For What Are We Preparing Our Students?

I never took any college prep or AP classes in high school.  I did only what was required to graduate.  I knew I wanted to go to college and I knew the transition would be challenging.  The strange thing is, I didn’t find college to be that difficult.  Yes, I had more homework than high school, but my classes and the overall workload weren’t too demanding.  Other than being made to feel as though I was not prepared for my first English Composition class by my college professor, I felt good about the change from high school to college.  I didn’t need any special college prep courses to be prepared.  It seemed to me to be more of a mindset thing.  I knew what I wanted out of school and college and so I went for it.  Had I been confused or unsure, perhaps I wouldn’t have been as motivated or driven to do well.  I wonder if that’s why some people struggle so much with the transition from high school to college.  They just don’t know quite what they want to work towards and so they only put 75% into their schooling.  Maybe there should be a special track for students like that.

A recent article written by John Chubb in the winter edition of Independent School magazine, mentioned the fact that the National Association of Independent Schools no longer requires member schools to be “college preparatory in nature.”  The author then goes into detail explaining how society is very different now than it was 20 years ago.  So many students are no longer attending the Ivy League schools as they once did when graduating from independent prep schools.  They are going to state schools or other schools that are more affordable or not going to a formal four-year college at all.  Some students are learning a trade, going to a tech school, completing online college courses, or traveling the world to gain life experiences.  The world is a very different place than it once was.  Employers aren’t hiring people because they have a four-year degree from a prestigious school.  They are hiring students with life skills and a drive to do well.  That piece of paper that so many people paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for no longer seems worth the paper it was printed on.  Which is why students graduating from high school are taking a different path than the one oft-traveled.  Therefore, the author explains, independent schools no longer need to push their students to be ready for college.  This may mean that private schools take the focus off of college prep, IB, and AP classes.  Then, what will the focus be?  What are schools preparing students for?  Life after high school?  Since there are so many different avenues student can take following high school, it’s hard to know exactly what to prepare them for.  So now what?

If we provide our students with life experiences, teach them the essential habits of learning, show them care, and offer them support, we’ll be more than appropriately preparing them for whatever their future holds.  The content and curriculum no longer matters in the age of technology in which we live.  I don’t need to know how to solve a math problem because a scientific calculator can give me the answer in a matter of seconds.  I don’t need to know the causes of World War I, because I can look them up online quite quickly.  No matter how much knowledge we equip our students with, if they don’t know how to solve problems independently, think critically about the world, effectively coexist and work with their peers, and utilize a growth mindset when learning new information, then that information will go in one ear and out the other.  We need to prepare our students for any type of future they want to aim for.  We can do this through helping them gain the “soft skills” most schools leave out of their curriculum in favor of more content knowledge.

Since our world is evolving, as educators working in independent schools, we need to adapt and evolve as well.  We need to focus on preparing students for lives in a global society and not futures at elite universities.  While many of our students will go onto college of some sort, it won’t be the same types of schools we attended as students.  The world of higher education is changing as well.  So, let’s not focus on who won the war, but instead, let’s help our students think about how conflicts could be more peacefully resolved or avoided altogether.  That’s the kind of critical thinking that will help to change the world for the better.  That’s what we’re preparing our students for, a better world than the one in which we live now.  Wow, that seems like a lofty goal, but one that is so much fun to strive towards.  Imagine a better world.  That would be awesome.  I would love for nothing more than to have my son live in a world without crime, conflict, and drugs.  Wouldn’t that be something?  So, let’s do it.  It starts today, in our classrooms.  What do we want the future to look like?


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