Tuesday, July 23, 2019

What do you want to be when you grow up? (HINT: it relates to your mastery of Algebra or willingness to join the military).

I went to my last graduation party for the 2019 class this past weekend. As a 10th grade American History teacher, I get invited to a few each year. They are, of course, bittersweet events, and an extension of the series of goodbyes that are indicative of my chosen profession. A few of the kids, young adults I guess, that we celebrated over the past month or so knew exactly what profession they intended to pursue. Some had figured it out during high school, were drawn through some brilliant math & science teachers to a career in engineering. Others may have known even longer, perhaps, that they’ve “wanted to be a middle school teacher since middle school”, or a “firefighter since I was in 3rd grade.”

In the summer following my senior year, I had no idea what the hell I was going to do. Very few of my friends knew their path either. There was a public service running around that time whose deep voiced message of warning stated gravely, “No one says they want to be a junkie when they grow up.” So, on occasion, my friends and I would say just that, “I want to be a junkie when I grow up.” It underscored the terrible uncertainty we were facing. We understood that drug addiction was no laughing matter, but then neither was the premise of asking an 18 year old to decide what they’d like to do to earn a living for the rest of their lives. We understood sarcasm, and off-color humor better than decision making. 

I believe most high school students fall into this category. In their defense, research on the brain proves that the decision making center of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, is not fully developed in adult males until their early 30s, with female development occurring a bit earlier. And yet we persist in our attempts to bully kids into this terribly important decision.

So, Godspeed to those individuals who exit high school with a singular purpose regarding their future careers. But if you’re not among them, that’s cool too. You’ll find your way along like my friends and I did, making lots of bad jokes, and hopefully enough decent decisions so that shit works out in the end.

I just finished my 20th year as an American History teacher. You’d think I’d have better advice for students than this. I don’t. “Find what makes you happy. Do that.” is a summation of my advice. Furthermore, I believe that anyone claiming to have any foolproof, universal formula that will lead young people to economic success, & prepare them in the process is a liar.

I don’t believe the state of Ohio knows any better either. As I was wrapping up these grad parties, the Ohio General Assembly included a change to the Graduation Requirement in the state budget. It was written by a business coalition called Ohio Excels, and while it eliminates an ELA & a Geometry Test at the high school level, I’ve yet to hear why it is necessary or meaningful. The reformer shills from Ohio Excels & Fordham who championed it said some things about “rigor,” which I know to be a certain indicator of bullshit. Sure, some rich suburban districts backed the requirement, but they’re already successful in a system heavy with testing, & this new requirement looks a hell of a lot like a shuffling of the old requirement.

Students don’t earn 18 points from 7 assessments anymore. There’s only five assessments now, & a student has to pass 2 (Algebra & ELA), then earn two “Seals.” If a student cannot pass the tests, then they can earn more Seals. Most of the Seals are defined by the state (Citizenship, Science, Bilingual, CCP, Military). A few are defined by districts (Fine Arts, Community Engagement). There are many Seals. Most of them require the successful completion/passage of an assessment of some sort.

What does this have to do with encouraging kids to figure out what they want to do with their lives, who they want to be? I don’t know. I guess in the generalized anxiety created by this absurdly confusing system, a student is going to thoughtfully approach a career path. If it were high school me, I’d be taking the path of least resistance, and for many students who do not excel at test taking, I’m afraid that this is going to mean getting bullied into joining the military in order to get a high school diploma. I hope that I am wrong.

And how does the requirement assure that my students are prepared for college or the workforce? Who the hell knows. State Superintendent DeMaria (lots of people really) likes to say that we are preparing students for jobs that do not even exist yet. If it were me (or anyone else with a bit of education experience), I’d argue that the key to success in those jobs will be things like communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. Apparently, I would be mistaken. All of these jobs of the future will require a firm grasp of Algebraic concepts. At least that’s what this requirement, created by Ohio businesses, suggests. 

It should be noted that these are the same Ohio businesses who have overseen one of the slowest recoveries from the Great Recession in the nation, and watched as Ohio’s youth have fled the state in record numbers, & on occasion need a billion dollar taxpayer bailout.

Well, another dumbass revision on a tired standardized testing requirement should fix all of that. Perhaps this is what my high school friends and I were lacking. We were rich in sarcasm, but poor in Algebra.

Thank goodness Ohio’s business community, Legislature, & affluent suburbs have fixed all that.

1 comment:

  1. I'm sure the businessmen at Ohio Excels, Supt. DeMaria, the Fordham crew and their cohorts passed a rigorous bunch of Ohio State Algebra & ELA tests, and got their seals in citizenship, history, economics, educational policy and.....oh right, they didn't have seals and rigor in those days. Interesting how they were able to shamble along a career path from youth to middle age without it. If only the sarcasm wasn't so easy with these guys as the objects.