Friday, February 18, 2011

Self-responsibility in Education

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I’m a Republican.  Screw those other idiots who claim to have an idea what a Republican really is, I think I know enough to figure out what political party I want to associate with.  By the way, I don’t mean the jackasses like Glenn Beck and Michelle Bachmann who run head-over-ass to define the party; I mean a Republican who respects fiscal responsibility but encourages social individualism.  In my mind, people that don’t agree with gay marriage aren’t Republicans, they’re pitiful reactionaries. 

Saying that, I’m big into the educational philosophy that supports students taking an active role in their own learning.  While it has become a joy to all to go after the teacher’s union (deservedly so in many cases), focus on standardized tests, and creating some semblance of “accountability”, the truth is that the main problem in education revolves around the typical American teenager really not being prepared for the working world.  Thanks to the Internet, a lack of parental support, and a society that is too busy with material wealth, kids have a falsely developed sense of self-actualization that endangers not only their own economic development, but also the nations. 

A variety of publications including the Economist and Business Week are finally picking up on the problem of youth unemployment, first discussing the issues of short term discouragement ruining a generation, then addressing the Western problem of college students not reaching educational goals in a reasonable length of time.  In the developing world the problem is that post-secondary degrees are being pumped out at an alarming rate; to the point that many of these Middle East revolutions are being started by disenfranchised college graduates.  The United States has a different problem.  The United States actually has the jobs, the financial capital, and the innovative environment to support college graduates.  But not enough students are doing well enough in college to maintain the labor need or the innovative push.  According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 60% of four-year college students graduate with a degree within six years.  That’s six years!  Considering that in California, only about 22% of students go straight to a four year university (and less graduate), that’s an alarming number of people ill prepared to run a country.

The answers from parents are often comical, with the idea of self-education revolving around lame online high school courses, packet work, and a focus that seems to prohibit failure because the constant safety nets won’t allow it.  Actual knowledge is unimportant, just completing the goal of getting a diploma, which is slowly becoming more and more worthless.  Since the beginning of the semester, over a half-dozen students have moved to Hybrid Independent Study, a program where a student does basically packet work for their core courses (English, Gov/Econ), but still comes to school for Electives, Clubs, and Athletics.  Parents buy into this shit because the kids complain that the “drama” prohibits their learning, even though they seem to get to school for Homecoming or many other dramatic events.  In the end, regardless of the teacher, the students self-actualization is based on a lie; that life’s choices can change because Mommy and Daddy are there to rescue them.  Some life lesson.  I lived on my own for most of my Senior year.  I remember complaining about the “useless” Senior year, and my father’s response was something around “Ok, you can always wake up with me at four in the morning, get on the milk truck, and work for twelve hours.  You’re smarter than that, but you make the call.”  Somehow, that was enough to get me to finish high school. 

By college, I already had the goal of teaching in mind and worked to finish, albeit the hard way.  This generation of kids is being told over and over again that it is ok to have no clue about what they want to do down the road.  Many are going to their first four-year college to party with friends, often friends from high school; then transferring after a year or two to a different college to “get serious”, only to find that they are unprepared for the rigors and end up back at a junior college.  The party college of choice now is UC Davis.  Most students are being admitted without difficulty, many go and continue their Ukiah party ways, and many transfer or drop back to Mendocino College.  The other popular, although much different school clique, university is UC Santa Cruz; where the perception is laid back grading, the beach, and the perfect bourgeois-bohemian lifestyle that allows one to be a social revolutionary as long as it doesn’t interrupt Starbucks.  Students then transfer out of UCSC and realize that the real world actually expects results and will tell them straight out if they aren’t getting the job done.  What a shock.

This generation is not being told the truth about self-reliance, it is living a dangerous lie that the status quo will eventually result in success.  The problem is that everything is pointing to the contrary.  The status quo has the Boomerang Children (college grads living at home, dysfunctional accountability standards, and a youth unemployment rate that risks devastating an entire generation of Americans.  If we don’t start practicing the true lesson of self-education, including the consequences of one’s actions and inactions, all the “reform” in the world will not matter.        

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