College For Everyone?

Posting a comment I made at MotherJones.com in response to the following article.

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Guess What? Pretending That Everyone Should Go to College Turns Out Not to Work

—By Kevin Drum

| Wed Apr. 18, 2012 8:45 AM PDT
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MODIFIED COMMENT FOLLOWS:

All students should have the option to pursue a college-prep program of studies, or higher, such as honors and AP.  If they are unable to succeed on that path, however, it makes no sense to label them as failures, or force them to follow a path they do not believe benefits them. [1]  Instead, let’s offer them a path where they have a greater chance to experience success, and to see the value in going to school.  Europe offers many successful models we could follow, such as their apprenticeship program;  this is similar to a successful strategy Horace Mann pursued two centuries ago.  By the way, if a student WANTS to stay in the college-prep path, and is willing to put in the effort to study outside of the classroom, they should be encouraged to do so.

As a first year teacher starting my second career, I am full of passion and dedication for all students.  Social justice, access, and equity are absolutes. Yet, the overly constrained implementation we’ve adopted the past few decades as redress for the atrocities of discrimination is obviously not serving all students successfully.  As Albert Einstein once said, ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

Along these lines, a timely article, published today, titled “‘Algebra for all’ may harm many kids,” points out:

“In a new study, Michal Kurlaendar and Heather Rose, professors of education at the University of California, Davis, together with education programs consultant Don Taylor, say those students—often from low-income families—may be academically harmed if required to take the course.” [2]

I help any and all the 150+ students present in my classroom everyday.  That is why I became a teacher.  At the same time, I see so many students floundering, wanting to do the work, but unable to gain traction as they are so far behind skill-wise.  And sadly, very few students invest the time needed outside the classroom to master current topics, much less address prerequisite deficiencies.  Keeping these students on the conveyor belt that is public education today neither serves them, nor our society.  Developing a variety of meaningful, sought after pathways that graduate confident contributors to society can prepare them so much better than the status quo.  Why not invest our precious federal and state educational funds in ways that create value rather than destroy it?  Empower students of all persuasions to pursue a meaningful career, via rigorous vocational and technical pathways, where they graduate with a solid foundation, as opposed to a shaky outlook.

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Postscript:  Let me add that my wife is a Latina, a first generation Mexican American whose parents came to America for a better opportunity.  She is a math teacher, three of her brothers are LAPD officers, and one is an assistant principal; they all graduated from college, one with a masters.  They all grew up on the “east side,” where her parents still live. They attended parochial school until the 8th grade and public high school afterwards.  Her parents insisted their children study, do their homework, and graduate from high school and college.  They both worked to help pay for parochial school and college.  He as a heavy equipment operator, and truck driver, she in odd jobs.  Neither attended college. Yet all five of their children found a way to succeed through high school and college.  Many other underprivileged students can also.  However, not every disadvantaged student has the same parental support as my wife and her brothers.  These students need alternative choices for their lives other than the one size fits all model we’ve created.

For what its worth, I am a first generation college graduate as well.  While I am the beneficiary of white privilege, as I learned in my ed program, I still worked tremendously hard for every one of my accomplishments.  Nonetheless, I understand that a similarly talented person of color may not have enjoyed the same social freedoms as I, which is a shameful part of our history.  I do know that many of my friends of African-American heritage attended great colleges, and many more continue to do so.  The real challenge is how do we entice, engage, and empower those who are not inclined to attend college?  I know we can do so much better there.

 
[1] This requires consultation with the student, his/her parent(s) or legal guardian by a trained counselor, ideally fluent in native language of the parents / guardians.

[2]  ‘Algebra for all’ may harm many kids

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About Dave aka Mr. Math Teacher

Secondary math teacher teaching math intervention, algebra 1, honors precalculus, and AP Calculus AB. I spent 25 years in high tech in engineering, marketing, sales and business development roles in the satellite communications, GPS, semiconductor, and wireless industries. I am awed by the potential in our nation's youth and I hope to instill in them the passion to improve our world at local, state, national, and global levels.
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