Tuesday, May 04, 2010

It's a big 'ol mess for sure...

Education is, I mean.

The latest and greatest lingo war for the education world is around COLLEGE READINESS and TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY SKILLS. Which is not to say that recent conflicts around standards, assessments, accountability, collaboration, or a million other things aren't still sporting a confrontational style as well, but these are just a couple of newer labels that folks seem to be digging into.

As we all know, everyone is right and everyone is wrong. For sure.

Something about College Readiness make all of my hair stand on end...what hair I have left, anyway, which is more than some folks but less than others...and certainly less than I once had. As you age somehow the scalp beneath your hair slowly moves into greater prominence. But my hair is definitely elevated by this idea that schools primary function is to prepare students for college.

It sounds like a good thing. Yes? How could it be bad to get kids ready for college. And I certainly would like to think that my kids have the opportunity to get ready for college in school and that what they are learning is preparing them to be successful in the world at large. But what is success?

Ted Turner said that, "Life is a game. Money is how we keep score." But Jimmy John's wall observes that, "Money is not a good way to keep score." A sentiment with which I would tend to agree. Of course, it's probably not a coincidence that Ted likes keeping score with money, since he's got it...and I don't, and I don't. Regardless, we all know there is more to life than keeping score with money and there is more to college than getting a high paying job. It might be a motivator for some, but there are a lot of folks who would like to think that we've moved to a level of civilization that is more advanced than that.

So, what does COLLEGE READINESS mean? The ACT folks publish a 36 page document that lists all of the skills and knowledge that they think a student needs in their College Readiness Standards. No doubt these are good things to know and I suspect that any students who has acquired these skills will, indeed, be successful in college. Further, demonstration of having acquired these skills through compliant participation in high school courses and standardized tests will likely remove most of the roadblocks to college, regardless of ones socio-economic starting point. There is a large concern around cultural bias that might prevent one from engaging said compliant participation, but leaving that aside for now, it is hard to argue that they are WRONG about this being an indicator of success.

The conversation that this leaves out is the one that acknowledges that many gifted and able individuals are not successful either to acquire these skills or to participate in education despite having acquired the skills. Further, are we saying that people who achieve success in this particular way are more...? More what?

And how is it that there is a deep and meaningful mythology around the idea that someone could be the all American student, achieve the all American dream, and then find oneself empty and unfulfilled? From whence comes this mythology? Is it the idle fantasy of the artistically inclined (and thus the producers of much narrative art) for whom the all American path was not available? Revenge comes in debasing the dream through novel, film and drama. Or is is a real thing that has an appropriate place at the table when we discuss educational outcomes for the American Public School System. Not that the system is monolithic, but there is a core ideology in public education that gravitates toward standards and college readiness as the yardstick against which it would like to be measured.

But what do we do with Holden Caufield? Could there have been a moment in education where the individual has an opportunity to explore their own relationship to the learning experience in a way that creates meaning beyond the acquisition of skills?


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