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Posts Tagged ‘High school’

Who Needs College? Maybe Fewer People Than We Thought

In education on May 16, 2010 at 5:31 pm
Princeton University Alexander

Princeton. Image via Wikipedia

True/Slant writer Michael Salmonowicz writes, in favor of attending college:

Meeting different kinds of people, navigating a new environment, opening one’s mind to unfamiliar ideas and possibilities, and living away from home are just a few of the positive developments that students experience in college. I certainly understand that in a rough economy where money is tight, but should we really encourage 18-year-olds to give up on a four-year degree that could help them in myriad ways for the rest of their lives?

For him, the very idea is anathema.

I see the word “could” in his sentence and that, as someone who has taught graduates and undergraduates, gives me pause. I was underwhelmed by many of my students. Lovely people, sure. Fun, friendly. But really working hard? Determined to excel and do whatever was necessary — not just grade-grub — to get it?

Most were so busy sucking up to their profs they had no idea how to negotiate with/in the real world beyond campus, the one where you don’t wear pajamas during the day or drink yourself unconscious on weekends. I’ve seen way too much slavish thinking and book-focused learning to believe that “college degree” = prepared to compete effectively in a multi-cultural, global economy.

I also think, in a global economy where the world is wide open to those with the vision or guts to go for it — through student visas and work-study programs, and volunteer work or even just hanging out for a while with people whose jobs really interest you, if they’ll let you — one can learn a tremendous amount that is useful, life-long, far away from any college classroom. For every student whose eyes are opened and whose horizons are broadened, there are those hanging out with all the same rich kids they went to prep school with and who’ll snag them great Wall Street jobs when they all graduate.

I’m not wildly persuaded that college is so enlightening, nor that it is the best place in which to watch the world at work and find your place within it.

From The New York Times:

The idea that four years of higher education will translate into a better job, higher earnings and a happier life — a refrain sure to be repeated this month at graduation ceremonies across the country — has been pounded into the heads of schoolchildren, parents and educators. But there’s an underside to that conventional wisdom. Perhaps no more than half of those who began a four-year bachelor’s degree program in the fall of 2006 will get that degree within six years, according to the latest projections from the Department of Education. (The figures don’t include transfer students, who aren’t tracked.)

For college students who ranked among the bottom quarter of their high school classes, the numbers are even more stark: 80 percent will probably never get a bachelor’s degree or even a two-year associate’s degree.

That can be a lot of tuition to pay, without a degree to show for it.

A small but influential group of economists and educators is pushing another pathway: for some students, no college at all. It’s time, they say, to develop credible alternatives for students unlikely to be successful pursuing a higher degree, or who may not be ready to do so.

Whether everyone in college needs to be there is not a new question; the subject has been hashed out in books and dissertations for years. But the economic crisis has sharpened that focus, as financially struggling states cut aid to higher education.

It’s a question that needs asking. University education in the United States is, as most know, an extremely costly proposition, unless you’ve won a free ride or a lot of scholarship or grant money. (In my native Canada, at even the best schools — all of which are publicly funded — a year of tuition is still about $5,ooo.)

No one would argue that, for those with the emotional maturity, academic preparation and intellectual drive, college is well worth their time, as students choose or focus on a possible career choice. But blowing $25,000 or $30,000 or more, each year — a downpayment on a home, a really good car — to “find yourself” and send emails all through class? Not such a great idea.

Many people hate college. They hate sitting for hours in a classroom, listening to some boring old prof drone on and on. Or they beat their profs up for grades because they have to get into competitive graduate or professional programs because….Mom and Dad want to see a healthy return on the $100k+ plus they’ve just dropped on their schooling so law/dentistry/MBA/medicine are it, kids!

What you might really want to do? God forbid it’s blue-collar or creative — not important.

I enjoyed my time at the University of Toronto in some ways. We had tremendous teachers, a gorgeous campus, really smart fellow students, lots  of student clubs and activities. But ask many U of T grads — then as now — if they really liked it. Not so much. The school is huge (50,000+) plus and often impersonal, in itself a great prep for the “real world.” I learned, because their standards were high, to place the bar for myself a lot higher than I might have thought necessary. (I never attended graduate or professional school. I’d really had my fill by then.)

But there are people who never attend college, let alone never graduate, and thrive. Many skills are just as easily — and much more affordably — learned through an apprenticeship or internships or networking and freelancing.

In our family, award-winning and highly successful, only two of us graduated college, me and my half-brother who runs his own software company. My father, mother, step-mother and her son, now 30, all made terrific money and enjoyed international success without a college degree.

For everyone who reveres the mythology that college is the only, or the most important, place to get smarter, I think there are many more ways to spend $40,000 to $100,000 over four years and get an education — jut not a expensive, official piece of paper certifying it.

Smart Girls Get Even Smarter With Female Competition

In education, women on May 13, 2010 at 7:28 am
Japanese school uniform, Yohohama, Japan

Image via Wikipedia

Interesting story from Slate:

Two recent studies suggest that [writer Mary] Pipher’s basic observation about girls’ vulnerability to peer pressure remains true, but they emphasize that peer pressure can sometimes be a good thing. The studies examined the academic achievement of high school students and found that being surrounded by underachieving classmates has a negative effect on girls and boys—both genders feel pressure to conform to the lower standards of their peers. But the studies also show that girls are more sensitive than boys to the presence of high-achieving peers. Surround a girl with diligent classmates, and her performance will improve.

Makes sense to me.

I was lucky enough, from Grades 4 through 9, to attend a demanding, competitive all-girl school. Our teachers were ferocious, with Scottish names like Miss Brodie and Miss Brough (rhymes with tough, gruff, and never good enough), and it was clear to me — at the age of eight — I’d better be smart, or else! I studied Latin as early as Grade 7, with Zora Srepel. (How can you forget a name like that?)

I loved how scary these Himalayan expectations were, even to little girls, with the very clear message that the coolest girls were those who walked off each year with the prizes for each subject, who went off to the best universities — not those with the biggest breasts or best-looking boyfriends. We competed for grades, for recognition for our intelligence and skill.

I started winning prizes early for my writing and won the respect of my peers. Since they were smart as hell, that meant something.

When I arrived at a mediocre co-ed public high school I felt like I’d gone, which I had, from breathing the pure oxygen of the best kind of peer pressure to the sludgy smog of a shrug. Girls? If we weren’t cute or docile, we didn’t register on the radar, either teachers’, other girls or boys.

By the time I went to university, it was too late. You were, as most college kids are, on your own, just one more body in a seat. Without that early jump-start, the booster-rocket of knowing I could compete against the best, I’m not sure I would have had the success I did.

I don’t have a daughter, but if I did I’d do anything I could to keep her surrounded by high-achieving women.

I had lunch yesterday with a new friend, a woman perhaps a decade younger, who has already created two successful companies (while having two small children); her products are sold in the nation’s largest stores. Like me, she’s a a former competitive athlete, has also lived in France and hoped to work as a diplomat.

I could feel my brain revving up again in the presence of a woman who’s whip-smart, fun, driven (in a good way) — yet who was able to enjoy a three-hour lunch with me. It felt like a hit of pure oxygen.

Have you felt this effect — or seen it in your own daughter(s)?

A Nickel For Your…Sexist BS

In behavior, education, women on May 7, 2010 at 2:12 pm
Five Cents

Image by kevindooley via Flickr

Love their spirit — teens trying to de-tox their college from misogyny.

From fbomb.org:

We would like to see some change in the world.

And that’s why we have started Nickels for Change.

We go to a science and engineering school, chock full of boys who perpetuate rape culture. Rape jokes and euphemisms abound. And no one seems to find a problem with it.

Except for us.

Going to college has been a real eye-opening experience. Maybe it’s because our high school was mostly liberal or small and secluded or didn’t include a lot of diversity (actually, yeah, that’s all probably exactly why), but our high school was a nicer place. Rape jokes just didn’t happen.

Not so in college. And we’re tired of being brought down by all the negative crap in this rape-defending, victim-blaming patriarchy.

Nickels for Change is about using these negative situations and attitudes and making something positive come out of them.

Every time we hear something sexist, rape-defending, victim-blaming, or flat-out misogynistic (an also just plain prejudice – whether it be sizeist, classist, racist, disableist, or anything else), a nickel goes into Our Jars. We plan on doing this for a year. At the end of the year, the money will go to a charity that works towards ending violence.

If their college — ugh — is anything like my alma mater, the University of Toronto, the engineers have…challenged…social skills. One year (hahahahahahahaha) they painted the roof of the observatory (shaped, convex and round, like, you know) as a breast. Hahahahahahahaahahahaaha. These are the men who build our computers and bridges?  (Oh, and design oil rigs!)

I remember (how could one forget) the frat house a block south of my apartment where they’d sit in the huge bay window and hold up enormous signs rating every woman who walked past, like some demented Olympic judge. Then, (as now) hopelessly opinionated and pissed-off by their on-campus sexist BS, I wrote a letter of protest published in our campus weekly newspaper.

“Of course she’s mad!” their reply crowed in the next week’s edition: “She got a low score!”

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahah.

This shit never changes. So you might as well gird your lovely loins for battle young, before they’re too damn weary and you’re scared to lose your internship/fellowship/advisor/grant/first job/second job/raise/promotion and stop speaking out.

These young women are going to need a very large jar for those nickels.

Ladies, where do I send my check?

The 'Mighty Minority',Teen Feminists, Hungry For Role Models; Who's Yours?

In History, women on May 3, 2010 at 7:32 pm
Black & white portrait photograph of Hillary R...

Is she one? Image via Wikipedia

Here’s a cri de coeur from one of my favorite websites, Fbomb.org, written by teen feminists:

Teenage feminists are a mighty minority. You may find us in the malls, mingling amongst girls who carry bags plastered with the image of a naked torso and the word “Abercrombie.” We’re even at football games, willingly crushed between excited pubescent bodies. Maybe we’re the girls in the hoodies rolling our eyes as the cheerleaders jump around, but we are there. The fact is: we’re not always the hairy-legged girls with makeup-less faces scowling through the daily grind of the high school experience, clutching a battered copy of The Second Sex. Sometimes we are. But we’re not always that easy to spot.

Why? That image is a stereotype most feminists, let alone teenagers, don’t fit. We can be the girl at the game, the girl shaking her ass at homecoming, or even the “girl next door.” So, why can’t you recognize us? Most teenage feminists don’t even know that they are teenage feminists. How could you?

How are we supposed to identify as feminists when most of us don’t even know what a feminist looks like? Role models are important. They help us figure out who we are as we sit in a cafeteria full of people who are defined by a single word. Prep. Jock. My favorite: Slut. Role models help us figure out what we want to be rather than what everybody else has labeled us.

But who are our role models? Most teenage girls don’t know who Gloria Steinem is, or they believe that Hillary Clinton is a whiny bitch (like this winner), because that’s how the media portrays her. It’s sad but true. If these women are even on our radar at all, they’ve probably already been made unpopular by the media. And nobody wants to be unpopular at sixteen. We fear the hatred of others like our parents fear taxes.

Being Bullied Scars You For Life: My Op-Ed In USA Today

In behavior, education, women on April 7, 2010 at 5:10 pm
Cave troll as corporate bully

Yup, it feels like that. Image by kevindooley via Flickr

From USA Today:

I was the perfect target.

Like Phoebe Prince, the 15-year-old Irish teen who recently committed suicide after being bullied by her new classmates in South Hadley, Mass., I arrived as a nervous outsider. Mine was a middle-class Toronto high school; like hers, most of my new classmates had attended grade school and middle school together.

I was 14, and also new to public school, having attended a private single-sex school in grades four to nine, with a year at a private co-ed school in grades seven and 10. Boys were an alien species. I had no idea how to dress fashionably, having just spent the past six years wearing a school uniform. I had pimples. I was socially awkward.

I quickly became the brunt of merciless, relentless public bullying by a small group of boys. They nicknamed me “Doglin” — a “dog” being the most vile name, then, one could bestow on a young girl. They barked and howled at me whenever I walked through the hallways, their taunts echoing off the metal lockers and terrazzo floors. One brought in a dog biscuit and put it on my desk in class.

I was terrified and traumatized.

The rest at USA Today.

Yes, Expel Bullies! School Shouldn't Be Open Season For Their Victims

In behavior, Crime, education on April 2, 2010 at 8:30 am

In the wake of the suicide of Massachusetts high school student Phoebe Prince, school administrators whine they didn’t see much damage, that Prince was too private (likely her pride, shame, humiliation — and perhaps the naive expectation adults are observant and will act accordingly) to complain and that — gasp — actually expelling the little brutes who drove her to despair with three non-stop months of verbal abuse might suffer if told to leave the school and find somewhere else to take their toxicity.

From cnn.com:

“To our knowledge the action taken was effective in ending their involvement in any bullying of Phoebe,” he said.

Prince, who had recently moved with her family from Ireland to South Hadley, hanged herself on January 14 after enduring what Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth B. Scheibel described to reporters Monday as “a nearly three-month campaign of verbally assaultive behavior and threats of physical harm toward Phoebe, on school grounds, by several South Hadley High School students.”

Six students were named in an indictment returned by a grand jury Friday and made public Monday. In addition, Scheibel said three female students received juvenile charges, but she would not clarify if they were among the six named in the indictment.

That left even Sayer confused. “There could be as many as nine, but I believe that six” is the correct number, he said.

Though authorities did not consider that the actions or failures to act by the faculty, staff and administrators of the school amounted to criminal behavior, prosecutor Scheibel called for them to undergo training to learn to intervene more effectively in such cases.

But administrators in the school district, who oversee the education of 2,100 students in four schools, are being unfairly blamed for the death, Sayer said…

None of the six students identified in the indictment remains in school, he added.

Sayer said he supported the punishments meted out to the students.

“If they, as they have been charged, committed crimes, they should face the consequences for those crimes,” he said.

But, he added, expulsion is something educators are reluctant to countenance.

“It’s a terrible punishment because that changes their whole lives and what they are capable of doing, and they have to figure out a way to renew and complete their education.”

Expel them!

I was bullied for three years in high school. Bullying is toxic, damaging, sick behavior and those who who deny its power are lying to themselves and their consciences.

What greater “terrible punishment” could Prince’s parents face than the loss of their daughter?

What the bullies were “capable of”, quite clearly and effectively, was destroying the confidence — and the life — of a young girl in their midst. Renewing and completing their education might include learning the most basic of lessons — deliberately, publicly and consistently selecting a victim, and mentally torturing them, is unacceptable behavior.

Bullying Pushes Two More Girls To Suicide; Nine Massachusetts Students Indicted. It Must Stop!

In behavior, Crime, education on March 30, 2010 at 10:53 am

From the Daily News:

Cops are investigating whether cyberbullies contributed to the suicide of a Long Island teen with nasty messages posted online after her death.

Alexis Pilkington, 17, a West Islip soccer star, took her own life Sunday following vicious taunts on social networking sites – which persisted postmortem on Internet tribute pages, worsening the grief of her family and friends.

“Investigators are monitoring the postings and will take action if any communication is determined to be of a criminal nature,” Suffolk County Deputy Chief of Detectives Frank Stallone said yesterday.

Reports The New York Times:

It is not clear what some students at South Hadley High School expected to achieve by subjecting a freshman to the relentless taunting described by a prosecutor and classmates.

Phoebe Prince, 15, a freshman at South Hadley High School in western Massachusetts, hanged herself in January. Her family had recently moved from Ireland.

Certainly not her suicide. And certainly not the multiple felony indictments announced on Monday against several students at the Massachusetts school.

The prosecutor brought charges Monday against nine teenagers, saying their taunting and physical threats were beyond the pale and led the freshman, Phoebe Prince, to hang herself from a stairwell in January.

The charges were an unusually sharp legal response to the problem of adolescent bullying, which is increasingly conducted in cyberspace as well as in the schoolyard and has drawn growing concern from parents, educators and lawmakers.

In the uproar around the suicides of Ms. Prince, 15, and an 11-year-old boy subjected to harassment in nearby Springfield last year, the Massachusetts legislature stepped up work on an anti-bullying law that is now near passage. The law would require school staff members to report suspected incidents and principals to investigate them. It would also demand that schools teach about the dangers of bullying. Forty-one other states have anti-bullying laws of varying strength.

Maureen Downey, writing in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, asks the only important question:

For those of you who work in schools, why would administrators and teachers let this persecution go unchecked?

Research shows that bullying occurs in all schools, private and public, and that it is often unseen by adults. In an earlier blog on bullying, I cited a 2005 U.S. Department of Education report that found 14 percent of students ages 12 through 18 said they had been bullied in the past six months.

In the early grades, bullies direct their attacks at almost anyone. As they get older, they target certain kids. Bullies go after younger and smaller kids, but victims also are chosen because they are more anxious, sensitive, cautious and quiet.

Bullying is often a spectator sport, with 85 percent of  incidents involving other kids who watch the torment without stopping it. On the day of her suicide, Phoebe was abused her in the school library, the lunchroom and the hallways, according to the charges. Classmates threw a canned drink at her as she walked home, where her sister found her hanging from a stairwell at 4:30 p.m.

While Phoebe’s bullies used texting and social networking sites to harass her, the prosecutor said most of the bullying occurred on school grounds during school hours.

Like Phoebe, I arrived at my school into a group of 15-year-olds; I was 14, a year ahead. Like her, I came into a tightly-knit crowd of kids who had known one another for decades and from a foreign country. I’d been living in Mexico, (she in her native Ireland).

I was awkward, had acne, had just suffered a serious crisis within my family so wasn’t bouncy and cute and outgoing and conventional.

Perfect target.

I was mercilessly, relentlessly, daily and publicly bullied in Grades 10, 11 and 12 at my middle-class Toronto high school. I was nicknamed Doglin, had a gang of three or four boys barking at me down the hallways, had a dog biscuit laid on my desk in class, had my “nickname” shouted whenever it suited them. Teachers saw and heard. And did nothing.

I finally lost it in Grade 12 math class, as one of them, a stream of insults babbling out of his mouth sotto voce like some toxic soundtrack it was impossible to escape or shut off, hit my last frayed nerve. I’d already been going to see a therapist for years, who wanted to medicate me to relieve my (very real) anxiety. I had friends. I had a few teachers who treated me with great kindness and affection. But, short of changing schools (I’d already attended five by Grade 10), there was no relief to be had.

Our textbook that year was thick, weighing maybe two or three pounds, and I used it to whack the back of his head as hard as I could. God, that felt good!

The teacher, fully aware of the drama, quietly suggested I move to another seat.

Being bullied is one of the worst forms of torture. Unless you (as my partner also knows from his own childhood) or your kids have been through it, it looks harmless. The victim is always blown off, mildly advised to just ignore it, suck it up, walk away.

And if it were physical assault? Rape?

My parents were helpless and frustrated. This waking nightmare left me with a deep and abiding mistrust of “authority”  — since no one who had any did a thing to help or protect me. To this day, to my embarrassment, I can be extremely thin-skinned even in the face of the most loving teasing.

It must stop. School authorities, whether teachers or administrators, should be criminally liable.

Their Ship Sunk 300 Nautical Miles Off The Coast Of Brazil, 48 Teens Safely Rescued

In education on February 22, 2010 at 10:25 pm
A tall ship in New York Harbor Apparently at t...

Image via Wikipedia

Terrifying ordeal for a group of 48 high school students and their 16 teachers when their sailing ship, Concordia, suddenly sank off the coast of Brazil.

From The Canadian Press:

The ship’s captain, William Curry, has said although the Concordia’s crew had prepared the day before for what they anticipated would be rough weather, the ship suddenly keeled.

When it keeled again the ship’s sails were exposed to the powerful wind and within 15 seconds the boat was lying on its side and began to sink. The captain said it slipped beneath the waves 30 minutes later.

Reports the Toronto Star:

The rafts were the worst part.

Tattered and torn from a frantic escape, the inflatable remnants of the S.V. Concordia were salt baths, filled with vomit, human excrement, and people.

“You do what you can. We were together, and alive,” 16-year-old Sam Palonek said of the 40 hours she floated in the Atlantic. “We just sang to keep our spirits up, keep us laughing. It was the most important thing.”

Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing,” Disney medleys. Even “Happy Birthday” was trotted out for a boy celebrating the occasion in a nearby raft.

“We started singing “American Pie,” but we got to the line, ‘That’ll be the day that I die,’” she said. “We axed that.”

The Globe and Mail reported:

It was, for most of them, the trip of a lifetime, sailing around the world, keeping up with their math and biology in between. The Concordia is a sturdy, steel-hulled tall ship, stretching 188 feet with three masts and 15 sails. It was built in 1992, specifically to become a floating high school. It had set sail on Feb. 8 from Recife on Brazil’s northwest coast bound for Montevideo, Uruguay, with a mix of mostly Canadian students continuing on from September and about a dozen who were just starting out on a trip with the Class Afloat program.

Tuition wasn’t cheap – about $40,000 for the year – but this was no five-star voyage, as one parent explained Friday. The students attended classes during the day, slept in close quarters and were expected to swab decks and share night-watch duty, and the fire checks and sail manoeuvres that this entails.

“This is the life of a sailor,” one student recounted earlier this month in a post to the web. “It is tiresome, stressful, difficult and unconventional, but it is fulfilling beyond belief.” And certainly an adventure, travelling to ports like Singapore and Egypt and Malta, no sailing experience required.


Newspaper Misstates Charges Against Teacher — Who Commits Suicide

In Media on October 5, 2009 at 2:48 pm
One Yonge Street - Current newspaper offices

Image via Wikipedia

It is every writer and editor’s worst nightmare to make an error, but one that may have pushed the person named in the story to suicide?

Today the Toronto Star is dealing with having gotten it wrong and what role, if any, their story played in this tragedy. After his photo and name were published, David Dewees, 32, lay down on the subway tracks Saturday and waited for the train that killed him.

(The Washington Post wrote last week about the trauma this creates for train drivers.)

The editor of the Toronto Star, which mistakenly printed the news last week that this Toronto high school teacher had been charged with assaulting 13-year-olds, Michael Cooke, is a man I’ve worked with twice in my career, at the Montreal Gazette and New York Daily News. He arrived to run the Star last year after being the top editor at the Chicago Sun-Times. (disclosure: I freelance occasionally for the Star.) Whatever happened in the newsroom, I know Cooke as a decent man and I am horrified on many fronts by this.

A good friend of mine teaches at the high school where Dewees worked. In too many ways, this is a story that hits home.

And, in the sort of irony any thinking editor equally dreads, here’s the Star’s first award to top teachers, a new feature they recently began.

Teens Gone Mad — He Killed Her Rival, At His Girlfriend's Request

In Crime on September 30, 2009 at 7:21 am
girl fight

Image by mahalie via Flickr

There are true stories that chill your blood, that make you wonder how such things are possible and in your home city, a place not known for this sort of evil. David Bagshaw, sentenced to life in prison for killing Stefanie Rengel on the orders of his jealous girlfriend, redefines the sickest form of obedience. He was so young he could only be identified as D.B. until his sentencing.

He was sentenced for killing his girlfriend’s imagined teen rival – a girl he had never even met, the daughter of two policemen, whom he stabbed to death on a residential Toronto sidewalk on New Year’s Day. The case has horrified Toronto and me, who grew up and went to high school there. I once covered a trial there whose details remain with me still, more than 20 years later — of a teen boy who sat eating his dinner off a TV tray in the basement of his home while his friend beat a young man to death in front of him. Then they cut off his arms and legs and stuck him in a freezer, which, bloodstained, was wheeled into the courtroom. You can’t forget things like that, no matter how much you want to.

In both cases, all of these kids are white, from middle-class families. They did not grow up marinated in violence. bullets whizzing past their ears in a terrifying ghetto.

What made this young girl so sick? Why did this young man become so depraved? What’s going on here?

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