The Duncan Banner

Opinion

August 6, 2013

Accept it: Not every kid is college material

DUNCAN — Give Barack Obama credit on the issue of young people and higher education — he’s been consistent. In both of his presidential campaigns and during both tenures, Obama has consistently declared the goal of education is to make sure every young person has a college education.

It’s an admirable goal, I guess, but it’s an issue on which Obama and I don’t agree. The reality, as I see it, is : Not every high school graduate should go on to college, for several reasons.

To wit: What if the principal at your local high school ordered the football coach to recruit every student in school, even those who don’t know a football from foot fungus?

And what if the principal told the coach to develop ALL of his players into college prospects and anything less would be a failure on his part? How long would it be before the coach and his staff quit en masse?

Now, take the same scenario, only substitute “teacher” for “coach” and “student” for “player.”

Is it any more realistic to expect teachers to prepare ALL of their students for college?

Yet, that seems to be the current trend in public school reform. Spurred by “No Child Left Behind” and other testing-based legislation, there’s growing chatter in education and the public forum that every high school student who graduates is ready for college.

In this discussion, there’s an implicit notion that all kids want to go to college, and if by chance they don’t, then their teachers will get them there anyway.

It’s seldom mentioned that for many kids, college simply isn’t going to happen, be it for a lack of drive, of discipline, of intellectual curiosity or of intellectual capability.

That last factor is especially overlooked by proponents of the trend, most of whom are detached intellectuals, educational theorists, administrators and politicians. The convoluted logic in their view is that ALL kids are created intellectually equal, and that ALL of them are college material.

But some close to public education, including a lot of teachers, realize that’s baloney. They know some kids don’t need college, they need a trade. Many in-the-trenches educators understand not everyone can be an athlete, nor can everyone be college material.

Some in education have this, uh, crazy idea high school should be structured by student need, not by some “feel-good,” “every-kid’s-the-same” vision.

That opinion may sound harsh to those who’ve never spent time in a classroom. It doesn’t jibe with the ideal that any child, if they work hard enough, can grow up to be president.

And after all, few teachers want to look at a 14-year-old and say, “Kid, you’re a plumber.” (Despite the fact the median wage for plumbers is around $18 to $19 an hour, and the Department of Labor says the job outlook for plumbers is “excellent ... and is expected to out-pace the supply of workers trained in this craft.”)

The reality is: Kids who struggle with — and rebel against — book learning need something else. Often, school isn’t a big enough priority for them to expend the energy necessary to learn the periodic table. Some of them can’t intellectually grasp such concepts, and there are some who simply don’t care to have that knowledge — and that’s not necessarily their teacher’s fault.

Teachers know these things. Guidance counselors know these things. The kids know these things. Yet, bureaucrats continue to hammer square pegs into round holes, and then everyone screams at teachers when the pieces don’t fit quite right.

Somewhere along the road to “higher standards,” we’ve forgotten about the kids in the middle; the kids who would rather build something than deconstruct it. And we’ve convinced ourselves college is the only path to a happy, prosperous life.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, back in the 1970s more than 35 percent of all high school students took three credits or more of vocational programs. By 2010, that figure had fallen just more than 20 percent.

However, I’ve had discussions with educators — and some administrators — who believe we need more vocational programs, and that schools need to actively encourage more kids to pursue those opportunities.

Here’s a possible solution: Let’s praise young people who are capable and interested in going on to college, and make sure a college-prep curriculum is available to every student who’s willing to make the effort.

But at the same time, let’s not forget that not every kid is college material. The kid who has a yen to become a plumber should also be praised and given a curriculum that can make them productive in the workplace of their choice.

jeff.kaley@duncanbanner.com

580-255-5354, Ext. 172. Kaley is managing editor of Waurika News-Democrat

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