Why Kids Think They Attend School (Thing 7)

One of my favorite bloggers and podcasters is Joe Wood, a middle school science teacher who loves Web 2.0 and struggles with the most effective ways to use this technology in his classes. I really like that he doesn’t have all of the answers. Through his attempts at using technology to become a more effective teacher, he has inspired me, a graying, old veteran of the classroom, to reinvent my classes (Oops, my inner fangirl tendencies slipped through.)

On his blog, Joe Wood Online, Joe posted the following:

Have you ever asked your students why they think they’re attending school? Try it. You’ll get some interesting answers. Yesterday I posed this question to one of my classes, curious what their responses might be. I found my students had great scripted answers, such as “to get an education” or “to make my parents proud.” I even received a few “because its the law.” Interestingly though, as we dug deeper into these responses few students could explain why attending school today is important to their future goals.

I thought about this and posted some thoughts as comments to his post. I also asked my students to blog about this (Mrs. Chi’s Classroom Blogs). Not all responded, but most did. Their unedited responses are posted on their individual blogs. Please read their thoughts if you are interested, but I digress.

I’m not sure that most teachers could answer that same question with more than the same well rehearsed answers. I am sure that each of us believes that we are giving each student what he/she needs to live a successful adult life. We “prepare” them for the future. In my case I also add that I help them develop the skills they need to work around whatever challenges they might face along the way.

As I read that back I think that sounds a little bit pompous. As teachers do we really prepare them? Is everything we present in class really needed in the “real world?” Can we clearly explain to yourselves, colleagues, parents and students how our course content will apply to each individual student’s future? I am not sure that I can.

In this day of high stakes testing, most of the content that we teach, we teach because it is on the state test. Assessment is our reason. I find this to be very sad.

I agree that every student should be able to read, write, and calculate at the level necessary to succeed in their chosen post-secondary training/education programs and in their chosen professions. My emphasis here is on the individual student. While all students will need some additional training/education after high school, not every single student will need (or want) to attend a four year university, nor do I believe that society wants them to do that either.

We still need auto mechanics, millwrights, chefs, merchants, construction workers, and computer hardware specialists. We still want actors, artists, and athletes. So I ask the question, “Do all of these professions require the same preparation?” Clearly, the answer is “no.”

In Michigan, all students (regardless of disability, gifts, or career goals) are required to take Algebra II, Chemistry or Physics, and a Foreign Language. Also the major increase in the required courses severely limits the amount of time a student has to take auto shop or band. While a applaude the state’s desire to make our workforce the most highly qualified worforce in the nation, I don’t think this rigid curriculum is the best way to go about it.

To be fair, there are provisions for Algebra II content to be taught in industrial arts classes in an applied fashion. The parents of a general education student can request that their student can be placed on a “rigorous” personal curriculum after the student has failed the first semester of Algebra II. This will be after the first semester of a student’s junior year. Seems to me that we’re setting these kids up for failure.

The most important thing that we can give our students is the love of learning. Forcing them to take courses that they can barely pass doesn’t do this. Where in this curriculum is there time for students to gain the love of life long learning when they can’t specialize in areas of interest? I got into education to help each of my students reach his or her potential and goals. Since “the test” trumps everything else, it seems to me that we have lost sight of the student as a learner; they are just test scores.

Is it any wonder that given this environment that our students can’t see any other reason to attend school than “It’s required by law?”