Wednesday, April 1, 2009

It's the most wonderful time of the year...

Spring has sprung, April has arrived, and with both, the newest batch of college acceptance (and, regrettably, rejection) letters for seniors. I find myself (admittedly vicariously) awaiting this time nearly as avidly as many of my students. Perhaps it's the 250+ recommendation letters I wrote this year that has something to do with my anticipation.

There was both good and bad news this year, as always; and the usual expected acceptances and rejections, along with the rare surprise and, naturally, the what-the-fuck-were-these-dumbass-admissions-officers-smoking decisions.

One issue I think is overemphasized is the notion that "every student should go to college". This is one of those oft–repeated phrases that politicians and school board members in particular are known to bloviate upon. It sounds like a great idea. How could anyone possibly opposed to it?

Attention political hacks and associated carney-barker-hangers-on: have you considered the idea that perhaps some kids don't want to go to college right after high school? Lip service is often paid to the notion that students can create their own destiny, the-world-is-your-oyster and all that. That's all fine and good until a student muses about not going to college, at which time s/he is surrounded by naysayers stating that they will be forever condemned to a lifetime of low-wage exploitative labor and a ghetto or trailer-park existence, earn a reservation to one of the Circles of Hell, etc. etc.

Do any of these people consider the notion that at the ripe-old age of 17 or 18, that a kid might not know what they want to do with the rest of their life? That they might want to gain some life experience before deciding on what career path to embark upon? This is one of those classic issues where something gets repeated enough that eventually large numbers of people accept it as being the truth, without bothering to do any reseach into its validity, à la "Leopold!".

I find it amusing that the same people who demand that every student go to college often simultaneously decry the rapidly increasing costs associated with college. Well, now, let's scratch our collective heads and see if we can figure this one out. You run around telling kids they're doomed to failure unless they go to college right away; therefore more kids decide they should go to college. The (easily predicted) result: rapidly increasing demand, but accompanied by little, no, or even negative growth in supply. Now why might tuition be increasing? (As a side note, the College Board is among the most notorious of these misguided cheerleaders, in a thinly-veiled attempt to protect their near-monopoly/racket on college entrance exams. But I digress. More to come on the College Board, an organization for which I have worked on occasion, in later posts.)

A few summers ago I attended a professional development workshop at a company from which we purchase certain equipment. Some of their manufacturing facilities were on site and as we toured them we were told about the dire shortage of skilled machinists. This job requires attention to detail, hard work, and meticulousness, definitely–but no college degree. Oh, and by the way, I was told that the machinists there can make significantly more than I do, as a teacher with a bachelor's and master's degree–NOT in education–but in the field in which I teach. This was also in an area with a much lower cost of living than my own.

It is interesting that if someone were to DARE give these misguided college lemming-cheerleaders the, I mean voice an opinion that suggests that college shouldn't be de rigeur, they are attacked as being "elitist" (right up there with accusations of "selfishness" or "greed" that often indicate that someone's illogical and closely-held dogma that won't stand up to even the mildest scrutiny is being challenged). Further, it is ironic and amusing that the same people who accuse others of being elitist turn their noses up at the notion of junior college or vocational training.

"Now, I don't want to go off on a rant here, but...of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong."

For some (in my humble opinion) interesting counterpoints to the notion that all students should go to college, see here, here, and here.

Food for thought

Here is (in my humble opinion) a very well–written article from Steve Lopez in the L. A. Times about hiring/firing issues at the Los Angeles Unified School District in light of all of the recent budgetary woes.

Education is one of those things that tends to be tossed about and tinkered with by politicians, and to a lesser extent, journalists, angling for votes or more attention, respectively. It's always easier to spout off trite slogans than it is to come up with innovative ideas that might actually change things for the better. The types of silly hiring policies referred to in the article above that predominate in education are a major reason why (a) quantity is valued over quality and (b) younger people don't want to go into education, at least to work for a large urban public school district such as LAUSD. (Here is another article recently published describing the lengths to which LAUSD must go to recruit teachers.)

Also equally counterproductive: ridiculous and outdated lockstep salary schedules in which experience (not always good or quality experience) and education (oftentimes largely useless degrees, credentials, and professional development) determine how teachers are paid. If all teachers are paid the same, regardless of how well or how poorly they do their job, then what incentive is there to do go that extra mile? I think there are legions of un– and under–appreciated teachers who labor away in the salt mines of schools while their mediocre and incompetent colleagues get paid the same to read newspapers in class while giving students useless tasks. The real question is, why should those teachers go above and beyond if there's no recognition of their efforts? Actually, the REAL real question is how do the politicians and, quite frankly, the public at large, allow this state of affairs to persist and simultaneously wonder why students aren't staying in school (not to mention the substandard accomplishments of those students that DO graduate)?

Here goes nothin'....

I've at long last tired of merely reading other peoples' blogs obsessively, so I thought I'd give this a spin. I hereby stake a claim to my own puny little homestead on the Internet...with hopefully marginally informative and entertaining posts to come. Stay tuned!