Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Definition By Counselor

Again,in rapid succession, here is another post long overdue.

“Choice and freedom of choice is the true basis of our society. Career choices, however, are something we are forced into as mere children. Very early in our lives we are urged, coerced, and forced into forging the ideals we are expected to carry throughout our lives. As young men and women we are made to decide the breadth and width of our existence here on earth. We are given tests and guided this way or that. Certain traits may or may not be cultivated depending on the perception of those in the education system we came through. At any rate it is difficult, at best, to make such a monumental decision at any age besides at such a young, immature, inexperienced stage of life. Many spend the remainder of their lives trying to fulfill this expectation of grandeur and splendid sweet satisfaction derived from their career.”

My issue then is with the high school counselor. All teachers have a certain power of influence by which they can shape the young mind of their students with information, coaching, and guidance. The “guidance counselor,” however, has power beyond this. They have the power to push, persuade, or even just channel young students through the educational system as they see fit. “This one is not very smart; he’ll go to the vocational classes.” “He’s very personable; we’ll put him in the academic classes.” “I don’t understand her; she’ll go in the arts.” “There’s no room, you’ll just have to take band instead.”

The latter may be more a logistical problem and that’s a separate issue altogether. My point is that through one persons perception of an adolescent mind, that mind is then either given the chance to reach its potential and blossom or told that it’s worth is inferior and shouldn’t strive to become more than it’s been classified as.

I witnessed this as I was classified as a “vocational” student and steered in that direction, as so many are. I suppose there is only so much room in the “academic” classes. Several of my classmates in these “voc. ed.” classes, myself included, were much more intelligent than given credit for. Now let me be very clear on this, I am not putting down the vocations what so ever. Any vocation is a noble pursuit and I have nothing but respect for the apprentice and journeyman of any trade. My point is in the unjustness of being heaped in and not given the opportunity for more education. I know that several of my classmates, including myself, would have liked the opportunity to explore literature, language, physics, chemistry, political science, economics, and such.

I remember high school orientation when I was in the 8th grade. I remember the counselors coming over to the middle school and explaining how it was gonna work with all the different classes and I get to choose which classes I want. “Wait…. I get to choose?! Any class?” I remember that realization that I can have any classes I want. (My questions at this point are many but let me further illustrate.) My friends and I were talking, “I hate school, I’m gonna take the easiest ones I can.” “Yeah, me too.” And I did. I took all the easiest classes available; Basic English, Remedial Math, Beginning Science, Study Hall, and Shop. (There were only five class blocks at the time.) These are the classes I actually ended up taking my freshman year.

Now, we were given tests in all the major areas. I was not a slow learner, I was not unintelligent, I was not impaired in anyway other than I thought I was gonna play the system. How is it then that I was allowed to take such basic classes which I had no business being in? I had already taken and easily passed these English, Math, and Science classes. My problem here is twofold. How do you let a pre-teen to young teen decide his own level of development without guidance? How, then also, do you let that decision through when it is obviously incorrect? Low-balled. One would be remiss not to step in at that point and make the decision for them. I obviously passed these classes without trial. What I didn’t realize the year before was that in making the decision I had, I was locking myself into a stunted progression of education.

My sophomore year I took the next classes in proper progression from those of the year prior. As I sat in my Algebra I class, which I had already taken in 8th grade, I realized that I wasn’t going to have enough time to take all the classes I wanted to. I was going to come up short because of that ill fated decision I made two years ago now to take remedial math! At the end of my sophomore year I went to my new counselor, who was also a math teacher, though not mine, and explained the situation. My counselor, who had just been assigned to me, was also my study hall teacher, as study hall at this point was a mandatory class. The teachers used this time for paper grading, lesson planing, and whatever other business they needed to conduct not involving the students in that class at that time. They were basically baby sitters, there only to make sure the students stay in line, quiet, and un-disruptive. Other than that it didn’t matter what you did in “study hall.” So you see, my counselor did not know me on a one-to-one basis. She obviously knew of me and perhaps had formed some impression of me, but to what extent I am unaware. When I explained the situation to her I requested that I be allowed to take two math credits the following year to make up the lost ground. I would take Algebra II and Geometry. This would set me up to take trigonometry my senior year and then I would only be one level behind instead of two. She said no. Flat. She said it would be to difficult for me to take both in one year. She said I couldn’t handle it.

Now hold on… You have a student wanting to better himself. You have a student coming to you saying, “I can do it if you give me a chance. I will study, I will work hard.” How do you just tell him no? I explained to her that I already had an understanding of geometry as I had just taken Mechanical Drafting and Blueprint reading. I would do what ever necessary to pass both classes I would work hard and study. She would not even entertain the idea. There was no discussion. She got angry at me for not letting go. She actually yelled at me for not listening to her and threatened me with insubordination for not accepting her close-mindedness forthwith. (Later I had to drop an Elctro-Mechanical-Technoligies class because I didn’t have the trigonometry knowledge required for digital electronics.)

She taught me a lesson, a lesson not forgotten for the rest of my high school career. I went on through high school not applying myself, not studying much, and just getting by. Why try to better yourself? Just be content with your station. There’s no use in trying. And so went my very average high school scholastics.

Let’s back up a bit for a moment and discuss another issue altogether. At the beginning of my sophomore year we had “career day.” We were given some aptitude test whose results suggested possible professions and careers for us. Following the test we talked with our counselor and that day, without warning, we were to decide which of the suggestions the test gave we most would like to pursue. The decision was noted and used in scheduling our classes from then on, which I only found out to be the case latter. My choices were Cop, Truck Driver, or Electrician. Now first off, we as students took this whole test as a joke. We weren’t being graded for it right? The significance was not explained to us. We didn’t know this was a tool they were using to place us. We thought it was just for fun, just suggestions. My counselor asked me which one I liked best. I chose electrician, though it was close between cop and electrician. (I later regretted this choice and wished I had chose cop. Having to drop the electronics class due to the lack of trigonometry knowledge being a good part of that regret.) This categorization and funneling through the educational system is flawed at best. Forcing such a huge choice from such an immature child is inappropriate at best. The choice will always be whichever one seems most appealing at the time given the standards of the child.

Lastly I have a problem with college prep. My junior year my counselor was changed, yet again, to some guy I had never heard of. He wasn’t a teacher, he was solely a counselor. I never met him, talked to him, or even saw him. Senior year when it was time to start talking college, we all took our turns throughout the day and went to the counselors office. He didn’t present me with any information. He didn’t present me with any options. He simply asked me if I wanted to go to college and if I did, which one? Quite frankly I had never even thought about it. My family was fairly poor and I knew we couldn’t afford it. I didn’t know about grants and loans and such things available. My answer to him was that I probably wouldn’t go to college. This satisfied him apparently. He gave me a pamphlet to the local community college and sent me on my way. Never inquiring any further.

What type of negligence is this? How do you not comprehensively explain to every single student the options of schools and methods of paying for them? How can you simply accept from a 17 year old kid, who may or may not have all the requisite info, the decision to simply not get any further education? I don’t understand how you don’t try to persuade them to continue their education. Especially when it’s your job to do just that. You see, to me high school counselors are suspect.

Now I understand the need for an early start in some areas for a successful career in that field. But I maintain that high school is the time for a good general education, not a specialized one. High school should provide a good base of knowledge in all areas, thus giving equal opportunity to pursue higher education in any direction and leading to a more rounded individual. This general education should then be “supplemented” with the special programs available to diversify into specific fields. These programs should be made known, and available, to all students who wish to apply. Not just those who tested into those areas. A good base of knowledge in Mathematics, English, and the Sciences will put the individual in a good position to make the decision of a career choice when they are better suited to do so. Without having forced, coerced, steered, or suggested them into any such career or vocation. High schools should strive to expose all students to as many possibilities as possible without pushing any one on them.

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