basic math, there should be more options for those who love to tinker with machines and want to learn a practical trade. There should be no shame in this; there in no more honor in being a lawyer or an accountant than a laborer or fireman, in my opinion, if that man be honest. Why keep up the present charade where an academically unmotivated teenager need choose between pretending to be a serious student and dropping out of school? Where is the middle ground?
We badly serve students not orientated towards pure academics in our present system; and therefore so many of them drop out rather than participate in a course of study in which they have so little say. Let students take more responsibility for their lives, missteps and all, and I think they would learn more - inside and outside the classroom. Let students come back to college prep courses later if they wish, but don't cram it down their throats. Let high school juniors and seniors even quit school if they want, but keep the door open if they wish to return. Besides being on probation in the criminal justice system, where besides school will they actually come and get you (ie. the truant officer) if you don't partake? (And then we are surprised when some students feel incarcerated in school!?!) School and an education used to be looked on as a priviledge; and it still is in many parts of the world. Why have we in America made it into a burden? Preach the importance of an education by all means and explain the ramifications of leaving school, but give young people the freedom to pursue their own path and learn what they need to learn in life. That is most likely what they are going to do, anyways.
Whether or not they are students, young people will always more or less work from nine to five in their lives. Whether they go into the work world or not right after high school and return to serious study later as their goals in life change seems not too important to me; in California, many of the best students are "late bloomers" who do poorly in high school, but excel in community colleges and then go on to higher education from there. But many people are just pretty average with respect to their intellectual gifts, and therefore don't enjoy school or books much -- that is the truth, even as we have created "colleges" like the Cal State system which so often serve as glorified high schools for those lacking basic skills, or deluded ourselves into thinking that a high school diploma automatically means a person can read and write. Of course many average intellects make maximum use of their brains and enjoy academic success; however, I would not patronize a teenager by saying I knew better what he wanted. You can guide, offer advice, love and support - but you cannot make a person learn. It simply is not possible.
I would let teenagers drop out of college prep courses and pursue more vocational studies if they wanted. You might allow some kids to hurt their futures and take courses of action contrary to their best interests; but that is a worthy price to pay to change the present high school culture where so many young people sit as virtual prisoners in classes in which they have no interest and little desire to learn. Having little desire to learn, such students make almost no effort to learn; and, as a consequence, everyone wastes their time. Many of the students who do want to learn are deprived of that option by the troublemakers and rebels; we should, at the very least!, teach them instead of letting the worst drag everyone down with them! Everyone is discouraged! (Some students egregiously violate the school rules precisely in the hopes they will once and for all be kicked out of school - something almost impossible to do, in our lax system of public school discipline!) It is specious to say that all young people can succeed in school, even if that be the mantra of the present education system. Some people will succeed in life - only not in calculus or AP English classes. And we should serve them, too. (Or do we only love those young people going the college prep route?) But of course for political reasons this will not happen.
It could hardly get worse -- especially in low-income areas -- than it is presently. And I think more vocational classes would be a good start to making "schools" in such areas worthy of the name. Maybe we could teach some young people on the verge of adulthood who long ago gave up on their academic careers something useful that will help them upon graduation. Having taught in a "school" in a low-income area (and elsewhere), I speak from personal experience. But to say all this is to go against the shibboleths (ie. "Every student should go to college!!") of the American public school system.
Very Truly Yours,