Saturday, November 11, 2006

Ten Years of Day Shift Then They Put You on the Schooling?

I've always felt compelled to interpret my mundane day-to-day decisions and activities in macro, global terms. It's the type of compulsion which enabled me as a college undergrad to come up with Kant's idea of the categorical imperative prior to having ever heard of Kant. (Okay, I was a few centuries late, but I could have changed the world if I were born a little earlier). It is also the type of compulsion that has always led me to question the implications of whatever vocation I've pursued (and I've had relatively many over the last few years).

In the past, I've come to some rather negative conclusions about my line of work. For instance, I eschewed a position as a news reporter, as I came to generally to agree Thoreau's designation of news as gossip. "Once you are acquainted with a phenomena," I paraphrase, "you don't really need to be notified of any specific instance." Realizing that people are well aware that it is possible for a barn to catch fire and burn down, I felt I wasn't contributing a whole lot by giving them specific examples of this occurring. (Also, the Columbus, Wisconsin fire chief circa 2002 was pretty uncooperative. Would it have really hurt you to tell me how many pigs died?).

More recently, I've been in a position where I get to dictate to teen-agers how they will be spending some of their time. Given how much the concept of time is valued in the adult world, where most demands of time come with promises of fiduciary compensation, it is somewhat ironic the ease with which teachers can put demands on the time of their students, both in and out of the classroom. In other words, I want to be sure that what I am asking my students to do is of value to them. In a specific instance, I am asking 50 sophomores this week to compose a short fictional story. I have to ask myself if this is a worthwhile endeavor. It has no tangible practical benefit to them. However, I can honestly say that I think this is a good demand to place on their time. In the interest of avoidance of digression, I won't go into the specific reasons here, but suffice it to say I am a strong believer in liberal arts education, and believe in the intangible benefits of abstract thinking.

However, I can't shake the concurrent conviction that however good writing short stories, analyzing literature, or conducting essays is for 15-year-olds, such tasks could be equally beneficial for 25-year-olds, 35-year-olds, and 75-year-olds. In fact, a case could be made that given more world experience, abstract ideas normally acquired in adolescence could be better grasped and applied. Currently, high schools and colleges give their students a liberal arts education to help them prepare for the rigors of a practical vocation. However, I'm thinking that a rigorous practical vocation would be tremendous preparation for a liberal arts education.

As medical advancements are made and life expectancy continues to grow, one of the exigent reasons for rushing people out of the educational pipeline is rendered void. People are delaying marriage, families, and serious careers into well into their 20s, as transitional life stages are being drawn out. I assert that the time is coming that we can soon recognize a paradigm shift and make some radical changes in our educational system.

Here is a proposal: Have compulsory education end after eighth grade. At this point, everyone is required to enter the workforce for ten years. People can pursue the occupation they want, but as a fallback some type of civil service job is guaranteed. Part of their salary is put into a system that will allow them to, if they choose, drop out of the workforce at age 24 and attend high school. Those who go this route receive a full stipend and are not forced to work at all for sustenance. The only requirement is that they keep their grades up. At any time they wish to, they can drop out and return to the workforce. At age 28, if they choose, they can attend college, though the free ride is over and they would have to borrow. Even if they pursue a profession requiring a lot of education, they would still have a solid 25 years or more to devote to that profession.

This proposal should no way be interpreted as a lament against the idea of giving a liberal arts education to adolescents. I'm rather fond of the teen-agers I am privileged to educate (or attempt to educate) on a daily basis, and I was fond of the young adults I taught last year. Rather, my proposal is a radical response to a prevailing anti-intellectual culture among adults. By making education something to be aspired to rather than something to quickly attain and leave behind, I think we'd have a better world. I'd also like to see what manner of short stories a class of worldly 25-year-olds could produce.


Anonymous your dad said...

Interesting post, provoking a few thoughts on my part.
First, sorry about your birthdate, but for things to be any different for you, I would have to be the age of an Old Testament Patriarch by now.
So, after a "rigorous practical vocation" of farming from age 14-19, (and absolutly hating anything involving writing and composition during this time) and fixing cars from age 20-present, at 50 something I should now pursue a liberal arts education? I could see that...maybe... But I'm a strong believer in the "tangible" benefits of "concrete" thinking, and wonder if perhaps those who didn't do so well in high school Industrial Arts would do well as adults to attend a college of engineering and broaden their horizons?
Just so you can feel better, though, I'm fighting adult anti-intellectual culture by reading and thoroughly enjoying Nancy Pearcy's "Total Truth". Just so you know, though, I'm applying concrete thought to it. I think I told you this, but when your Mom suggested we read it aloud together, she changed her mind when I told her she probably wouldn't like it when I flipped to the back at each footnote to read what the author had referenced. My next book is going to be one whose author I just heard interviewed on a radio program this evening. It is similar to Pearcy's in it's treatment of different and conflicting worldviews, but it appears to do a good job of organizing one's thoughts into bytes that are easily remembered and subsequently conveyed to those outside of the Christian worldview. He accomplishes this by descriptive names much like Smalley uses the animal names for the four major personality groups rather than have to remember and convey the meanings of the Greek Choleric, Pflegmatic etc. The book is titled "Blah Blah Blah, Making Sense Of The World's Spiritual Chatter", and is authored by one Bayard Taylor. He has a website you can check out and even read the first few chapters, at
Loking forward to seeing you at Thanksgiving, and engaging in some intellectual abstract/concrete thinking banter.
Lastly, if one were wondering what manner of short stories a worldly 25-year-old would produce, would one check out

1:05 AM  
Blogger kevin said...

i think that your proposed system could have some benefits. the whole time period between the end of 7th grade to the end of my sophomore year in HS are what would refer to as my crash and burn period. i did a lot of academic screwing around and would have possibly benefitted from a "work release" type of break from the school life. however, if i am imagining your concept corectly they have a system simalar to it in place with prosser. i know that not everyone has the option though. and it is during the junior and senior years of highschool. it is, in my opinion, a failing system. they program only includes manual labor jobs like framing, a/c & heating, mechanics, welding, etc. and nursing courses along with some graphics design and computer tech. classes. it is a relatively limiting system. also, they should move it back closer to the time that you suggest. (durring 7th & 8th grades) that allows the student to return to the academic realm before committing to a seemingly less scholarly and possibly less rewarding field. if it were not for the fact that it would have realy almost smothered my chances of college (through suffering grades) i would have tried that route for a while.

9:34 AM  
Blogger Boo said...

I love the idea except for one problem. You have chosen the time when most kids hormones are raging. Putting young men and women into positions where productivity is expected would set them up for failure, unless they were separated by gender. I too have given fiction pieces for my students at the college level. The way that I appealed to them to make it relevant was to have them write about something that makes them angry, an easy subject for most people. After they had completed this assignment, they then had to write from the person's perspective that made them angry. This was an eye opener for many of them. The student who was angered by the slow driver, became the slow driver who was angered by the person riding on his/her bumper. When emotions are involved, the writing tends to take on a great depth. My favorite was the student who wrote about teachers giving too much homework. He had to flip and get into the teacher's head.

10:46 AM  

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