“Since the admissions process has gone totally insane, it’s worth reminding yourself that this is not a particularly important moment in your life.”
I don’t often share the views of David Brooks, but if you’re a high school teacher, his op-ed piece in the Times today is worth a look. It’s about how truly crazed many students are at this time of year when their college acceptances are hanging in the balance. And, as Brooks points out, this moment in their lives that seems SO huge is really not nearly as important as it feels.
Ironically, I was having just such a conversation with one of my students yesterday who was really upset by the fact that she was wait-listed for a semester at one of her top choices. She wants to be a journalism major, and I suggested that she might use the opportunity to do something interesting for six months, like travel a bit, or join an non-profit organization and do some good, or volunteer for a political campaign or…you get the idea. Not an option, she said. I said well, what about going to a community college for a semester and getting some credits. Nope. It was the $40,000 a year college…that was it. Too bad.
The Brooks essay isn’t kind to public education. He describes students being forced into what he calls a “a prudential attitude toward learning” that sacrifices passion for consistency, and says that what they learn most is how to play the game to get to a first class school. He accuses the system of “trying to whittle you down into a bland, complaisant achievement machine.” In large measure, I think he’s right. Public education in general just seems so locked in to standards that all we seem to be producing are standardly good students. There’s a surprise. So few of my students have passion, originality, or the motivation to figure out what THEY want as opposed to what we expect them to want. I know it took me a while to find my passions as well, but wouldn’t it be great if we could create an environment that nurtured that exploration in kids instead of deadened them with conformity?
Terry Elliott says
I actually saw your ref to this via furl (which I like very much, handy as a pocket on a shirt). My daughter is a dancer (ballet, modern, jazz) and her aunt asked where she was going to college in a couple of years. She told her that she wasn’t going to college and that the best way for her create was to be part of a company somewhere. Auntie was shocked, but had to admit after further questioning that she was perfectly correct. Also, I am at a minor state university (Western Kentucky University) which just so happens to have one of the best journalism programs in the country, if not the best photojournalism school. It all depends on what the student really wants: to appear competent or to be competent. I’d rather be competent and there are many places one can become that. I finally learned to write when I worked for a local radio station and newspaper at age 35. There are so many ways in beside school. Of course, the rejection this student feels is not to be consoled away. Perhaps it can be used as a way to test her own commitment. You might also tell her that admissions employees are typically the poorest paid and least competent players of all. (Probably speaking out of turn there, overgeneralizing from my own bad experiences with those folks.)
Rick Barter says
I can agree with much of what David Brooks says ….. school and high school in particular can be brain numbing, but there can also be the gems that do spark a passion. My younger son has just gone through the very unpleasant process of college applications and despite the feeling of self doubt and sometimes defeat, he has been accepted to a college that just may suit him perfectly. It’s sad to say that he did have to jump many inane hoops to get the grades, GPA and SATs, but right now he thinks that it was worth it.
But back to the original brain numbing vs. gems … If it hadn’t been for his high school, a handful of excellent teachers and an internship program with a local research lab, he wouldn’t have found the passion that has driven him the past 2 years and pointed him in his current direction ….. and to a very good college.
Yes, there were the not-so-wonderful classes and teachers that had to be slogged through (I won’t even get into his middle school years) but the gems made it worth while. We and he feel that it will be a very different experience going to a small private college than it would have been going to the local state university with large class sizes and with graduate students for teachers. Where you go to college can matter.
The pressure of getting into a “good” school is crazy and not good for a teenagers emotional health and the process that a college goes through is equally crazy. We see no rhyme or reason to our son’s acceptances and rejections.
My older son is a musician attending a conservatory of music. He discovered and developed that passion in the public education system despite its many flaws.
David Brooke seems to not have much respect for public education. I see his point, but I also know that much good can be had from the experience as well and that experience may help a student to find his/her passion. Isn’t that what it’s really all about?
Stephen Harlow says
A thought-provoking post (thanks to Jeremy Hiebert who brought it to my attention). I really do think the answer to producing outstanding, free-range students lies in shifting the curriculum, which for too long has acted as the quality control for the standards you talk about.
The exciting thing is that blogs might just be one of the tools that allow us to bring the sort of pedagogies into our classrooms that hasten the overthrow of our anachronistic curriculum. Congratulations on your part in the revolution!