Technology with attitude

Go To Work At 16


Our education system works, but for a lot of kids it simply offers a way to pass the time and little else. I look back on my education and wonder why I didn’t have more options to follow the interests I felt were more in line with what I wanted to pursue.

The NY Sun has an editorial by somebody who did just that and has turned out just fine. Take a look…

Did I mention that I’m a high school dropout?

Not that it has been much of a problem: I do have a bachelor’s and some other degrees. After 10th-grade, I entered Simon’s Rock Early College, affiliated with Bard, where students start college work at age 15 or 16. I missed the prom, thank God, and learned to drive a little late, but otherwise I’m doing pretty well.

The report on reforming our school system just released by the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce urges that my experience be less unusual for American students. One of its main ideas is that mandatory schooling begin at age 3 and end after 10th-grade. After that, going on to colleges and universities would be one of several choices available. Another choice, equally typical and just as well-funded, would be vocational training.

A potential flaw with this idea…the author went to private schools. That’s certainly atypical.

However, here’s why I like this idea. First, kids are growing up quicker now because of the Internet and this idea addresses that. Essentially, since the net isn’t showing any signs of slowing down, if you start to educate kids earlier on it’ll not only take some pressure off of working people to say home, it’ll also make kids more accountable before they even know they’re accountable.

And hey, kids need some type of structure, but at a certain point many get bored with it. It happened to me, and I’m sure it happened to many of our readers. You’re in a class and you don’t know why you’re there and 10 years later you wonder why you even had to learn who was the tenth emperor of Rome in the first place. And remember, all of these things we learn are determined by so few people that questioning our current system isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just a different thing. And that doesn’t make it bad.

Obviously, at the end of the day we still have to pay our teachers more because quality education means quality educators. I hesitate to criticize those who school our children, but I’ve definitely had some mediocre teachers in my day and I can only imagine that the trend has gotten worse, not better. So that quality needs to go up. However…

One last thing before I break into the editorial again. The IT industry is full of people who didn’t excel at their regular studies, but instead learned about computers at a young age and continued to learn. Now they make incredibly good salaries. In fact, I know of at least four people in my close circle who make so much more than I do it’s impressive. They even make the same as IT people who’ve been in grad school and beyond. They’re not the rule, but if we steered kids towards these careers at a younger age, they certainly could be.

More from the editorial…

I see nothing disturbing in an alternate universe where most students of what we now think of as freshman age are, instead, out in the world learning to ply a trade, be it in an office, workshop, or conservatory. Instead, they spend six years after 10th-grade gamely tolerating several dozen courses, most with only the vaguest relationship to the jobs they will seek â€â€? or who they will be as people. […]

Leon Botstein, Simon’s Rock and Bard’s president, must be happy about the commission’s report. In one of my favorite books, “Jefferson’s Children,” he is dismayed that “our students can barely do what their foreign counterparts did two to four years earlier,” and outlines a content-rich educational program ending at 10th-grade, stressing critical thinking. He argues that students can acquire these skills long before age 18. In fact, Mr. Botstein says, in a world where sexual maturity and the realities of life hit students at an earlier age than they did in the past, “eighteen is too old to start a serious education.”

According to Mr. Botstein’s vision, college education would be one of many choices a young person might make, like choosing graduate study today. Vocational training, meanwhile, would not merely be a pathway to cutting squid on an assembly line, but to careers in art, music, or sports…

Listen, I don’t know if this is the way to go, but it’s certainly another way of looking at things. And I find that oftentimes some of those ideas that buck the conventional wisdom turn out to push America in a direction we should have been all along.