Decade after decade, election after election, candidates pledge to make our educational system No. 1 among nations.
The promises continue unabated, but the results continue to be deplorable. We rank approximately 23rd in science and 25th in math. Our system is in great need of overhaul.
Why is our high school graduation rate so appalling? Increasing South Carolina's graduation rate from 70 percent to 90 percent has been discussed. That's an admirable goal, but great change in the schooling process must happen. Study after study has shown that the biggest reason students don't learn is that they see no benefit or reason to learn. Putting it bluntly, they are bored.
When we look at the college level, things are equally bad. More than 50 percent of recent four-year college graduates were not able to find jobs. Yet more than 90 percent of the technical and community college graduates were successful in getting valuable employment. A recent Time-Carnegie Corp. survey reported that 83 percent of the general population and 50 percent of college leaders think there is too much of a disconnect between the courses offered and students' career goals.
To revamp the system, we must first go back and ask what is the purpose of schooling? The answer lies in our professional approach to the educational process. We continue to teach our youth as if they are vessels to fill with facts generally unrelated to their future and the world in which they live. Educators must stop being content disseminators. How many adults choose to learn things that have little relevance or meaning to their lives? Why do we think our students are any different?
How can teachers and parents seriously ask our young people at any age, especially in 11th or 12th grade, what they want to be someday if we have not made a concerted effort to help them understand their options.
College is not a goal; it is a process. The goal could be to be an engineer, a doctor, a lawyer, nurse or teacher. Only if they and we know their goals can we help them plan their path and process. Are there any young people you know who won't someday need to be productive individuals capable of earning a living? It is every educator's responsibility to help students see a connection between what they are being asked to learn and their career goals.
Here are a few suggestions that will help young people see benefit, connection and meaning in learning and therefore become more motivated:
Students should be asked, especially in the lower grades, what their family members do to support their families. In this way they can begin to see the connections and benefits in learning. Educators have been using individual education plans for special education students. Just think if we were to use career education plans for each student. What effect would that have on motivating a student to see the connection and benefit to learning?
The experts have been telling us for years that students must see relevancy, connection and benefit for what they are being asked to learn. Goal 3 of the "Educate America Act 2000" stated, "The purpose of education is to prepare students for citizenship, further learning and productive employment."
Former South Carolina superintendent Inez Tenenbaum said, "The more students see the connection between schooling and their future, the better they will learn."
It is time we began asking school boards and all educators to provide schooling processes that prepare students to be lifelong learners and productive citizens. How much longer can we keep alive this separation between education and the world of work?
James Hoerner is professor emeritus from Virginia Tech. He earned his doctorate at The Ohio State University and served as a teacher educator at eight universities, including the University of California, Berkeley, University of Miami, University of Hawaii and Wolverhampton Polytechnic University in the United Kingdom. He is lead author of "Work Based Learning: the Key to School-to-Work Transition" (1995).