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I will never forget the shift in his expression when he realized I was right.As a barber, he would inherently also be a writer, but few people, if any, had ever taken the time to acknowledge his interests and suit assignments to his needs.The university president explained that the young man had little promise for attending college because of his circumstances.But through the dual-credit program, he was able to gain college credit while still in high school, which gave him the confidence to seek an associate’s degree in agriculture and return home to work on his family farm.I would feel a bit better if he wanted to be a teacher, or photographer, or engineer, and that’s why he went to college, but he didn’t.He went to learn something he probably already knew, but chances are no one had ever validated his expertise, and no one had ever found a way for his secondary education to be integrated into the work he loved.I listened as she proudly told this young man’s story and the audience cheered for both of them, and all I could think was: What an extraordinary waste of time.It may be shocking for a veteran high-school teacher to feel that a student gaining any kind of degree is a waste of time, but considering that 44 percent of recent college graduates are underemployed, and many employers such as Deloitte are now completely ditching college degrees as a requirement altogether, it is becoming increasingly difficult to sell the same old story—working hard to make good grades to go to college to get a good job—to millennials.
She told the story of one teenager who lived in a rural area and worked full time on his family’s farm in addition to attending high school.
So that’s exactly what my dad did: He dropped out, joined the army, and, years of sweat and toil later, he continues to work as a carpenter today. But he will be the first to say that he wishes he had gone to college and that going to college would have made his life easier overall.
Maybe it would have, but I wonder what would have happened if rather than telling my dad that there was nothing left for him in traditional education, his educators had recognized his passion and his individual needs as a learner, and offered him options beyond dropping out, the military, and college.
I believe students should hear the whole story and more than one traditional path should be laid out before them.
While in high school in the late ‘70s, my dad took every shop class his school offered.
He told me he would never write a day in his life after he crossed the stage at graduation.