Friday, November 14, 2008

Extended Adolescence

Education is good, education that disengages students from life is bad! I spent 5 years teaching Science and the whole time I was I had this unsettled feeling that what I was doing wasn't helping kids. I was teaching them useful, interesting and potentially fulfilling things, but I felt like I was preparing them for a future that I wasn't sure would exist.

Then I went into Career and Technical Education. Don't get me wrong, I loved science, and I loved teaching science, but suddenly the whole focus was on definitive skills that students need to succeed. My whole being was at peace with this view. Now, this is not my whole philosophy of education, but definitely a component of it.

We need more work! Not more homework, but more actually engagement of kids with life. I know there are hundreds thousands hundreds of thousands of example of teachers in every country, state and subject area that do exactly that, for me it took the focus of CTE to make it real for me. I was in a conference (not sitting, but actually in a wood shop building rockets) when a veteran teacher approaching retirement made the comment to me that what we have done wrong is "Extended Adolescence". Something buzzed. I turned off the band saw and something clicked. We really have extended adolescence.

I was married at 21 with a full expectation that now I am responsible for myself and my wife and future family. It seems from the messages of the media-ated culture that now, not only should I have waited until I was completely done with college, but waited until I was well established in a career before I 'settled' down. I think one major flaw in this is that we are seeing more and more parents wanted to intervene for their adult, but not yet mature children. 22 year olds who haven't yet taken any responsibility for themselves. I have actually even read articles about how to set rules, and guidelines for our college children. What???? Aren't they in every legal sense adults and independent? By the time my kids get to that point, I don't want to have to enforce rules and guidelines, I hope by then that my children and by extension the students I taught can govern themselves.

So, how do we do this, I think the same way my folks and their folks did. Expect accountability. I started feeding the pigs when I was not yet in school. My job was to collect the bucket of table scraps my Mom collected and walk out to the pig barn and 'slop' the hogs. My son has to slop the 'dogs' but the principle is still valid. I think we must do more to reinforce to our young people, and more in our schools to provide opportunities for the students to contribute meaningfully, significantly, financially, and morally to the communities. I believe this is possible through more, better and deeper work study and apprenticeship programs. Young people should begin earlier exploring career options and doing the actual work. We teach all the time that students need to experience lots of variety so they can choose what interests them. I agree and this includes doing the actual work! Students need to work, as young as junior high (7th grade or 12 years old) Students should have options to work as part of their curriculum, and not contrived simulations, but actual work. I believe I became a teacher at least in part, because I spent a portion of my High School career as a student aide, and found that I liked the work, I liked copying papers, I enjoyed grading assignments, I liked talking with the younger students when I was a few grades older than them.

Students need to experience work. They need to be expected to contribute! We need to reduce not extend adolescence. I do believe kids should still get to be kids, but when 24 and 25 years olds are still having parents call their "teachers" to explain why they didn't get their homework done we have reached the ridiculous. Lets bring back work!

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