Earlier this week after giving a presentation on the state of the district, I was asked what we are doing for our students who do not plan to go to college. The expressed concern is that for some students, the final years of school are increasingly irrelevant to their lives. As an example, it was noted that taking British Literature for some of our older boys is not all that appealing. I explained what we are doing with our career and technical education courses and partnerships and noted that we are doing much more today than in the past to prepare students for non-academic life after high school. The question however, does raise the issue of what should be included in a high school education. Is it important for our graduates to take all that we currently require, or, should there be more freedom to forgo some of the academics to instead take more vocational classes? Such an option would likely include a fork in the road at the end of 10th grade that offers two paths: one for college prep and one for a vocational track. This is a recurring conversation that on the surface is appealing. But when you look at the potential consequences of this model, you uncover some difficult questions.
Our mission statement (our purpose) includes preparing productive, responsible citizens and our vision (what we want to become) is to have engaged students who participate in their community and are prepared for the future. For me, the key to meeting this mission and vision is that we train students to be independent learners who have the basic skills to pursue whatever it is that they want, and have a good understanding of how our society works. While it is easy to argue that reading Jane Eyre is not that important, the greater importance of the humanities that help you see the big picture and in turn better understand how you fit into the whole, is an important part of meeting our mission and vision. It is not enough to simply train someone to be a welder and hope that he or she figures out the rest. A healthy, vibrant community and society requires an engaged citizenry who understand the importance of working toward a common good. This means that the heavy equipment operator and the lawyer are both independent learners who recognize that one’s vocation is not the end all.