By DR. JEFFREY L. MITCHELL
What do you hold sacred about your children’s education? Of course, it varies among parents. But are there commonalities regarding what parents hold in high regard?
Throughout the 2018-2019 school year, based on my experience as an educator and parent, I’ll explore what I believe are critical features of a quality educational experience. I’ll cut a large swath across the educational landscape, in the exploration of what I think are the essential features of a quality education.
The previous eight articles in this series have focused on:
- Care / connection
- Optimal conditions for learning
- Great teachers
- Valuing differences
This ninth and final article speaks to the outcomes parents expect from their children’s education.
We all want “successful” outcomes from our children’s education. Depending on the context “success” might mean graduating high school against mighty odds, to being properly prepared for an elite college.
Applying a purely transactional approach, outcomes are a reasonable expectation. After all, we all are stakeholders of sorts via the payment of taxes that fund the educational system. It is even more transactional for parents in private schools. Recent scandals notwithstanding…money (i.e., tuition, fees, donations) is remitted to schools and via their value proposition, schools make claims and hopefully meet parents’ expectations.
Foundationally, parents expect a good solid liberal arts education…a curriculum that solidifies the three R’s and surveys a broad spectrum of knowledge, preparing their children for access to college and the workplace. Sounds basic, but we still hear about high school graduates of typical intellectual ability who graduate without a solid liberal arts foundation.
The great news is that the graduation rate from high school is at an all-time high of 84 percent. And the percentage of graduates who go straight to college at 70 percent is also an all-time high. These statistics, however, also bring to light a vulnerability I have noticed in the education system.
Finding the right college is almost as important as going to a college. In terms of nuts and bolts outcomes of American parents, attending college, moreover the “right” college, is very high on the list. The resources, however, allocated to college guidance, even in the most resourced schools are usually scarce. If ever there was a place to manageably deliver on a hard outcome that would be well-received by parents across the country, it would be to better resource college guidance.
I noted above that 70 percent of graduates go straight to college but one in five leave college before graduation. Bringing the college graduation rate of high school graduates closer to 50 percent1. In the voluminous research (e.g.,Why do so many students drop out of college? And what can be done about it?) conducted on the topic, often the lack of softer skills are highlighted.
Presented below are a few examples of so-called softer skills. Not “softer” because they are weaker or less important, softer because they are more difficult to quantify as outcomes.
As much, and more, parents might think about how well we educate students for these softer skills.
For example, being taught how to think versus what to think. How to think “travels” much better than what to think. How to think leaves you open to the complexities that surround our most perplexing issues and leaves you open to change in the light of reason and basic moral principles — when one is only taught what to think you tend not to stray from where you were when you were first told what to think.
At Currey Ingram Academy, we value “soft” outcomes such as grit, advocacy, service, leadership and humility — as much, or more, than grades, wins and college placement. Educating students towards these outcomes is baked into our culture. It happens over time, often imperceptible, but always present. Like the power of a great book, the magic happens between the lines. It’s not the mechanical reading of the words, it is what happens when you interact with the words.
The power of softer skills rests with their transferability. They do not prepare you for one class or a particular job, they prepare for any class and any job; not to mention all the challenges the winds of life can blow your way.
“Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.” — Wilma Rudolph
The greatest thing that could happen to humanity is to have a society, including our education system, that maximizes the potential of every person. What an outcome this would be!
Thank you for reading.
Although it is true that a healthy proportion of initial college dropouts eventually return and receive a
(Dr. Jeffrey L. Mitchell is Head of School of Currey Ingram Academy.)