College prep?

This post is a little insight to how my mind works, so this is your chance to turn away.

I saw these three things at about the same time:

Mike Rowe has a new initiative called Profoundly Disconnected that is part of his continuing effort to encourage work in general and the trades specifically. It’s very cool and I’ll probably write more on that later. But suffice it to say that I completely agree with him that pushing every kid toward a four-year college is foolish.

Then I read this article on the ideal college, which sounds like a pretty neat place.  Champlain College has “a “three-dimensional education” program, an undergraduate curriculum consisting of interdisciplinary liberal arts courses, a life-skills program, and training for a career.”  It’s career oriented — meaning the focus is to prepare students for a career, but it also requires ever student take a core liberal arts program throughout the four years “enhance intellectual discipline and critical thinking.” Brilliant.

Finally, I came across this reading list for college-bound homeschoolers. Lee Binz writes, “Reading from a broad cross-section of both American and World literature will help prepare your students to understand a variety of different cultures and times, and strengthen their knowledge and understanding of great literature.”
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And I’m thinking, why are the latter two relegated to just the college-bound? I agree with Mike Rowe that not every kid needs to go to college. I disagree with the current educational philosophy that college-bound kids are the only people who need a foundation in liberal arts and Western Civilization, in reading broadly and learning higher science and math.

I don’t know if my kids will go to a traditional four-year university, a trade-school, or something else entirely. I do know the program that Champlain College sets forth — liberal arts foundation, life skills, and career training — sounds exactly like what I want to give my kids in high school. That “college-bound” reading list looks pretty good for any high school student, whatever their career path.

Why do we say these good stories are just for the college-bound or the college educated? Why do we say that studying logic or speech or physics are only important for a certain subset of people? That mythology is only useful for those taking the SAT? Is studying Shakespeare more important for a would-be accountant than for a mechanic? If it has any value (and I think it has great value), it has value for both. My issues with this “college-bound” approach to lower education are two-fold. First, it relegates education and learning to a means to an end. We push our kids to study certain things to get into college, as if that’s the highest reward of education.

But the flip side of that coin (and for me, the bigger issue) is that this “college-bound reading list/course of study” tells kids not planning to go to college that whole swaths of really interesting and important stuff are irrelevant to them. They don’t need physics or logic; they don’t deserve to be exposed to Shakespeare or Sophocles. That they don’t need “to understand a variety of different cultures and times.” That’s rubbish, and it cheats too many people out of a beautiful and fascinating world. Learning has value in and of itself. Pushing ourselves, working and thinking hard, reading widely and deeply, exploring new ideas — these things have intrinsic value for everyone regardless of their career path, be it budding lawyer, philosopher, plumber, or homemaker.

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