Jan 052013
 

Post Secondary or Starve

I would have to say I was pretty lucky growing up. I graduated at the tail end of the glory years of high school in the mid 1980’s. I had choices coming out of my yin yang, just like kids of today but I had one choice that kids these days don’t have, the choice to become an independent adult.

As I entered my final years of high school, I remember being excited about my options. I could choose to work at a dead-end job, go into a post secondary program (after some upgrading), start an apprenticeship… Hell, I could have even dropped out in grade 10 and gone worked in the oil patch if I wanted. Sure my parents would have been pissed but hey, as long as I wasn’t living out of their back pocket, so be it.

Looking back, I realize that having the option to simply go find a job and work, far more motivating then anything the modern school system promises kids today. These days, we tell kids they can be anything they want, the sky is the limit, just stay in school… indefinitely.

The school system gets the crap kicked out of it because it doesn’t “prepare our children for the world” but in reality, the real world is no longer willing to support young adults. The actual role of grade school today, is not to get kids ready for the world; it is to prepare youth to spend as much of their life as possible, warehoused in some academic institution someplace.

The ruse we have created to counter the natural desire of an 18-year-old to get on with one’s life, is that the school system isn’t inspiring them. The curriculum isn’t relevant, it isn’t meeting their needs! But what if all an 18-year-old wants or needs, is the opportunity to become an independent, self-supporting adult before the age of 30?

When I work with kids trying to figure out what they will do in the years to come, the life drains from the face of many when I tell them that they don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of feeding themselves without 2 – 8 or more years of post secondary education.

Ok… Perhaps I don’t put it so bluntly but the message is clear. In today’s world, post secondary education is the gateway to a functional adulthood. The problem is, that even a Post Secondary education doesn’t guarantee that you will be able to feed yourself and kids know this. They see no sign of an independent adulthood in their future.

What this translates into in my classroom, is that kids eliminate excellent career possibilities not because they haven’t the aptitude or ability but because they won’t be able to feed themselves, buy a home or god forbid raise a family. Despite the political mumbo jumbo… Students don’t really have the choice of following their passions. They have to chase the brass ring, otherwise they remain their parents dependant into adulthood and beyond.

It begs the question, how did we get to this place? In 30(ish) years we have gone from a world where the young adult was given the opportunity (hard though it was) to become an independent and self-supporting, to one where economic independence is next to impossible without spending the prime of your life warehoused in some academic institution.

It makes me think that, perhaps we have gotten things a bit backward here? Perhaps the problem the youth of today face, isn’t an education system that doesn’t prepare them for their future. Perhaps the problem is an economy that only sees a young person as a source of cheap exploitable labour. Perhaps it is an economy in which your only chance for economic independence is to collect enough degrees and certificates, that you eventually can be considered valuable enough to make a living wage.

If we take a look at the stats, today’s youth unemployment rates are not abnormally high. In fact from a historical perspective they are really quite good. They are even better than what they were when I got out of high school. The question then becomes, What has changed? Why are young adults struggling to get on with their lives?

What we have done, wether it be unwittingly or by design, is create an economy of dependence. At some point in the past 30 years, we have decided that we need to marginalize young adults and keep them from becoming independent, functioning contributors to society. Keep them dependant on their parents for an extra decade or two and we don’t have to provide a living wage, because mom and dad will pick up the monetary slack.

 

  11 Responses to “The Generation We Wont Let Grow Up”

  1. Keith, wow, you are supposed to relax on your vacation not get all worked up! I agree somewhat with your views here. My 3 boys, now 20, 23, 25 went to Thomas Haney Secondary which at the time was mostly a self-directed school. They learned to take ownership of their learning as it was essential to succeed. None of them are stellar students and none are university bound. They all had jobs beginning at an early age since we refused to buy everything they wanted. When they wanted cell phones we said “get a job”. My eldest son, currently traveling for 100 days in South Asia, has his own business, my second son is apprenticing to be an automotive tech but is also in a fledgling rock band, and my youngest is working and trying to figure out what career to pursue. He is thinking of truck driving for now just to make more money. My point is I think there are still many ways for young people to make a go of life. University is one of those ways. I do agree that parents today seem to over protect, over program their kids lives and there’s a fine line there where when crossed it is not a good thing.

    Anyway, great rant buddy, keep up the writing.
    Brian

    • Thanks for stopping by and your reply Brian. Yes I agree, there are a ton of people out there doing things right. I just had a bee in my bonnet and kept on writing…

      I also agree there are options for kids other than University but we don’t seem to lay them out very well for kids. The options are also geographic in nature. A viable option for a kid in Williams lake would not necessarily work in Vancouver.

      The goal here was to get people thinking about what has happened to our youth in the past 3 decades and yes, even offend some people.

      That is the fun of having a blog.

      Cheers,
      Keith

  2. It seems to me (former HS teacher) that it’s difficult to support the near-complete segregation of children from adults from the point of view of the long-term interests of the students. We all know this, to the extent that we refer to the adult world as ‘the real world’, but for some reason it seems entirely appropriate that children should come in contact almost exclusively with people their own age in the course of their educations.

    There’s a ton of other things that I think are broken, but as symptoms of the problem with how we’re educating kids go, the fact that we have this sharp chlid-adult segregation is really quite striking in terms of its apparent conflict with the idea that we’re preparing them for adult life (and to put a point on it, the idea that we can only ethically demand participation in an educational system if it prepares them for adult life).

    So there’s this just smack-in-the-face obvious disconnect between how school works and what it’s supposed to do — would you prepare people to become doctors or plumbers by segregating them from doctors and plumbers? — but we ignore it. And I believe, firmly, that municipalities, states, and nations like ours tend to get the education systems they ask for, so the question as far as I’m concerned, the question is, what are we *actually* asking for, by way of votes, budget discussions, teacher certification, recruitment, and hiring practices that we would wind up with what we have?

    I’m not sure, but I suspect it’s less noble than we would tell one another we’d like to be doing.

    • Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment Henry…

      There is so much to this issue that goes far beyond what I wrote about but I honestly the the umbrella issue here is our collective will to sideline kids. By doing it in the name of “education” is just the palatable justification.

      Yes education is still important and always will be but it has to be done differently moving forward. The problem is that the supporting structures of our current situation are not easily changed and the warehouse model will remain in play until there is an economic imperative to change it, such as workforce shortages.

  3. Okay, so that’s a lot of information to take in and it would be great to have an in-depth discussion on the subject. I think you’re definitely onto something, and it’s one component of a society that’s evolved in unanticipated directions. I just don’t know, as you point out, how we move “back” to allowing children to become independent adults. Even adults today are infantilized in some respects with the emphasis being on consumption and instantly gratifying wants and desires.

    There’s also a mania that’s developed in parent’s minds about ensuring their child’s success, but success according to what criteria? Perhaps that’s part of the problem, too.

    In a way, you are arguing for a 21st century education, but not in the way that government is or the way that some in the sector would portray it. It’s a change from the cookie-cutter approach of sit down, listen, do what your told, and let me mark you against all the others. So, you have issues of curriculum, pedagogy, delivery of instruction, organization, assessment, and extension into the “real” world.

    It’s like a tapestry that we want to weave together, but there so many threads, it’s hard to tell which one to start with.

    I know after a year of being a Trustee, I probably have more questions today about education that I did when I decided to run for election. I see that as a positive first step: the question is really where to go from here?

    Thanks for the brain food – I think my mind will be feasting on this one for days!

    • Thanks for your response Reema,

      Yes, Yes and Yes…

      We are in an interesting time in history. It looks as though our consumptive economy to which our education system serves, is coming to an unceremonious end. It was neither sustainable and lacked any sort of, moral imperative as the primary driver was greed.

      As I tried to express in this post, because there has become less and less for more and more young people, education has just become nothing more than a means of warehousing kids. If you keep them out of the work world you don’t have to pay them, plus you can rob their parents blind all in the name of education.

      Now whether this was done with nefarious intent or whether it was an unintended outcome, who knows. I lean more toward unintended outcome.

      The problem is that the “get educated to get a good job” logic has fallen apart. Where at one time, anyone who went to post secondary was guaranteed a comfortable living. Now there are fewer and fewer areas of study that provide you with an living income or a job at all.

      Where does it all end?

      • “education has just become nothing more than a means of warehousing kids”

        i’ve been led to believe that the current way of doing business isn’t about warehousing (though i agree that that’s what it actually is) but about factories. sitting in rows, repetition, responding to bells — it’s all deliberately like working in a factory, because as schools moved from houses to large brick buildings, the same thing was happening in industry. it’s worker-as-cog / student-as-future-worker.

        and yeah, there’s not as much obvious rote as there used to be, but there have really only been incremental changes since that model was put in place, and here we are.

        so even if America were like it was when this was a ‘good’ model, we’d still have to ask whether it’s ethical to prepare kids for factory work rather than doing something broader that enables fulfillment of potential.

        but, of course, it’s not like it was. those factories are closed. they’re in asia. but the schools are still fundamentally the same, even if they were working, they’d be producing 18 year olds finely-tuned for an economy that doesn’t exist in America.

        so i think that the public schools *are* a big source of the problem, but i also think that you get the public schools you ask for, and we’ve asked for warehouses that produce mid-century factory workers to fill factories that no longer exist. i think that ‘what’s in it for me’ is an entirely reasonable question for a student, and our schools provide *no* answer.

        fact is, forcing someone to do something has to be justified to be ethical. i have no idea how we’re going to look back and justify, in ethical terms, forcing kids to go through 12 years of the purported-factory-prep-but-actually-warehousing they’re getting.

        • Nothing to contest here other than, I was trying to go beyond just the factory system argument.

          There are some issues that go far beyond trying to train kids for a type of work that doesn’t even exist.

          If you listen to the pundits and politicians about the failing school system, they point the finger at all our unemployed young people and say, “look! evidence of a broken education system” but if you ask around, even young people who have relevant training and skills are unemployed or under paid.

          Like I mentioned in my original post, the youth unemployment rate (in Canada) is actually lower then it was when I was a kid, yet young people are more dependant on their parents then ever before. Why, well we have priced them out of the adult world. This in turn forces kids to remain in school.

          At one point it wasn’t such a big deal 4 years of school, get out and you have a decent job and you are maybe 23… Now it is unlikely a 4 year degree will do. Most are looking at a minimum Masters so add another 2 – 3 years.

          The majority of the kids I deal with are planning on 6 – 8 years of post secondary school and even then, there is no guarantee of work. Where does it all end?

          This academic inflation has made the price of adulthood a dream for most youth these days. There has to be a better way and I don’t think trying to fix the economic system that got us to this point is going to do it.

          JMHO

          • Great discussion!

            Keith – I’m not sure I agree with you that the consumer culture is coming to an end. But maybe that’s a subject for another debate.

            My fear has to do with employment in general. I see real challenges, given technology, at many levels. The tech sector does produce jobs, but I think the net result is fewer people needed to do more and so the crisis of employment is much greater than the question about jobs/careers for students.

            As a product of the education system, and given my age, I sometimes find it hard to reconcile myself to some of the new ideas. But, I do know change has to come – not for the sake of feeding the corporate machine – but for us to develop “citizens”, self-actualized individuals with a passion for learning and with more on their mind than fresh powder on the mountain or a new video game to master or getting hammered at a weekend party. (Yikes! Now I am sounding like an old grump!)

            Having said that, I think there are real obstacles to having the discussion in BC because of the entrenchment of the various stakeholders in their positions, because of the way the system is organized from teacher training through to classrooms through to graduation through to post secondary through to integration in society through to government where ministries are silos of self-interest in a parallel vertical arrangement that prevents cross-collaboration and effective policy implementation.

            There’s awesome work being done every day by so many, and yet I can’t help feeling we’re going to miss the boat if we can’t find a way to talk to each other and to take action.

  4. Erich Fromm says in his book The Sane Society that often humans die never having been conceived because they never gain a sense of self and independence. Reading this, from someone who has so much experience with students and youth, I find it compelling that dependence and lack of identity may have gotten much worse since Fromm’s time.

    The phrase ” the engineered child” is great and leaves you with a lot to think about.

  5. I’m 25. Pushed to go to college, didn’t finish because I didn’t want to go in the first place. Unemployed. Wish I would have been sent to trade school, then I wouldn’t have had any problems, could have gotten a job at 18 and moved away. I don’t like my parents, which is a source of unending frustration, as I live at home. As in: I wanted to cut off all ties with them probably when I was 12, if you can imagine how it feels to STILL be stuck here and with them! So much time was wasted in school on completely pointless things rather than on just imparting skills for a basic decent job. I try to stay upbeat, but some of us have been totally screwed and I hold boomer parents and teachers responsible. I am exceptionally gifted, but the college system is not designed for intelligent critical thinkers. It’s all falling apart. Every day is a manic rush to self-develop; but I’m gonna make it! It will literally require that I become something of a meglomaniac, though!

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