High School Is Not Just Adulthood Training

Recently, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker tried to change the mission of the University of Wisconsin system to focus on workforce training exclusively.

After opposition from observers he was force to backtrack and the system will maintain its (rather more standard) search for truth and public service mission.

But “just jobs” represents a common perspective on the purpose of college education, at least among conservative policy makers. We have public universities, basically, for jobs training. All else is perhaps wasteful and certainly secondary.

And we have public schools to prepare kids for that, being an adult who can make responsible decisions like what job he wants to do.

Not so fast, says Michael Godsey over at the Atlantic. We need not worry so much about schools as “training”

Most [students] …want to read and write as well as they’re expected to at their grade level, but I see many of them overwhelmed by too much talk about careers—to the point that some of them want to quit. In fact, it seems to me that many high school students don’t even like, much less admire, the adult world.

Before today’s educational leaders, business owners, or even everyday taxpayers get too emotionally or financially invested in programs to help students prepare for the working world—ensuring they are, to borrow a favorite school-reform buzzword, “college- and career-ready”—maybe they should realize (or remember) that most kids just want to be kids while they still can. And if the policymakers can’t accept this reality, then maybe they should look for ways make adulthood more appealing or adolescence less luxurious. Until these fundamental motivational issues are solved, none of the country’s “college- and career-readiness” programs will reach their full potential.

MiniAdults

He’s got a point there. In general if students are reasonably well educated they’re perfectly capable of making good, age appropriate decisions. They don’t need “training” to be an adult; they’ll pretty much figure out how to be an adult just by growing up.

The reason for education is to become a self-aware, well-rounded, broadly familiar person. “College and career ready” is so broad as to be virtually meaningless.

That’s why, as the author notes, when counselors talk about “career pathways” students’s eyes just glaze over. What you want when you’re 16-years-old is basically to be 16, and do all the things that you’re supposed to do when you’re 16. As long as what you’re learning in school is good, all should be well.

My students actually like to read; many of them do so voluntarily for pleasure. I should probably focus on tapping into that affinity. They like The Hunger Games, they like Of Mice and Men, and they like Serial. They want to play games and talk with their friends, and they want to learn more about people and lessons applicable to their everyday lives. That’s how I can engage them.

They generally don’t care much about talking in a “professional register” or citing their papers according to the MLA style. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to teach those things; I’m just going to be more honest with my approach. I’m not going to pretend these lessons are intrinsically interesting to them, and I’m not going to think that infusing social media into my lesson plans is going to change anything in that regard.

And that’s what education, at least secondary education, should generally be about. There’s no need to fetishize adulthood or pretend that high school is a good time to choose a career or, frankly, to pretend that there’s something wrong in a lack of interest in being able to cite papers according to the MLA style.

Part of school, after all, is learning to do tasks regularly that are somewhat unpleasant. That’s not just important as training to become “college- and career-ready;” it’s important to become a well-balanced human being.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer