Saturday, November 8, 2008

More on Earlier Graduation ...

I sent the link to the aforementioned article ("Should Kids Be Able to Graduate After 10th Grade?") to two of my colleagues. One did not read it (and probably won't) and the other responded with a succinct statement basically amounting to "No." The statement was so devoid of any reasoning that I asked if she had read the article or just responded to the title. She had read the article and followed up with a few arguments that are reasonable on their surface.

I then posted a link to the article on my facebook profile and received feedback from one other person (who is not a teacher). For the most part, he made the same arguments as my colleague, so I'm assuming that many people would have these concerns. I want to take time to respond to those possibly common concerns relating to an earlier graduation time.

Argument 1: What type of stereotype will be formed based on those choosing to stay all four years? Will they be considered weaker students?

Warning: I am going to sound callous in my response. Why should that matter? One of the BIGGEST problems in our education system is the belief that our purpose is to make students feel warm and fuzzy about themselves regardless of their actual merit. (Before you go crazy thinking that I am heartless and that I have no business working with youth, you must hear me out altogether.) Here's the problem: in our current system, many students cannot be successful; therefore, it is ridiculous that the public school system must still cater to the self-esteems of the students.

Let's speak in examples to make this point. Let's just say that I have a student, Max, who has an IQ slightly lower than average. He isn't a great reader, and he hasn't been able to pass Algebra 1-A yet. Max knows that he isn't a great student. Max is also a realist and knows that he will not be going on to college. The school system, however, is not governed by realists. The powers-that-be have decided that Max should still be forced to carry on in his college preparatory curriculum. Obviously his self-esteem as a student is going to continue to falter because he will continue to face more difficult challenges. His teachers will either by forced by administration to push him through regardless of his lack of success or will be forced to continue to fail him.

If our system provided Max with alternatives, then there should be a remedy to his faltering self-esteem. Quoted from the National Association for Self-Esteem: "NASE believes self-esteem is "The experience of being capable of meeting life's challenges and being worthy of happiness." We also believe in personal responsibility and accountability." See, a person's a self-esteem needs to be tied into who they are as a person. As soon as we all accept that students have unique and varying aptitudes -- all of which are equally valuable to a diverse society -- then we will be able to help all students develop self-esteem by giving them an education that helps them to meet their own life challenges.

Will they be considered weaker students? Yes, because they would be weaker students. What's wrong with that? What's wrong with being what you are? Why do we insist on measuring everything with the same ruler? I was an excellent student. I never earned a B in high school, and I graduated from the honors college at my university with a 3.5, but I also was always taking classes that were designed for students with my exact skillset. If you dropped me into a different system with a different curriculum, I would have floundered -- just as many of my students do today. We can't use the same ruler to measure all of the students.

Argument 2: We could start the binge drinking and underage sex away from mommy and daddy two years earlier. Sounds like a trouble.

First, all of us who did the standard four-year-college thing will probably agree that starting earlier would have been a mistake. I agree that most of the 16-year-olds I know would not (and should not) being going off to college like my friends and I did; however, I think that the entire climate needs to change. Let's also not ignore the fact that these kids are doing these things at that age with mommy and daddy still around now.

I think the best solution to this problem would be quite simple, and it is already being done in a lot of schools. Those students who intend on doing the four year university thing should be using their last two years of high school towards college preparatory courses with more rigor. Many students already do this by loading down their coarse load with Advanced Placement courses and dual-enrollement in local community colleges.

Secondly, RE: Binge drinking and American youth ... this is a singularly American problem. In most European countries the idea of having an alcoholic beverage is not taboo. Teenagers are able to drink; therefore, they tend to binge drink less because they have been exposed to alcohol and have learned how to consume it. Plus, a glass of wine with dinner is a commonplace occurence at dinner in most European homes, so that children in Europe do not associate drinking alcohol with getting drunk but rather with drinking a glass of wine for the sake of the wine and the culture. Another HUGE problem I see plaguing our teenaged population is our throwback to our puritan anscestry on the "no alcohol" under 21 prohibition-style legislation. There is much research and documentation to support this. (I'll start collecting it and posting it ...) So, maybe it wouldn't be so terrible to get the kids off and free a bit earlier anyway. We are trying to compete in a global world, aren't we?

(One personal belief about alcohol consumption and the law: our ridiculous strict policy for buying and consuming alcohol are so unbalanced compared to our policies against drunk drivers. Explain this to me: an 18-year-old cannot drink alcohol, period, but a person can drive drunk REPEATEDLY with minimal repercussion. Think about it. The 18-year-old is ostensibley (even to the most conservative person) only hurting him/herself when he/she consumes the alcohol. The drunk driver is definitely endangering the lives of countless others when he/she gets behind the wheel of the car. It is just another example of what I believe is our country's trend towards protecting only the rights of those who infringe on the laws and never the rights of those of us who do what we are supposed to do.

Finally, it is the parents' role to teach their children what their family values and morals deem as appropriate and inappropriate behavior. It is NOT the government's role to keep people from temptations that might lead them off the path that the government has decided is the moral and righteous path. It is time for parents to take responsibility for their own children.

An Important Point: In Florida, students take the FCAT in 10th grade. This is the exam on which they need to demonstrate proficiency in order to graduate. (This argument was not raised by either of my friends.)

Doesn't that mean that the state is really saying "we've taught you everything you really need to know by February of 10th grade"? Think about it ... really think about it. The state is already demonstrating through their own legislation that what goes on in 11th and 12th grade isn't necessary for a high school diploma. The state is right. The 11th grade and 12th grade curriculum is almost entirely college preparatory unless a student has not passed the dreaded FCAT, in which case they are enrolled in special, smaller classes to help them pass the test.

So, let's go back to the self-esteem issue. What does THAT do for their self-esteem? Ask any of the juniors in my friend's FCAT Prep Class for 11th grade English students. They'll tell you exactly how they feel about it. Besides, in order to foster feelings of self-worth in these students, we (their educators) have to tell them that the test is "just a test" and that lots of students have "trouble with test-taking."

Did you know that students can get special diagnoses giving them different kinds of tests because they have trouble taking tests? Or, they have test-taking anxiety? I guess that's an argument and debate for another time.

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