A Response to Michael Goldstein (Starting An Ed School)

I’m going to “look harder” at something Michael Goldberg, in a recent (11/30) posting, Looking Harder At The College-Prep Message, on his Blog, Starting an Ed School, said.

His school, the MATCH School, along with other what are now known as “No Excuses” schools, have been telling their mostly poor Black and Latino student bodies that without a college degree they’re quite likely to stay poor.

Now Michael says, their message ought to be revised up, made more “sophisticated” than simply “college.”

He points out that there are more high-end jobs, and low-end jobs than jobs in the middle, and that the numbers of jobs in the middle continue to shrink. Manufacturing jobs for example, those that used to be plentiful and pay well, and that demanded little more than 8th grade proficiencies, these jobs have been moved to Mexico, China, Vietnam and elsewhere where labor costs are substantially lower than here.

And he says that schools like his need to make it clear to their students that in order to win these now scarce middle [income] jobs, not to mention those at the high end, they will need not only to go on to a four year college but once there they should be sure to elect “hard” college majors.

And although he doesn’t say so I’ll assume that by “hard” college majors he means STEM classes or something comparable, rather than, say, sociology, American Studies, or Black and Latino Studies.

In addition, he says, the message to his students, should include words to the effect that even a four year college degree may not be enough for them to secure one of the now relatively scarce middle income jobs. And consequently his students should even consider pursuing advanced degrees after college.

Now what about this message? It does seem to be true, borne out by any number of research studies, that more education will grow one’s earning potential. For it’s clear that most of the jobs out there are now at the low end of the pay scale, and that to secure work at the high end, where there are many fewer available jobs, more and more education is essential.

The No Excuses Charter Schools, including Michael Goldstein’s MATCH School, have in their classrooms only a small fraction of the 10s, 100s of thousands of poor Black and Latino students who make up the bulk of the student bodies in the public schools of our large inner cities.

And therefore what is done in these few schools, while admirable and important, vital even to the students attending them, does not yet promise a solution to the growing populations of minority students in our inner city public schools, who, when they leave (and in some of our cities, some half of them will leave school, drop out, without having obtained a high school diploma), go on to make up a growing ill-prepared, and with little chance of employment, underclass.

Michael seems to have realized he has left something out of his discussion, perhaps the elephant, the bull in the china shop? For he concludes his post by saying, “There’s a whole monster separate issue around educating the legions of kids who will not ever achieve a college degree. But that’s for another day.”

But this “monster separate issue” is the issue. The issue is not refining our college message to our students attending the No Excuses Charter Schools, although Michael is perfectly within his right, and is right to say so.

In regard to the No Excuses Schools, so far they have only shown us that poor, minority children, for the most part coming from severely disadvantaged inner city neighborhoods and home environments, can be helped to learn more academic skills and acquire more knowledge than if they had remained in the far less disciplined, less rigorous and demanding learning environments of the district schools they originally came from.

And this is good. But these schools, excellent in important respects, are not helping their students (and all students by their example) to confront reality in regard to college. Instead Michael and the other school leaders hold college up as the “ticket,” the “pass,” the way out of the environment they have known all their lives up until then.

And in fact when, as often happens, they are the very first in their families to attend college, that’s how they appear to their families, with a pass, or ticket a college ticket on to a better life.

For me the crux of the matter is something else, the issue we should be addressing is not college. Furthermore, it seems to me that college for the many is not a “ticket” to a better life, meaning by that a better paying job. For a college education, worthy of the name, with a bar that is set high, will always be for the few. The many will not even finish.

But we, probably for lack of imagination, have decided that college is the way up for everybody in our society. And to make this happen the bar is being set lower and lower and many do go to college and even graduate, but without having obtained a real college education.

And why do we do this? Well, in order to accommodate everybody. The present situation has even resulted, not surprisingly, in lower earnings for college graduates, for those, more and more of them, who finish a college where the bar was set too low.

On the other hand I’m sure that the students in the MATCH School, who amaze us by their stellar performance on the standardized tests, mostly in reading comprehension and in math, have, like their peers everywhere, widely different interests, talents, abilities, and that something other than “college,” which they’re told is their best path to a better future, might, even better than college, correspond to and better satisfy their own interests, talents etc.

I understand less and less why we don’t encourage our young people to go on to whatever it is, not necessarily college, that best corresponds to who they are at the end of high school. If reading and writing, math and science, those traditional types of academic subject matters (at least it’s no longer Latin and Greek) that our schools have made so much of during the past century and one half, if these are what most satisfies them, well then yes, go on to a four year college where most of the classroom work is based on some form of these kinds of activities.

But I can’t believe that for most of them reading and writing, math and science, this sort of thing, best corresponds to who they are, and best represents what they most want to go on to do at the end of high school. And this is probably no less true for their peers in the suburban high schools.

There are at least seven or eight “intelligences” if you believe Howard Gardner. And there are any number of legitimate and important and valuable activities, other than reading, writing, math and science, that one might do in this life and obtain real satisfaction thereby.

How many of the graduates of Michael’s excellent school might be happier following high school in a drama academy, in a music school, in a sports academy, in any one of hundreds of apprenticeships to a doctor, lawyer, carpenter, painter, architect, business man, Indian chief, even in a low paying job while learning higher paid skills, that which happens anyway to many of the school dropouts.

Well you will certainly agree that life represents all these activities. All these activities are what real people do. College is only a small part of the whole. Why aren’t these activities, and many others made available as career paths to our high school graduates, or drop outs? Why is all the talk about college?

Shouldn’t we modify our message to the young people, although not as Michael proposes, but in order that the young people feel it’s quite OK not to go on to a four year college, and that it’s more than OK that they seriously go about growing their own interests, talents, abilities in whatever way they like.

You say these “ways” don’t now exist, are not out there, but they would be, almost overnight, if there were a demand for them.

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