Student Achievement Opinion

Don’t We Want All Students to Graduate?

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — June 02, 2015 4 min read
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Sunday Morning on The McLaughlin Group, the question was raised “What can be done to make college more affordable?” Commentators responded with their thoughts. Here are Pat Buchanan’s:

Look, not every American kid is qualified to complete high school work if you’re talking about algebra and math and reading Shakespeare in your senior year. And not every kid is qualified to go to college and there’s a lot of jobs out there, there were trade jobs and blue collar jobs and construction jobs.

When I was growing up, kids left high schools. They got these jobs. They were married. They had homes by the time they are 26 years old. But now, everybody is being forced into college -

Students are cast into lots, those who will go on and those who will not, like the tortoise and the hare maybe. A limiting mindset. An intelligent author and columnist, Buchanan revealed in his answer that he would never be able to work in a public school system, and that he best not report about it. Yet, he represents the thinking that what worked in the past can work today and is fine for tomorrow as well.

But, as in all things, there is a partial truth. Back in the day when he was 20 years old, not everyone did finish high school and in that economy they may have found jobs and raised families....who would, hopefully, have finished high school and maybe attended college. If we were to accept that “not every American kid is qualified to complete high school work” we would be stepping back...into a time that no longer exists. We have often wondered when we hear messages like his, who determines those who will rise up and go to college. Who makes the cut and who gets left behind?

We believe in each child. We have to believe enough in ourselves, as educators, that we can reach each one, excite them about learning and make room for the success of each and every one. There will be a few whose paths won’t end that way but that does not change our goal.

We have written before about the role of expectations of teachers and leaders on the success of students. Research supports this concept. What we think of someone affects how we interact with those about whom we hold that thought. From that post:

Robert Rosenthal, along with school principal Lenore Jacobson, conducted an experiment to see if teachers’ expectations could affect students intellectual performance. Students were all tested at beginning of the experiment. Then, names of students were randomly taken from a hat. Teachers were told which students were ‘alleged’ to have historically shown intellectual gains. And, in short, those students actually showed intellectual gains...more than the children about whom nothing in particular had been said at the outset. They found that students actually “got smarter” when they were expected to get smarter by their teachers.

We reprint it because it is worth repeating. What we expect, what we believe, makes a difference. Our mindset matters. We do not have the right to pigeonhole children by not believing in their ability to learn better tomorrow than today. We do not have the right to stop trying to figure out how to engage more students and help them be more successful. We do not have the right to determine, as Buchanan is willing to do, that “there were trade jobs and blue collar jobs and construction jobs” out there and that’s good enough for some. And, we don’t have the right to let that mean those working in those careers do not benefit from and deserve a high school diploma and/or a college degree. Actually, given our democracy, we argue that the better educated all are the better our form of government works....do you disagree Mr. Buchanan?

Learning involves thinking. Thinking and knowing are essential in life as well as in any career. Those workers Mr. Buchanan referred to are also voters, taxpayers, parents, and community members and church leaders. How do they not need a high school diploma or college degree?

If this educated author, columnist and former seeker of the Republican nomination for the President of the United States thinks this about our students, who else does? While some are vocal about expectations for all students, who among us thinks, clandestinely, like Mr. Buchanan? Are there teachers and leaders who do? We hope not.

As we advocate for 21st century schools, engaging all students, school/business partnerships, project and problem based learning, and successful pathways for all students, are we even sure everyone in our school organizations and the accompanying public understands and agrees with what we are trying to do?

Finding out what everyone believes, and being sure everyone understands our challenges and the paths we are taking to educate all students to be college and career ready, is a beginning. We cannot assume the public knows what we are working toward or why. The shame and the wonder of the statement made by Mr. Buchanan lies in his mindset; it is limiting. Revisiting Carol Dweck’s work on “Mindset” informs the work needed in each school and community. Our job is never done when it comes to educating the public, educating each other, and educating the students in our charge. Mr. Buchanan did a good job of reminding us of that fact.

Dweck, C.S. (2008). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Ballentine Books

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.