To the Editor:
Kudos to Mel J. Riddile, a voice of sanity in the rush to put every child on the path to college (“ ‘College for All’ Is Making Me a Bit Nervous,” Commentary, Diplomas Count, June 11, 2009). It is clear that he is a man who has worked with flesh-and-blood children, who respects them as individuals, and who understands that one size will never fit all in education.
I understand the power of schooling, knowing firsthand how it can catapult a young person from the working poor to the middle class. But after teaching youngsters for 30 years, I also know that for many children, academics represent something between an aggravation and misery. They may be drawn to the arts, the trades, or athletics. College may not be the best place for them to develop their interests, knowledge, and skills.
I recently had some work done around my house. Of the four craftsmen and -women who created the beautiful stone walls and gardens, there was not a single college attendee or graduate among them. In fact, upon questioning, they all confessed that they found school to be just a notch below torture. Despite that, they were involved in complex work, earning a good living, and making the world a better place by dint of their efforts and expertise.
Rather than force every child onto the academic route, wouldn’t it be preferable to follow the advice of Mr. Riddile and create multiple pathways to success? Such an approach would lead to far better outcomes than one that insists on college as the only way to become a productive adult in the 21st century.
A version of this article appeared in the July 15, 2009 edition of Education Week as When ‘College for All’ Is Not Working for All