Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Long Con

In preparation for parenting, I played out a few scenarios in my head before having to experience them in the fullness of time. I am still waiting for the call from the local constabulary to pick up one of my offspring from temporary confinement. I've got a great line for that occasion... and I know that Mom has no witty comeback prepared - so I dearly hope that my number is first on their speed dial...I stand ready.

One of those moments which requires forethought is the first evening when your son or daughter brings home their report card. How should one react? Should you make a big deal of the event or brush it off as insignificant? Over a decade of such reports coming home I have chosen a consistent path; I only look at one item on the report and I give praise and encouragement based on that single number which typically appears towards the top the document. Days Absent.

In a world where 90% of your success is determined by "showing up"; I remark on their progress in this key metric. "Mackenzie, I see that there are 10 absences on this terms report".... "Yes, well you see father I had cholera for a week and was asked by my school to spend 5 days in Bora Bora swimming with the dolphins"..."Sorry kid, I don't care, 10 days away is 10 days away... we are what we do repeatedly, better luck next term" ... My nonsensical approach to school reports has become a tradition in our house much like pumpkin pie at Halloween or filling out an NCAA bracket in the first week in March; there is comfort in continuity.

But for me it also serves a more symbolic purpose; your ability to attend and persist is far more important than your score on a few arbitrary assessments. A's are fascist and C's likely mean you were challenged but either way they are not worthy of loosing your cheese over.

The assessment dance was reprised just last week with my son coming home sheepishly with a report full of A's and B's and more importantly only 2 Days Absent!; Yet he declared that his friends who had snuck a peek at his report card worried about what might happen to him when he got home, as his first term, grade 11, B's were going to limit him from attending University. For a moment, I sensed that Malcolm may have felt that my obsession with attendance at the exclusion of all other indices may have been shortsighted. I had to assure him that it was not.

Even a cursory analysis of the shrinking global demographic trends leads to the logical assumption that the million square feet of post secondary real estate in Baltimore is more likely to be a barren wasteland in the near future and colleges will have to become creative marketeers in order to keep classes full. In the world of supply and demand today's students should be asking for free haircuts every Thursday in their enrolment contracts and if you can't get it at Morgan State there will be someone at Johns Hopkins with an enrolment quota to fill and a sharp pair of shears at the ready.

Yet this obvious fact appears lost on all those that perpetuate the misery that education has become for so many adolescents. We herd these teenagers like early morning cattle, exposing them to a creativity sucking curricula and an archaically inflexible schedule and we wonder why they act strange. All the while we perpetuate the myth that college life will elude their grasp if they do not participate and if they fail they can expect a life of loneliness, searching for answers, wondering what might have been. Believe me it will be there, if indeed - you want it.

The collusive conspiracy that is education is boggling. It involves parents, teachers, administrators and from what I can gather.... planet earth. The result is a treadmill to nowhere that has left adolescents broken, disillusioned and defeated by age 17, instead of strong, confident and invincible. But hey it was good enough for my generation so it's good enough for you...

I am convinced that there is a day of reckoning coming for higher education when Gen Y parents (an overall sensible and thoughtful group) don't let their children play this harmful and divisive game. You can develop skills anywhere / anytime so the con will be exposed, it's only a matter of time. But I have to hand it to the Danny Ocean like confidence man that hatched the conspiracy and launched a kazillion dollar industry. The size of the sector makes education too big to fail and it's associated myth that the only way to gain competency is through the privilege of spending every Tuesday afternoon with a grey haired Calculus teacher is flawed but difficult to shake. Still, disruptive innovation is coming and if it can happen to the music industry higher education is not immune. Open Universities, and alternate pathways to accredited studies are on the way. Have faith.

But beyond that, I would simply like the world to re-frame the entire issue of adolescence. From age 12 to 24, there is a tremendous opportunity to tap into the worlds greatest unused source of humanistic exuberance. Put it to use! Under-estimate it at your peril! Stop playing this ridiculous con game that calls for mid semester grades and mandatory logarithms. You are exploiting human frailty to fill your coffers or raise your ego. And while you can fool most of the people most of the time, their is a new wave of wonderful young men and women; in fact they are the best collection of generational talent I have ever seen, and they are about to call your bluff. So for those of you who perpetuate the current education paradigm, wake up to the new enlightenment, cut your losses and stand aside, cuz that house of cards you've been hiding in at night, it's coming down.

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