Monday, January 5, 2009

Education And The Big Decision

One of the big questions that everyone faces in their lifetime is “What am I gonna be when I grow up?” which in North America today, typically translates into “Am I going to college or university”. It is not always that simple and there is a serious class issue at play here, but let’s assume for a minute that these are the only two choices available.

Which, if you’re living in Ontario, isn’t much of a stretch anyway. Early in a student’s high school career, they have to choose “Pre-University” or “Pre-College” courses. The new curriculum, thanks to Mike Harris, is set up this way. Which is no small decision when you’re 15 and know that this decision essentially seals your fate. Sure, you can do the “victory lap” and stay a 5th year in high school and re-take classes if need be. But the choice of either pre-university or pre-college is a big deal breaker for today’s high schoolers.

And even though it’s 2009, there are still major assumptions attached to each of these decisions. That “smart” kids go to university and “dumb” kids go to college. I can’t say I haven’t witnessed it myself. People downplaying, saying “Oh I only went to insert college name here”. Only. Like they skimmed the top and didn’t go all the way.

A new editorial in the CBC talks about this false dichotomy of smarts kids vs. dumb kids. It takes an interesting perspective because it’s written by an educator who readily admits that educators are part of the problem. The idea of “streaming” certain types of students into pre-college courses if they show signs of learning disabilities or behavioural problems, which assumes that every other kid wants to or is capable of university. It's also based on pretty serious stereotyping and downright discrimination against those with learning disabilities.

This is where I think his article is interesting. He says, and I readily agree, that it is not about smart kids vs. dumb kids but rather that some people are not cut out for university, not because of intellect but because of ways of learning. University is, after all, mostly theoretically based and if you’re in the social sciences in particular. Sure, there are tangible skills involved but it’s mostly for the intellectual type.

Lots of people talk about university being for a “certain type” of person but it’s veiled in assumptions that this type of person is “smart” and that “dumb” kids need hands-on stuff. But the author, and yours truly, digs the idea of it actually being about interest.

Take me for an example. I’m on year 6 of post-secondary and I fucking love it. But I also read theory for shits and giggles and yet I read an instruction manual and I’m both lost and bored after 5 minutes. I have the intelligence to put together something but I don’t want to. Much like how someone else has the capacity to read theory but would rather not. It’s not their bag. College does include theory, yes, but the whole set-up is not solely based on an intellectual exercise like university.

And this to me is the real college vs. university divide. Obviously there is more to it than that, in that college is typically fewer years and less tuition and there are certain things you can only take in college and certain things you can only take in university.

College, and particular in the trades, results in an amazing pay check nowadays, too. Ever gone to a mechanic? Had your toilet fixed? Remember how much it cost you? Ever used a product made of metal? If you answer no, you’re an idiot. Clearly you have and millwright is a college-learned trade. So are most police officers!

And your optometrist, public servant and lawyers are university grads. But you can’t live without one or the other. In order for shit to work, we need both university and college graduates.

So I think it’s high time for educators (and parents!) to re-examine the college vs. university divide and the streaming of students. It sets people up for failure, whichever direction they choose.

3 comments:

Lantern1 said...

Six YEARS of post grad and you use you're instead of your?!!!!!
My tax dollars weep.

Feminist Catalyst said...

I'm sorry my typo offended you so.

Frank Buchan said...

Lantern1 gave me the best laugh of the day. All of the contents of the post boiled down to an editorial slip (of which two dozen can be found in any major national newspaper daily). One would think, seeking confirmation of the value of tax expenditures, the whole point of this would be to analyse the argument and comment upon it; but I suppose when the argument is valid, and clear, the only recourse is to cling to fiddling little editorial slips. I will now actually return to my work -- and read no more of the posts on this blog, which seem to me well-considered despite an occasional editorial error, because it has distracted me too much already.