As we approach graduation each spring, some of our seniors get a pit in their stomachs. They dread what is becoming an annual ritual.
A well-intentioned teacher or administrator calls all of the seniors to come forward.
–Perhaps on the ball field at pre-game or halftime, with ball players or band kids.
–Or on the stage with theater or orchestra kids.
Most often, they are asked to tell which colleges they will attend. Sometimes they are just asked to tell the audience of their plans after graduation. But it had better be college.
Suzie reports she has been accepted at an Ivy League.
Jim is next and he is going to a public university.
Down the line, several students squirm.
Fred wants to work on cars. He mutters about a tech school under his breath. Poor child! Only a tech school?
Another falteringly claims he is applying to college, but his voice betrays him.
George loves working on his farm after school. He will someday inherit that farm. He is bright and might take some courses in agriculture. But how can you talk about wanting to "turn over soil" in front of an audience that considers anyone not going to college full time to be a loser?
Or John, who is at the top of his class and wants to go to a university, but comes from a very economically poor family. They have a solid ethic about not borrowing. For him, this scene is the cruelest of all.
And how can a commonsense kid take the first year after graduation to see the world and just grow up some more? —Or take a year in the real world to work and build up some savings before deciding on a career?
The freshmen, sophomores and juniors witness all of this. They hunker down in their bleacher or theater seats. Someday they too will be seniors and will be expected to declare some lofty goal in higher education—or be labeled failures.
Students know that this expectation was coming. Their school hallways are draped with banners announcing how "all students will succeed" and "all students are college-bound." That has become the simple-minded mantra of many school administrators. The only metric of school success is the number of graduates who attend college.
In turn, schools take their marching orders from politicians, from the U.S. President down to State Governors who proclaim arbitrary "goals" that are to be met. Otherwise, our schools are failures.
But good teachers who know their students’ true goals, abilities, dreams, and potential, know that this mandate to send everyone immediately on to higher education is not in the best interests of many students.
It sets students up for failure, pressuring some into a future they would not choose.
It pressures secondary teachers to deflate coursework and inflate grades in order to reach unrealistic goals, made easier by narrowly teaching to external assessments.
And finally, it loads a lot of students into colleges and universities who are not really college-ready or college-able. And many may have an inflated image of what they can do. Then the pressures felt in K-12 to increase retention and graduation are repeated at the university level.
The losers are the good students, who walk across the stage at graduation to receive a degree to be followed by several other students who receive the same degree for doing far less work.
We must learn to value all students regardless of their goal in life.
We must stop shaming those who do not choose to go to college.