Friday, November 28, 2008


I'm just finishing up the "School-to-Career Transitions" chapter in our text Understanding Youth. I'm trying to work through a couple of thoughts that seem to contradict each other.

First off, in UY we read about the importance of career-development education being woven through curricular starting at a young age up through high school (and probably beyond). As I read the chapter, I found myself nodding in agreement. The school where I currently teach ends up centering a lot of curriculum around career paths: our 6th graders study the human body and go through a "grand rounds" as though they were MD's, our 7th graders produce documentary films and design cities, and our 8th graders learn how to fly a plane. These are just a few examples. Our students often get to meet professionals in these fields, while the projects gives students a taste of what the work might be like. I have no evidence to show that this method is better than others. But since each project usually requires a culminating performance of some kind, all of our students remain fairly engaged throughout the process.

On the other hand, I began thinking about a book I read by Eric Gutstein, Reading and Writing the World with Mathematics. He critiques the National Council Teacher of Mathematics Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics (1989) which submits "mathematically literate workers" as one of its goals. His major criticisms are that this goal serves the needs of profit accumulation, does not question whose needs this goal serves, and means different things for different students in our socially-stratified world (some kids will need calculus and beyond for their careers, others will need little more than basic arithmetic).

So my questions are: How do we get kids thinking about school having meaning for their life beyond high school and about how they want to prepare themselves for their possible career paths? And at the same time, teach them to be critical consumers of the the biases and values inherent in career development education? (Do my questions even make sense???) I'm going to be mulling this one over for a while...


amy said...
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amy said...

Having not read Gutstein, it is hard for me to grasp the full scope, and I am also not mathematically savvy. I am still going to give this a try. I agree with you in that it is important to allow students hands on experience because they can get the sense that what they are learning is important and can be applied to a greater purpose. I am curious to know where Gutstein gets his "profit accumulation" idea.

As far as math, I can honestly say that I use math in a sense every day, but there are some parts of math that I never use. (I am probably going to kick myself later for saying this, but) I feel like there are a lot of things that I learned in high school that I never use or even think about. I think we would be lying to our students if we say that. I feel like we don't have to explain why it is important for the future, but we have to explain why it is important for right now. I think part of the high school experience is leaving many doors open for students so they can gain enough knowledge to make a choice about the path they want to take. I think it is up to us as (future) educators to do our best with the presentation of subject matter and help students see why things are important in the present moment.

I do not know if I answered your question or if I completely just went off on another tangent. Either way, you should be happy that your post was thought provoking!

Future Teacher

Hai said...

I agree with you and Amy that we should let our students experience different career choices. In fact, we should encourage them to seek out more hands-on experience in something that interestst them. How else are students going to learn if they want to become an engineer, accountant, film maker, etc.?

At the same time, I sometimes feel that our education system focuses too much on higer mathemtatics and not enough on basic mathematics. Like Amy, I do use some sort of math skills everyday of my life. I often have this conversation with my husband that every student should be required to take some accounting class to teach them how to balance their checkbooks, make wise decisions with their credit card budget, and just learn how to manage money. How many times do you hear people graduating college with not just tuition debt, but also credit card debts? All students should build a strong enough mathematics foundation to at least wisely manage their finances in life.

Mark Potoshnik said...

Ava, your questions all always very thoughtfully presented and require a lot of contemplation to answer. I think that it is important for students to be exposed to differing professions. It is no less important to make sure that the educational path and technical skills required to be successful in that profession be highlighted. In addition,the competitive nature of entering the field should be explored. Nobody gets to be what they want without the drive to excel. Whether it is flying planes or building houses, they will need to be educated and motivated in order to achieve. Keys to the plane are not just handed out.

Libby said...

Wow, I love the ideas of what your school is doing so early! As a liberal arts student who loved school, I often had a hard time applying studies to life, but almost in reverse. Instead of feeling like class had nothing to do with "real life", I felt (and feel) frustrated that all this wonderful knowledge isn't "practical" enough; I didn't know how to go get a job as a History Major.

I do think the American picture of the career track is narrow; it seems like options are dictated by the community you live in. For some communities, college seems unattainable. I have a young friend who is graduating from High School this spring, who is dyslexic. College might not be the best choice for her, or it may be after community college... the point being she will need an unconventional path to her next step in life, and because she is in an upper-middle class white community she is constantly asked, "so where have you applied? what school are you going to next year?" She feels like there is no flexibility in her career options either. I remember several friends my freshman year of college who were really better fits in other career paths, but were pressured into the University path, even though it was expensive and little real use to them.

All this to say, I'd love to see schools providing all kids with a variety of options, and most of all, with a culture in which it's ok to choose what works best for you.