‘Quiet middle’ needs to help to reach goals

As a social studies teacher in Atlanta, Ian Cohen taught ninth-graders who wanted to be doctors, lawyers, and CEOs, or entrepreneurs, chefs, and engineers. But the school’s graduation rate was only 42 percent — even lower for black males.

"Next Generation" apprentices visit the set of Inside NBA Football.

“Next Generation Men” visit the set of Inside NBA Football.

Males in the “quiet middle” were doing the minimum needed to pass, Cohen writes. They didn’t realize what it would take to achieve their goals.

Cohen and two other Teach for America corps members have founded Next Generation Men) to provide “exposure to different careers and post-secondary options, guidance on how to achieve them, and consistent support.”

If my student wants to be an engineer, but doesn’t know how integral math and science are to that profession, what other reason would he have to be interested in trigonometry or calculus? And if he came from a family without a college graduate, how would he manage to learn about the application process, the importance of school selection, and what the actual experience entails or requires?

Tenth-grade “apprentices” meet with teachers twice a week and visit a different industry each month.

For example, students met the cameramen, audio engineers, writers and producers of one of their favorite TV shows, Inside the NBA, at Turner Studios, writes Cohen. “Now, they understand that there are over 20 careers involved in making that show possible, and that it takes a commitment to mastering a craft or skill set that will enable them to pursue one of those professions.”

Many young people are encouraged to say they want to go to college and say they want to be doctors, lawyers, etc. But they have no clue what they should be doing in school to make those goals a reality.

Students think jobs require no math, English

Academics are pointless, Ilana Garon’s students at a Bronx high school told her.  “When am I ever going to need Shakespeare? Or geometry?”

When asked, two said they wanted to be astronauts. A third wants to be an actress. “You want to be astronauts, and you think you’re not going to need math?”  Garon asked. She turned to the actress. “Or English?”

They were certain that most of what they were learning in high school was totally irrelevant to their future career choices.

Garon supports alternatives to the traditional “college for all” academic path such as trade and career-tech programs. Her “students also need a crash course in career awareness.”  Many careers — IT, accounting, engineering, hospitality management — are off their radar. They don’t know the skills and habits the workforce requires.