Posted by: bkivey | 9 March 2010

Education misconceptions

In an article by Susan Nielsen she spotlights an educational trend to fast-track students out of high-school and into post-secondary education. In brief, state lawmakers across the land want kids to get out of school as fast as they can to save the state money. I was immediately struck by the irony of all the years of work of the stay-in-school movement (primarily championed by politicians) being undone in a very short time by state legislatures (made up of politicians). This movement is all the more amazing considering that in the last decade or so many states have made education compulsory to age 18. For decades in the U.S. the standard was compulsory education to age 16. In Oregon children are required to attend school between the ages of 7 and 18, although there are exceptions that will allow for leaving the system at 16.

The most commonly stated reason for wanting to shorten the secondary school experience is to give children the opportunity to start their post-secondary education earlier. The actual, and also publically stated reason, is to save the state money. I really don’t think that the politicians have thought this through (surprise!).

Encouraging people to speed through any educational process just to save money is a piss-poor reason. There may be any number of personal reasons for a student to complete a course of education in less than the usual time: eagerness to start a career, saving their own money (not an issue in this case), ability, etc., but making a politician look good because they can save money shouldn’t be one of them.

The idea that students should get out of high school early to go to college illustrates a seriously flawed idea in the education and political fields: the idea that everyone should go to college. Time and again the mantra is repeated that ‘every child should go to college’. The fact is that not everyone has the desire, interest, or intellectual horsepower to benefit from a college education, and the folks that fit those categories are diminishing the experience for those that truly want to be there.

It seems that for some reason in this country we have devalued jobs that require manual labor, as if a job that requires a person to be a skilled craftsman is somehow less worthy of consideration than one that requires them to sit in a cubicle all day answering the phone. I have had jobs working in the building trades and jobs working in an office and I can’t say that one is ‘better’ than the other. I can say that a person’s educational background doesn’t define their ability in their work or their worth as a person.

I don’t really see how this whole idea saves any money. Considering that post-secondary institutions at every level have had to dramatically increase their remedial offerings for students who have high school diplomas, it seems that money that is ‘saved’ by not funding a student in high school will merely be transferred to college to provide education that should have taken place in high school, thus taking away resources from students who are actually prepared for college-level work. This is not fixing a problem, this is merely transferring the problem somewhere else and then saying “Look what I did!”

I don’t think that proponents of these programs have really considered what they are doing. I would predict that in a few years we are going to see a slew of young people who were incentivized out of high school, were unprepared for the emotional and academic demands of college, have been conditioned to think that anything less than a degree is a ‘failure’, and view any type of  job that doesn’t involve wearing ‘business casual’ as beneath them. I suspect that it won’t be long after these programs get rolling that we are going to be seeing lawsuits left, right, and center. Then we’ll see how much money these programs saved. And let’s not mention the entirely predictable but apparently unforseen rise in social services expenditures.

So we have a situation where some people want to turn children out into the world who are more unprepared than usual so the state can save money. I’m not sure this even falls under the guise of good intentions, but it sure looks like the off ramp to Hell for an entire generation.

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