MAGIC BULLET

A tale from a relative-of-close-friend who teaches Special Education. For narrative simplicity let's call him Don.

In many high schools now, policies exist to push students on the path to college. Don's district requires every student during junior year to choose a few colleges (2 or 4 year) as target schools for continuing their education. Even though many of them may not want to attend college or would not be able to do well there, the students are universally put through this "college preparatory" routine. I suppose it makes parents and legislators feel better to think of every high school student being funneled toward higher education.

Don's students, in general, are severely impaired. Many cannot read. Most cannot do basic things like eat a meal or use the bathroom without substantial assistance. A reasonable goal for their education would be to acquire basic literacy and develop some skills that might enable them to live with some degree of independence. And every year, Don must usher all of these students through the charade of choosing a college and making post-secondary plans. The mantra of College For Everyone extends even to them. Everyone means everyone.

This is an extreme example but an instructive one. "Go to college" is so widely considered the answer for everyone and everything that it is even applied to students who literally have zero chance of doing it successfully.

One of my colleagues recently said something that summarized a lot of the frustrating things about teaching in a way I haven't been able to verbalize before: our biggest problem is not that the students are "entitled" or lacking skills (although either of those things may be true in some cases) but that they resent being there. It varies across institutions, I'm sure, but currently I deal with a student population that seems to have a great deal of resentment. They come from wealthier areas and some of the best high schools. They have basic academic skills. But they don't want to be here. They don't want to be in any college. College – you might want to sit down – might not be for them. They resent the fact that their parents essentially forced them to go. They resent having to put enough effort into courses that do not interest them in the slightest to get grades good enough to keep the ire of their parents at bay.

This puts a lot of things into proper perspective, at least for me. These are kids who have no idea why they're in college. They went because everyone at their high school was going to college and because Mom and Dad refuse to suffer the shame of having a child who did not go to college. There's no intellectual component to it – some of these kids are very smart, some are not. But they have in common a lack of desire to do what they're being asked to do.

That's tough to deal with. We can deal with students who lack skills, because skills can be taught. We can deal with laziness, as motivation and desire can be improved upon. But I, we, have no remedy for students who are only in college because they were caught in a vortex of parental wealth, social pressure, and the belief that college is for absolutely everyone. It shouldn't be an insult to say "Hey maybe college isn't your thing." It doesn't mean "You are not smart enough for college." It means maybe you should do something else with your life that would be more to your liking and more productive for you. It's fine. Join the Navy. Learn how to fix something. Pseudo-apprentice at a small business with the goal of starting your own someday. Or just get a normal-ass job and live your life. It beats wasting five years and a ton of money trying to force a square peg into a round hole.

I couldn't put my finger on the nature of the general malaise here, and I think this is it. It's not anger or even boredom. It's the kind of resentment one senses in a roomful of people who have been forced to show up for jury duty. It's the predictable result of forcing teenagers – a demographic notable for its sulking skills – to do something they don't want to do. Nothing personal.

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50 Responses to “MAGIC BULLET”

  1. Anubis Bard Says:

    I find this diagnosis pretty damned convincing.

    When a crap job market and a 4-year sentence to obligatory college conspire to create for young people such lovely vistas of debt peonage – sulking could turn to something a bit more volatile. It's been known to happen.

  2. Tom Sinclair Says:

    I was funneled into college straight out of high school. I crashed and burned.

    Some years later, after working at the kinds of jobs that you can get with only a high school diploma, I went back to school. I graduated with both a bachelor's and a master's.

    Needless to say, I agree that kids should get a chance to experience the world a bit and then make college a choice.

  3. quixote Says:

    "It's the kind of resentment one senses in a roomful of people who have been forced to show up for jury duty."

    Indeed. I haven't articulated it that well either, but that's it. I've always figured that the mistake was funneling teenagers straight into more school grind. They've had it with the school grind at 18.

    I know I couldn't stand it. I went off and travelled around the world for a couple of years (through the kind financial indulgence of a not-too-happy mother). My steadier friends had various jobs. By the time we went back to the grind, we knew why we were doing it. It was our own choice. We weren't forced, and that makes all the difference.

    But now? Hell, there's no time for anything. Everybody's got to work their way through school, and rack up CV-building internships, and volunteer at the local hospital, and be a star athlete. I'm not sure how it happened or why, but everything — it's not just academia — has become a world everyone wants to stop and get off.

  4. Jestbill Says:

    First day of class:
    "If you don't want to be here, debt is not your friend. If someone else is paying your way, say thank you and do whatever you want with all that free time. "

  5. Heywood J. Says:

    Tom Sinclair beat me to it — I did the drop-out and return later thing. I should have stayed in the first place and toughed it out — what would have cost a few grand back in the late '80s is now more like $50k in student loan debt. Which is nothing compared to many people, I realize.

    The thing is, the kids are damned if they do and damned if they don't. The lifetime income gap is real and growing. They have a choice of skipping college and hoping to create a bitchin' app when they're not at their pud service job, or they can rack up 10-15 years worth of debt and hope to land a job that isn't on the verge of being outsourced, automated, or turked.

    We definitely need to reprioritize vocational training — mechanics, plumbers, electricians, etc. College isn't for everyone, and those are careers that allow you to make pretty good money just about anywhere, without racking up a bunch of interest on $200 textbooks.

  6. DES Says:

    I have three children. The oldest cordially loathed college. We, his college professor parents, said hey — do something else! He went to culinary school, now owns two restaurants, and is loving life. The middle child got a meaningless degree at a nearby state school (on the six-year plan, since he might have failed a course here and there), and now has an okay job completely unrelated to his degree. The youngest was in the honors program at a small, prestigious East coast college and has been unemployed since graduation but for spells of sandwich-making.
    My conclusion from this? College isn't for everyone, and it might be a good idea to listen to your kid(s) if they have a different idea about what would make them happy. College did not hurt the two youngest, but it did not visibly help them either (so far). Check back with me in thirty years.

  7. Arslan Says:

    Whenever I hear these debates I'm really torn. I generally want to agree but I'm also a realist who knows what it's like to be turned down off the bat for a lack of a four-year degree even when it's not even related to the job in question. In a world where a four-year is the minimum, you have to think hard about realistic options. On the other hand, I am living abroad and probably much better than many of my cohorts who are stuck in the US working service jobs to pay off $30,000-40,000 in debt.

    I can't say that I feel financially secure and the once booming-country I moved to is on it's way to a Syria-style dictatorship with a crumbling economy, but I have still managed to advance in my career and at least I don't owe any money besides the monthly rent(which is effectively cut in half thanks to the national currency taking a dump).

    Here's some advice to high schoolers then- Learn a foreign language, as many as you can. Become friends with exchange students and immigrants, go on EFL job forums and study up on the countries. A TEFL certificate and a trip to Poland, Czech Rep, China, or Korea will cost you a hell of a lot less than college, and if you're smart you'll be getting free accommodation while taking advantage of cheaper cost of living and a lack of temptation to make big purchases.

    Still want to go to college? Plenty of foreign countries have low-cost or even free college programs(yes, even for foreigners), sometimes in English. Why get ripped off by American universities and spend your 20's and early 30's working at Starbucks to pay off thousands of dollars in debt when you can be traveling the world, often making better money or enjoying better job security, and still going to college if you want?

  8. US in the UK Says:

    I couldn't agree more.

    As a prof *and* as someone who was intellectually very uninterested in education/books/classes at 18, it was the 8 years of working across a spectrum of jobs between my UG degree and returning to get a PhD that made my brain switch on (and I had learned some of the ropes on the way). It made me want to learn something that I would have had trouble teaching myself

    Had I not gone back, I'd probably still be doing fine. But it turned out to be the thing for me – so I got lucky (oh, wait there's the postman with my student loan bill…)

  9. Nan Says:

    Creeping credentialism has fucked us all. There's a paper mill here in the U.P. where just to get an entry level walk around the plant and make sure no red lights are flashing and the paper is still going through the rollers mindless job now requires an associate's degree. An associate's to do a job where the basic skill set can be summarized as " can stay awake for the entire shift" and "still breathing."

    Europeans, especially the Brits, have the right idea with the "gap year." Give kids time off between high school and college, a space in which to think about they're really like to do, and the resentment level in the college classrooms would drop considerably.

    As for the cognitively challenged students, I'm not sure who's being hurt more: the kids by being encouraged to think that they actually have a shot at a normal life or the parents who buy into the delusion. When it's their own child, lots of parents are in complete denial about the real fate awaiting their kids when they hit adulthood.

  10. HoosierPoli Says:

    Here in Germany they have the so-called "3-tier system". Secondary school is split into three tracks – the highest level is a seriously rigorous college-prep program…by the time students hit university they know more than most US kids do when they get their bachelors. The lower two tiers are INELIGIBLE for university. They can go to night school later to break into that system if they REALLY want to…most of them don't.

    Instead they are lead down tracks of apprenticeships in whatever industries around them happen to be hiring, paid and trained while attending structured, practice-oriented post-secondary schools or technical colleges. They enter the workforce with useful skills and in most cases a job offer at a business that knows and likes them.

    Some people here find this system "unegalitarian", but I think it's about the greatest idea since sliced bread.

  11. Skipper Says:

    Two issues underlie this.

    First is that HR people, who incidentally have their own circle of hell, are lazy. Their main effort in evaluating candidates for jobs is to find ways to separate applications into piles. A very easy way is that people with a college degree go into the "good" pile and people without go into the "shit" pile. You don't think these HR drones actually read and evaluate applications? Now, they even have computer programs that scan the applications or resumes and look for "key words." If the keyword they're looking for isn't there, the computer rejects it.

    Hint: I have one acquaintance who gets around this by scamming the computer. "I do not have a master's degree, but am willing to get one" registers the same as "I have a master's degree."

    The other issue is public attitude that is being shaped by corporatist propaganda. In discussing minimum wage, I don't know how many times I've heard a working class person say "Why should anyone make $15 an hour for a job you don't need a college degree for." In other words, if you don't have a college degree, you are not supposed to make a living wage.

    I submit that this is the sort of shit that makes people resentful.

  12. maurinsky Says:

    Arslan – I feel the same conflict. I went to college on my own dime right out of high school, and I loved it and excelled, but I also ran out of money and was leery of taking out loans. I worked hard for a long time but perpetually ran into walls when I wanted to move up the ladder, because everyone else I worked with had a degree.

    I work in a very credential-centric area now (most people in my office have Master's degrees; there are a couple of Doctors, too), and I'm going to graduate from college in May. I missed a lot of years of making more money, so I'll probably have to work until I'm 70, at least. I can see both sides. I got a lot of great working experience, but when I was up against someone who had working experience and a degree, I lost, every time.

  13. Benny Lava Says:

    This is a very good post and I also agree with Tom. Finally we are all talking sense. On an anecdotal level I know a few people who got undergraduate degrees from reputable state schools and ended up going to community college for an associate in something useful.

    Can we start calling it the college industrial complex?

  14. Emerson Dameron Says:

    I struggled through seven years of college so I would never have to return, just as Google and Craigslist were making my Bachelor's in Journalism pretty much worthless.

    I made some great friends there, slowly learned to date and relate to different sorts of people like an adult instead of a sheltered hick, found an ideal creative outlet in college radio, and took full advantage of the library. But I'm nonetheless tempted to chew out the poor bastards who tracked me down in California and constantly ask me for money I don't have and wouldn't give.

    I am thus intrigued by the ideas of techno-libertarians who push "alternatives to college." But my wife reminds me that those pieces of paper can mean a lot to people who aren't white dudes and can't as easily open doors by virtue of pure "hustle."

    It's a mess.

  15. sluggo Says:

    @ Emerson

    Pretty much my story too. I would have done better working in the (union) trades. I would have thirty years in by now.

  16. Senescent Says:

    Moved to Portland a few years ago and I’m pretty impressed how the local culture treats these things. A respect for learning combined with a skepticism about education, which for one manifests as a respect for autodidacts and an almost German enthusiasm for skilled labor, vocational training and apprenticeships and all that.

    And as academics go you have a pretty full range from smarty-pants liberal arts at Reed, the college town experience down in Eugene and Corvallis, an extensive community college system and Portland State (basically a 4 year community college, taking locals and older students and largely preparing them for office and social service work), a handful of denominational-affiliated schools somewhere in between.

    In the last few categories there’s a sense that it’s completely reasonable to start in your mid-20s to early 30s when you want to move on after a few years in food service or retail, maybe manning a forklift or stripper pole, maybe having your first kid or two.

    Seems to work out, you separate out your woo partying years from your studying years, people go to college when and if they actually want what college offers (or, uh, they need student loans to pay rent so there’s that).

  17. Dr Pretorius Says:

    This resonates with me so very strongly. My brother-in-law is a brilliant and intuitive carpenter. When I've seen him work, he almost literally takes my breath away. There's no physical evidence that he has a plan, really, but his projects take shape quickly and precisely, and they're always immaculately done. The dude should be raking it in.

    But his self-image has been brutally and, at this point (he's well over 60), I fear irreversibly damaged by *exactly* the dynamic Ed's describing. Dyslexia runs in the family, and my brother-in-law has it in a severe form. Traditional academic work was never pleasant for him, forget satisfying or life-affirming. He needs to be doing, making, building. But his dad (who, to his credit, came to regret this with the mellowing of age) pushed and pushed him in all the wrong directions, and as my brother-in-law's "failures" added up, he stopped seeing himself as the kind of person who succeeds.

    He still does great work, under-charging for it in a way that says everything you need to know about his self-esteem, and he's a loving and generous man. But he could have had a happier life, and it's sobering to me as an educator that education itself helped to take some of that happiness from him.

  18. Anonymouse Says:

    Here's what I told my own kids when they entered college; owing tons of money in student loans is stupid. Look into state schools that are much cheaper. One of my co-workers sent his daughter to a $50k/year school in Boston (not Harvard), then had to pay for housing and other expenses appropriate to living in a big city. $330,000 later, his art-major daughter…is working part-time in a plant (as in geraniums and daffodils) nursery for $7/hr. For that kind of money, he could have bought her a 3-bedroom house and a brand new car and she could have worked in the plant nursery debt-free.

  19. c u n d gulag Says:

    Imo, one of the problems is that we've made kids take courses they have no interest in – interdisciplinary "Core" courses.

    Back in the mid-70's, I was in the last Freshman class at my college that didn't have to take interdisciplinary "Core" classes every year.
    I could take whatever I wanted.
    And sure, I DID have some core requirements – but they were all in MY chosen major: Communications.

    Thus, no one made me take a Calculus class, and I didn't take one, because I suck at math, and had no interest in it.

    So, on top of 1 or 2 core Communications courses a semester, I could take classes like Ancient Greek History, Theatre, Women's Studies, Black Studies, Into to Computer Language, Chemistry, and a wide variety of classes on all sorts of subjects I had an interest in.

    That was the key – they were classes I WANTED to take.
    I knew I was probably never going to use any math beyond simple arithmetic – and, maybe some Algebra.
    (Algebra, btw, is what proved to me that there's no God. If there was a God, She/He/It would never have mixed letters in with numbers!!!).

    My niece started her degree in Music back in 2004.
    They made her take Intro to Calc, Intro to Trig, and a whole lot of other required non-music related courses.
    Now, sure, there's some correlation to between music and math – but to THAT extent?
    Calc?
    Trig?
    Luckily, she was good a math, and aced those classes. But she resented having to take them.

    My nephew is a Junior in college, studying Engineering.
    And they make this kid take Lit classes.
    Now, he loves to read – but NOT fiction.
    He'd gobble-up a thick book on some mathematical, scientific, or engineering subject.
    But he's got no interest in reading "Moby Dick."

    I think we've extended into colleges, what High Schools should have already taught: the ability to read, write, do some arithmetic and basic math, and how to be a productive citizen. A second language would be nice, too! But that should start in Grade School or JHS.

    So, while I do think we need interdisciplinary "Core" classes in HS, we shouldn't require them in college.

    We can require "kids" to study and learn what we think they need.

    We should allow "young adults" to study and learn what they want within their chosen Major.

    Them's my $0.02 worth!

  20. Anonymouse Says:

    @Gulag; I agree. In the 1980s, my college broke up the classes into 4 disciplines: Math/Science, Social Sciences, Humanities, and Languages. To graduate, a student had to take classes from 3 out of the 4 disciplines, plus a Freshman English Comp class for basic writing skills (you could CLEP out of that) and two semesters of gym (gotta prop up the sports program!). Languages could be fulfilled by 3 semesters, or by passing a 300-level class (which anyone who took 4 years of foreign language could qualify for).

    I was finished with my required classes my freshman year, and spent the rest of my time taking my major and minor classes, plus things that caught my eye. I was able to completely avoid the one area I had zero interest in.

    My kids are in college now, and it's ridiculous the things they must take–things nobody cares about–in order to graduate.

  21. Dave Dell Says:

    Once again comments on this blog are worthy of reading. One of the few blogs out there where that's the case.

    So many thoughts about this.

    My thoughts on this matter reflect the times in which I graduated HS – 1967. Note: After HS I knew I wouldn't be a good college student so I detoured to the military. Took me almost 10 years after the military to get a bachelors.

    In Nebraska at that time any graduate of an accredited Nebraska HS was an automatic admission to the University. Tuition was affordable for virtually everyone. Books were far less expensive than today. Freshman English and Calculus were (mainly) used as a way to get you out of college if you didn't already have the interest, study habits, and aptitude for higher education.

    That was OK in 1967. Lots of jobs for a HS dropout, a HS graduate, a college dropout. Not just "blue collar" jobs either. Today, you'd better have a degree beyond HS or you're going to be working chain store retail no matter how well you could (potentially) do almost anything else.

  22. grumpygradstudent Says:

    College kids don't hate being in college. What they hate is taking classes. The rest of college (sports, parties, drugs, sex, climbing walls) beats the hell out of real life at minimum wage. Sure, it's costing somebody a lot of money (the government, their parents, their future selves), but we've insulated them from the cost, so they don't feel it.

  23. Templar Says:

    I think law schools are the point of the spear on this. Anyone following what has happened to young attorneys, or the 50% or so of JD-holders who will never get the opportunity to practice after taking on $100-250,000 of debt, is mortified. Go over to Lawyers, Guns, and Money for Paul Campos who is the lead public intellectual on the law school scam.

  24. pm Says:

    And then they grow up, become administrators, givernors & state reps and finally wreak their terrible revenge

  25. pm Says:

    *governors, but that's on helluva typo

  26. Skipper Says:

    @Templar, especially since the JD is just a bachelor's degree tarted up as a doctorate. It used to be LLB, and then one day, it magically changed to JD.

  27. schmitt trigger Says:

    My neighbor's oldest son did not want to go to college. Thus one day he walked into an Army recruiting office and got himself enlisted.

    His parents were beyond concerned for his decision. This was at the time of the Irak war right after the "mission-accomplished" phase, where the ugly realities of an occupation force became obvious. IEDs were now maiming and killing scores of young soldiers.
    Over there, he realized that he had the gift to learn Arabic. As such, military intelligence removed him from front line duty and set him on a desk job analyzing intercepted messages. Which probably saved a limb or his life.

    To make a long story short, after a couple of tours, he was recruited by the CIA as an analyst, which has groomed him further, and he is now a top-notch intelligence officer earning a very handsome salary.

  28. skwerlhugger Says:

    @HoosierPoli : You left out the part where some bureaucrat in school administration decides who is college track and who is not– when they're preteens, I think. Works great unless you're in one of the 2 lower tiers and ever want to do something besides trade school. My german-born trade-school-attending spouse got an associate degree at a community college when she was mid-50's to change professions. That just isn't possible in Germany. The US community college concept is the best thing since sliced bread. But… buying sliced bread in Germany? Geez. Just buy gummibrot and get it over with.

  29. skwerlhugger Says:

    Ok, change "that just isn't possible in Germany" to "the system is rigged so it just never happens". It's nice that people there don't define themselves by their occupation, but that's partly because there's so many people stuck in a rut with no way to get out.

  30. Assistant Professor Says:

    What skwerlhugger said. The Gymnasium/Realschule system is great if you're actually one of those kids who's great at scholarly work in middle school. I'd never in a million years have a PhD if I were a German. I'd have been tracked into a Realschule and would be attaching lug nuts in a BMW plant.

  31. Nunya Says:

    What ever happened to on the job training? I have a degree but other than being able to write a decent paper or make a logically sound argument, I was unqualified to do any actual job.

    I convinced someone that I was reasonably intelligent and was given the opportunity that I could learn a job while actually receiving a pay check. After a short amount of time, I became productive and then highly productive a few years later.

    I've seen many other non-degreed people do as well if not better than I did.

    Credentialism has selected those who were born to well off households that could afford to send them to universities. We all know that simply showing up some of the time is enough to eventually graduate if a person isn't burdened by full time employment while attending.

  32. doug Says:

    I went first semester because I was told to. It was understood. I left second semester. It did piss off my parental units, but later decided it was good for me. I went back in a year because I wanted to, and did fine. So, Kids, don't resent being there, confront the issue….YMMV

  33. Freecookies Says:

    Ah, I see you took my advice and caught a few of your students in a truthful and surly mood.

    I bet you had to ask a lot of them though, because most of them will lie to you, if for no other reason than you're an authority figure. You hold more cards by far than they do. And they know it.

    It's not just college BTW. I still remember the sullen smoldering anger of being forced to attend high school. Adults do not give kids nearly enough credit for putting 2 and 2 together. They can, when they want to.

    The thinking went something like "this is pointless, it's wasting my time, but I know that if I don't show up, someone will beat my ass or make my life very unpleasant". So they show up, but they check out mentally.

    I remember rampant cheating going on. I remember lots of people putting in just enough effort to get their parents off their backs and no more than that. Just sullen grudging effort and no more.

  34. Major Kong Says:

    Way back in ancient days, the early 1980s, my father told me "If you go to college study something like engineering or just go to trade school".

    He had a psychology degree and spent most of his life in sales.

  35. Freecookies Says:

    Cynically, I suppose those parents indirectly sign your check. So cynically, those parents with the kooky narratives in their heads are your, um, customers.

    Which is probably a good thing, if you like your paycheck. Because if those kids had to pay for it, they probably wouldn't.

    Like you said, jury duty. You might take the tack of "we're all in this room together for bad reasons, but let's make the best of it and get in and out"

    In fact, I bet if you structured your rewards not based on grades, but being able to leave early or opt-out of tests if they demonstrate mastery or command of the knowledge – I bet you'd see those students perk right up.

    It sad that your best reward is for them to escape quickly, but work with the tools you have. And collect your paycheck :P

  36. Skepticalist Says:

    In the fifties a lot of kids took not too exciting stuff just to get HS diplomas. Girls took French, boys took German. Latin was the compromise. What a shame we didn't have Spanish classes.

    Then came Sputnik in 1957. It's really true that it shook up our high schools. Suddenly kids made sure they had a lot of math courses and anything that resembled science. Later JFK said we had to go to the moon.

    I was a throwback. I wound up with about three years of college, partly business along with some liberal arts and used none of it when I began working in the military antiques business. The guys I started with didn't deal with a lot of guns but memorabilia and historic stuff. THAT was my real education.

    Eventually, I branched into other areas of the antique business. Even though I have transportation issues, it was perfect for me. I still liked my college courses though and in my case what little I took was affordable. It's certainly not the norm from reading these posts.

    I'm not sure if this fits in. Maybe I was too easy to please.

  37. Interrobang Says:

    I'd be unemployable if I didn't have my Master's degree, which is one of those one-year coursework dealies that either preps you to continue for your PhD or go on to work in one of about six related specialised professions, one of which I'm theoretically in (or will be back in as soon as I find another job). But the things I'm good at really don't pay unless you get into a specialty like that at the graduate level, alas, and even then, they don't pay as well as a lot of the nonacademic professions you can have if you have a Master's degree.

  38. Bosh Says:

    The thing is a lot of kids (and their parents) just don't have a clue of what is needed to get the kind of jobs they want. A lot think "get a degree in anything and I'll be fine" my parents thought "get a degree in anything from a 'good school' and you'll be fine" and did what it took to get me into a 'good school' where I majored in History and graduated not having a clue what to do to.

    With my sons I'll try to put more thought into advising them about what they need to do to get the kind of future that they want. If they're unsure about what they want to do, I'd much rather pay their rent for a few years while they work at whatever or intern while they figure stuff out then send them to college not having a clue.

    Going to college has such a massive impact on the rest of your life (in terms of debt if nothing else) that just going to school and then figuring stuff out later is getting increasingly dumb. Will really encourage my kids to hold off for a year or two before enrolling to figure stuff out unless their minds are on fire for something.

  39. HoosierPoli Says:

    AssistantProfessor, if you actually were Realschule material, I don't know how you ever got your Ph.D. in the first place. Gymnasium isn't as hard as it used to be to get into or pass out of. Anyone who actually wants to go, can find a spot and they're not "sentenced" by school administration either.

    The point is providing opportunities for people who don't WANT a university education (of which there are many).

  40. Greatlaurel Says:

    Hi Ed,

    This is a good post, but I think you and your fellow professors are missing the real reason these kids are so disconnected. They have been subjected to high stakes testing and high stakes play since they were 5 years old. They are all burned out mentally and physically. They have never been allowed to be children!

    The high stakes testing starting with No Child Left Behind and greatly intensified under Race To The Top have been toxic to these young peoples' brains. Then add in the intense pressure put on these kids in sports and other so called recreational activities. Probably all these kids, as kids who grew up in wealthy suburbs, participated in some sort of youth sport or other so called enrichment activity as elementary school children. Music, soccer, youth football, little league baseball, softball, gymnastics, cheerleading, dance, basketball and even art all have some sort of competition component involved even at the youngest ages. The sports leagues and cheer and dance squads all make a ton of money selling this stuff to foolish parents who "know" the only chance their kids have is start them early so they will get noticed at a young enough age to have a shot at the cheer squad, dance or sports team in high school.

    I know a person who coached women's college basketball and noticed the burn out and worn out bodies starting for young women fairly early. The coach and coparent would not let their kids play on any travel squads and they started their youth sports very late compared to other kids in their cohort. Thus, while athletically gifted they never were chosen to play the highly competitive sports in junior high or high school. These kids played the lower visibility sports and were much happier and healthier by not having the sports trauma on their bodies and the damage from too much pressure on their minds starting in early elementary school. The coach and co-parent were equally protective of their kids minds and tried to protect them as much as possible from the high stakes testing trauma. The interesting thing is these kids are now young adults and are highly successful. The coach told me their kids were recruited by nearly every professor they took to get them to switch to his/her area of expertise because these kids were intellectually engaged in every class.

    This high stakes testing and youth "recreational" complex are the modern day version of putting kids to work in sweatshops. It is child abuse in a nice new package.

  41. Freecookies Says:

    Children at least in middle class and upper middle class Murica live not for themselves, but for whatever narrative exists in the parents.

    Parents don't really want "the best" for their kiddies, they want them to perform in a story that they've written for them. Great entertainment, I guess. If you're a parent.

    You can argue whether that's bad or good, abuse or something else. The key point when it becomes dangerous, as far as I'm concerned, is when that narrative from the parents doesn't reflect reality at all. When in your mind you're pointing them at the sky, but in reality you're pointing them at the ground. Yeah, that could be bad.

    What is the point of writing a script for your kid that involves going to college, if the only job they can get afterwards is flipping burgers? You don't need college for that. Probably don't need college to manage a burger joint either.

    Again, kids aren't as dumb and unaware as you think. And they're great at telling you what they think you want to hear. Or at least telling you what they think will get you to leave them alone. They are naive in some ways but they can put 2 and 2 together and get 4, when they are motivated to do so.

  42. ChicagoMike Says:

    I'm with Greatlaurel on this. My 2nd son just cannot stand to be sitting, and as someone who had the same issue, I can totally see him growing up resenting school for the simple mistake of them requiring him to sit still.

    The sheer pressure on kids to do the "right" thing for success is generally obscuring the Mark Twain aspect of learning (as in, never let schooling get in the way of your education) and my sense is that most of this is from pure harebrained ignoring of the fact that people don't GET educated, they educate themselves. And they only do that when they want to.

    Not that this is easy to support, and we will see how my little 6 year old homeschooler does. But at the very least, I am sure that we are not training him to be trapped in resentment.

    We live in a city that has canceled recess – I have no words for the sheer moranity of it.

  43. BruceFromOhio Says:

    It's the predictable result of forcing teenagers – a demographic notable for its sulking skills – to do something they don't want to do. Nothing personal.

    What I want is for my teens to get out from under my roof and take responsibility for their lives as adults. Whether they want to do that or not is utterly immaterial to me. College is one path, though as demonstrated here via multiple examples, it is certainly not the only path.

  44. cromartie Says:

    The other problem is that students understand the basic difference between a University and a Trade School.

    A university is designed, in theory, to give you a well rounded education and exposure to a wide variety of subjects on the way to focusing on a core area that helps get you employed when you're done.

    A trade school filters out the well rounded part and teaches you a skill that gets you a job when you're done.

    Most people sitting there have no interested in the former. They really want, and should be in, the latter.

  45. Bill Says:

    The most aggravating part of this "college force-feeding" is that you are taught how to test your way into college and little else. The real skills and lessons such as dealing with debt, how to sign up for loans, how to manage your credit cards, how to pay for books, and the other more important elements to beginning adulthood are completely ignored. Well, at least they were in the late 90s when I was in high school.
    Having little preparation and not much in the way of role model parents, led me to change my major 4 times and essentially become a professional student. Now, working in an office within an industry that has nothing to do with any of my 4 major choices and treading under the weight of loan and credit card debt, I am pissed that I was sold this bag of "goods".

  46. Michael Says:

    20% unemployment is 20% unemployment is 20% unemployment is the new normal. The particulars of the misery will vary. The fact that the misery will devastate the lives of most involved will not.

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