Thursday, January 8, 2009

When the academic world and the real world meet

I saw this article over at the NEA journal. (click here for the full PDF)

Having recently visited my dad, a person who is very intelligent but, who like the dad in the article, didn't go to college (heck my dad didn't even go to middle school). This story reminded me of a conversation I had with him about his work and salary versus mine (i.e. being the same) despite my education.

I've heard a lot of banter over at blogs like the brazen careerist about not learning concrete skills in college. My undergrad experience has been more of a "learn how to think" lesson. Learn to be critical, and analytical, and calculating, and have that rounded learning that everyone covets. When I first graduated I felt like the early-20-somethings on brazen careerist, like my college education was almost a waste of time because I did not learn concrete skills.

I kinda learned java, and kinda learned C, but I wouldn't be readily employable by a company. In recent years though my undergraduate education has surfaced many, many, times in the oddest of places! Those computer science classes that I thought were useless are actually useful. The only thing that I wish I had was a required internship.

In the article we see some advocacy for required internships, or hands-on learning where when you graduate you don't only have theoretical skills, but also have employable skills. A mix of academic and vocational training is a good thing.




Excerpt:
My father was born in 1911. Like many from that era, he left formal education before completing grade school and went to work helping support his family. He never learned to read well. When I was a child, it was my father’s Sunday morning ritual to gather his kids around him on the sofa and read us the comics from the just delivered Milwaukee Journal. It was an act of love for his children, but by the time I was in third grade, I could read the “funnies” more quickly than my father. I am certain he would have failed any exam I have ever given to my students.

But my father was an excellent automotive mechanic who owned and operated
a Ford-Mercury dealership for over 40 years, and owned and operated the
school buses in my small central Wisconsin hometown for nearly 30 years.
Between both businesses he typically had 30 to 40 full- and part-time employees.
He was one of a handful of individuals instrumental in building the first hospital
in our community, was president of the hospital board for many years, served locally
as president of the Chamber of Commerce, and statewide as chairman of the
Wisconsin School Bus Owners Association. He made considerably more money
than I do as a teacher, but he worked far more hours, and year-round.

An accomplished and intelligent human being, my father lacked the sophistication
that comes with higher education. His abilities would have appeared marginal
by most of the measurements used in academic assessment. Those who worked with him knew better of course, but the point is that our concepts of what
it means to be educated or intelligent are often inadequate. Just as important, my
father’s abilities would have meant nothing had they not been supported by his
attitudes—his deep humility, simple approach to life, and unwavering commitment
to those around him.

I tell this story because it relates to the students I now teach and to issues I
believe need to be addressed. To better understand this, it might be helpful to tell
the story of my own journey through the educational system. It would probably
not be noteworthy, except that I hear variations of it from many of my students.
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