Learning Matters: College, career serve as beneficial goals

If education guru Dr. Bill Daggett had his way, the declared goal of the Common Core curriculum would be to prepare students to be career-ready.

As he told Glendale teachers last August, the push for “college-and-career-ready” standards came from the higher education contingent among the many representatives who came together to develop the Common Core. In the end, “college and career” won out.

I think I understand Daggett’s frustration at the dual goal. After all, isn’t all education, K-12 through college and graduate school, designed to prepare students for life beyond school?

Colleges weren’t established as a goal but a means to a goal: to prepare students to do the necessary work of society and to pursue happiness. Yet how many times do we hear students talk about wanting to “go to law school” or “go to medical school” as if that were the fulfillment of their dreams?

Daggett has worked for decades to infuse K-12 classrooms with career-technical connections: science, technology, engineering, math, and arts integrated with core curriculum, not separate from it.

Glendale’s Clark Magnet High School is a model of his influence, a school where students are encouraged to solve real-world problems and address real-world needs throughout the academic subject areas. Clark, with a majority of students coming from lower-income families and speaking English as a second language, sends most of its students to college.

Still, I’m OK with “college and career” as a goal. In an environment where most schools are not yet like Clark, many people both in and out of education continue to argue in favor of either college or career education as separate and distinct paths.

College and career affirms the pairing I believe is desirable both for improvements in teaching and learning and for broader cultural and economic goals.

All students, from the academically advanced to those challenged by all things academic, could benefit by understanding and experiencing how their required subjects are of use to the world (or, as I like to say, why learning matters).

They all need career education. And they all should be advised of the close connection between higher levels of education — from certificates through graduate degrees — and higher levels of pay over the course of a lifetime. Learning about cost-benefit ratios is more interesting when it’s personal.

Students and their parents also need to understand that college doesn’t necessarily mean a four-year degree right out of high school. Higher education comes in many forms.

What worries me is the suggestion I’ve heard in a variety of quarters, that not all students need to go to college at all. “These students don’t need a degree,” effused a high school cinematography teacher recently. “Just look at Harrison Ford. He was a carpenter!”

I am a loyal fan of Harrison Ford. Whether as Indiana Jones, the Fugitive’s Dr. Richard Kimball or the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Branch Rickey, Ford doesn’t disappoint me…except when his name is used alongside the late Steve Jobs’ as a reason not to go to college.

Citing the success of non-college graduates Ford or Jobs, Bill Gates or Kobe Bryant, isn’t the message that will best serve the needs of our students or our country in a global economy.

Yes, a lucky few might find their way to stardom or billionaire status, but such a goal should not be what’s meant by the popular school marquee motto, “Dream it, believe it, achieve it.” Even the students who graduate from a school like Clark with professional certifications alongside their high school diplomas need to be reminded that they will face global competition from millions of people who have even more certificates and degrees in hand.

Better we should encourage our students to work to learn and learn to work, toward college and career, for a lifetime of opportunity.
--JOYLENE WAGNER is a former member of the Glendale Unified School Board. Email her at jkate4400@aol.com.

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