College shouldn’t be only K-12 goal

Higher education shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all of K-12 education, writes “edu-traitor” Cathy Davidson, an English professor, in an Inside Higher Ed commentary.

Higher education is incredibly valuable, even precious, for many. But it is bad for individuals and society to be retrofitting learning all the way back to preschool, as if the only skills valuable, vital, necessary in the world are the ones that earn you a B.S., BA, or a graduate and professional degree.

Many jobs require specialized knowledge, intelligence and skills, but not a college education, Davidson notes.  Yet our educational system “defines learning so narrowly that whole swaths of human intelligence, skill, talent, creativity, imagination, and accomplishment do not count.”

Schools are cutting art, music, P.E. and shop to focus on college prep, Davidson complains. (I’d say schools are cutting electives — especially shop — to focus on basic reading and math skills.)

. . . many brilliant, talented young people are dropping out of high school because they see high school as implicitly “college prep” and they cannot imagine anything more dreary than spending four more years bored in a classroom when they could be out actually experiencing and perfecting their skills in the trades and the careers that inspire them.

We need value “the full range of intellectual possibility and potential for everyone,” Davidson writes.

The brilliant, talented kid who drops out to pursue a passion for art, carpentry or cosmetology is a rare bird, I think. But Davidson is right about the college-or-bust mentality in K-12 education. Many students who are bored by academics could be motivated — maybe even inspired — by a chance to develop marketable skills.

Some 80 percent of new community college students say they want to earn a bachelor’s degree. They sign up for remedial or general education courses.  Few succeed.  Students who pursue vocational goals — a welding certificate, an associate degree in medical technology — are far more likely to graduate.

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  1. Roger Sweeny says:

    Ironic. Many of the same people who believe in “multiple intelligences” also believe that K-12 should be college prep for all.

  2. The number of non-academic electives at my school continues to dwindle, to the point where they can now be counted on one hand. Sad.

  3. I am at an employee meeting for Siemens Energy in Pittsburgh surrounded by several hundred technicians who make over 100K a year without Bachelors degrees.

  4. Even many kids who are college material often find electives like art & shop to be the highlight of their school day. My best friend growing up was an honors student but lived for art class. She went on to earn a degree in graphic design and now has a successful career in that field. I also know several successful engineers whose favorite class in high school was shop.

    I agree with Darren that the dearth of electives at many high schools today is very sad.

  5. Along with fewer electives offered, there are more required courses and less time to take electives. My kids – all full-time elite athletes – would have loved to get rid of the PE they didn’t need in order to take more academic classes. The kids at my youngest’s HS who were in the marching band took music every semester and spent more time marching than the kids taking the very-popular PE walking class did and they had both a HS season and a competition season. It’s just another example of schools’ fixation on the one-size-fits-all model; it doesn’t and never did.

  6. When Thomas Jefferson started the public school system in the late 18th century, during slavery, he called it’s purpose “Raking a few geniuses from the rubbish”. The few went to college while the rest did the jobs of their parents. Separated by race, gender and economic status, the system was clearly designed for the elite, those Stepford kids that fit into a tiny box full of word games and math riddles.

    This system and philosophy of education continues today. There are more than 4000 college campuses in this country and they are big business. We currently let them contorl primary and secondary education ignoring the needs of all students.

    In the words of historian James Anderson, “We re still trying to develop both the philosophy as well as a system of education which really does respect the intelligence and abilites of ordinary people.”

    We must decide whether education is here for the universities or for all students. As in Jefferson’s days, we must no longer push kids into the subclass for he rest of their lives at the tender age of 14 and 15. Elitism must no longer exist! It is time to design thatsustem that serves all.