John Young
Special to the Daily

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May 7, 2014
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Young: You’re 13; so decide already

CBS’s unsung “Trophy Wife” is one of few sitcoms true to its “com.” In part, this is because it allows the children in its cast to be childish.

In one episode, gangly teen Warren, prodded to try out for a sport, announces he’s achieved “Jackie Robinson” status by joining the girls’ field hockey team.

After a single practice he pronounces, “I’ve found the thing I want to do with the rest of my life.”

In Texas, I guess they would say, “Well, thanks for choosing your career path.”

Actually, however, Warren would be choosing too late. Texas wants students making career decisions by eighth grade. Warren is in high school, for goodness sakes: way after life’s alternatives are exhausted.

A new policy, part of Texas HB 5, requires eighth-graders, by the end of this school year, to choose one of five tracks for study — STEM (science, technology, engineering, math); business and industry; public service; arts and humanities; and something called multidisciplinary studies.

Before expressing reservations, let me say that a few reforms in HB 5 were good. Principally, it reduced the number of standardized tests Texas is giving.

Now for those reservations.

A long time ago I resolved never to forget what it’s like to be a teenager. Since that vow was made, raising two teens meant I’d need no reminding.

Having post-adolescents declare fidelity to any pursuit that has more than a Gummi Worm’s shelf life is, well ... look up “dubious.”

We know a lifetime commitment is not Texas’ intent — but tell that to a 13-year-old.

The New York Times reports that quite a few Texas eighth-graders have been stressing out about this decision.

This carries the brand of the unnecessary duress depicted in the documentary Race to Nowhere, about the ravages of high-stakes mandates and tests, tests, tests. One of its sad stories is of a 13-year-old who committed suicide after failing an algebra test.

This declare-by-eighth-grade matter reminds me of a friend whose occupation took him to Japan, but whose heart remained in the American public school system that helped make him what he is.

He was alarmed by the regimentation of Japanese schools, with students tracked into careers and tiers. When he and his Japanese wife had a son, they resolved to have him receive an American — or at least a Western — education. They helped start an international school, heavy on creativity, inspiration, individuality, and everything that industry-driven Japanese schools were not.

On one hand, I can imagine that Texas’ new initiative might have benefits in breaking the long-time fixation on one-size-fits-all approaches, heavy on core requirements.

On the other, I see it as extending one of the most debilitating aspects of “accountability” — the quest to reduce education to training.

This, of course, is driven by and modeled after the influence which drives every impulse in most state capitols — big business.

There should be room in a K-12 education for training — the machine shop experience, the auto mechanics experience, the computer graphics experience.

Then again, one of the worst things that has happened under “accountability” has been for policy makers to so fixate on and mandate requirements as to deprive high schoolers of the electives that so spice the high school experience.

Repeat after me: Training is for employers and employees. Education is much more.

For one, parents should worry about whether students who choose STEM will be shorted on discussions about citizenship, and whether those who choose arts and humanities will be shorted on science.

Pardon me for observing that this approach sounds like taking the short-cut to the assembly line. Bring your lunch bucket.

I vote for taking the long way, the way that truly educates.

Then, when our Warren makes choices, they will be the kind that last.

Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.


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The Summit Daily Updated May 8, 2014 01:19PM Published May 7, 2014 08:22PM Copyright 2014 The Summit Daily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.