Archive for Monday, August 12, 2013

Return to school now a daunting task

August 12, 2013

In the coming days, schools will open for the 2013-14 session facing a variety of challenges ranging from shrinking financial resources to the need to do well on standardized tests. Certainly parents, teachers, school administrators have a much more daunting task than in the “good old days” when I was in school.

There is no doubt in my mind that students have it much tougher than when I was young. In those days, it took only 16 credits to graduate from high school. Other than English and social studies, I don’t remember many required courses, and there certainly wasn’t the challenge of a senior project. Now students need 24 credits plus a variety of required courses to earn a diploma. To me it is sad that we put such heavy emphasis on math and science and forget history, literature, writing, economics and other academic challenges.

When I was in school you didn’t need much of an education. If you didn’t want to be there, other opportunities such as the military and a myriad of factory jobs were available. Without a diploma you stand relatively little chance now.

Personally I believe that schools do a much superior job than they did a half century ago. There is a lot more concern about individual students now, although far too many students refuse to accept the gift of education. If any student is left behind it is his or her choice.

One of the problems I believe is the competitive testing that is ingrained in education. It seems everything is governed by standardized test scores. Communities look at test scores as a basis of quality education and I believe that is wrong. What we need to look at is the quality of students who graduate from our schools and if they are trained to be lifelong learners and for the rigors of life. As long as we have socio-economic problems in our nation we cannot expect all schools to be equal but we can expect schools to turn out students who have the ability and skills to take the next step and learn a skill or trade and earn a living.

Discipline is tougher now too. It hasn’t been that long ago since school districts turned a blind eye toward under age kids smoking for example. There were no concerns about students being harassed or being bullied. Rules are much tougher now and they should be. There has never been an excuse for bad behavior that disrupts classes.

The cost of education is going up, too. Most of the problem is due to legislatures who refuse to properly fund schools. Even at the public school level the start of classes is a very costly time for parents. What is really expensive is higher education and far too many students are forced to take out loans and graduate heavily in debt. I read that other day that student loans now amount to about $1 trillion. To make things worse, congress has raised the interest rates on student loans. Now students graduate, face a challenging job market with the heavy burden of student loans. Decades ago, college was affordable and there was a job available for nearly every grad.

Education has come a long way from the first public school, the Boston Latin School, established in 1635. The simple education provided at the one-room school a century ago isn’t enough to survive in a modern world filled with rapidly changing technology. We need to have students who are flexible and able to change with the times. It is important that all of us – parents, educators and the general public – pool efforts to ensure quality education for those who will lead in the future.

Comments

Ronald Grover 8 months ago

Clausie,

One of your best columns.

This summer I attended my 40th year high school reunion. As I look back graduation in 1973 was so much different than what I see students facing today.

In 1973 you either went to college or you got a job. Maybe not such different choices than today but the world has changed so much. In 1973 good jobs were available for those that chose to work instead of continuing their education. There were 3 auto plants, multiple refineries, two very good paying soap plants, countless other manufacturing options. City governments expanding and growing provided opportunities in government service. New opportunities in something none of us understood, a computer industry.

The only competition for these jobs were our neighbors. We walked in and filled out an application.

Today I see a high school diploma as only the beginning of your career in self education.

Now jobs move and evolve faster than most can keep up. Organizations shift and targets do not just move but some completely disappear. Graduates today are not competing against their neighbor for a good job, they are competing against another new graduate living in India, China, Germany or any other nation on Earth. A simple keystroke on one of those machines we didn't even consider important 40 years ago transports you across the globe. The same keystroke from the other side of the world brings someone to our neighborhood.

It is true, our students today have more to learn. They face challenges we never considered.

It is time we respect the job teachers have but it also time we begin respecting those students facing these challenges. Students today are our future. I know that is cliche but now more then ever those of us ending our careers are counting on those beginning their careers.

Instead of lambasting our schools and students we need to support these students. Support must be real. Sometimes a pat on the back is needed but that isn't enough. Schools and students need money to remain competitive. When you drive past a school, see a big yellow bus, see the lights of a Friday night football game ask a simple question of yourself, "What can I do?" Then it is simple, just do it.

Great column, Clausie.

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