A Publication of WTVP

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” —Albert Einstein

Reflect on your own experiences in school and the teachers who had the greatest impact on your life. Odds are that these memories involve valuable “life lessons” more than memorizing a particular poem, formula or chemical compound. Many people’s fondest memories are of teachers and coaches who helped them find their talents and/or those who were able to teach in a way that instilled a passion for their subject matter.

This generation of schoolchildren has grown up with technologies most of us only dreamed of when we were their age. The “Dick Tracy” phone/watch has advanced beyond anything most of us could have imagined. These students are more video/activity-oriented than any generation before them. In 2009, Indiana University surveyed 40,000 high school students across the nation, and 49 percent expressed that they are bored every day at school. Seventeen percent indicated they are bored in every class, every day. These numbers have remained similar for the past five years of the study.

To quote from a June 10, 2010 Indiana University press release:
But students did clearly indicate what might motivate them. Asked to respond to the statement that they welcome opportunities to be creative at school, 82 percent said they agree or strongly agree. As for what methods they preferred in the classroom, 65 percent agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “I like discussions in which there are no clear answers.”

“Many students would be more engaged in school if they were intellectually challenged by their work. Discussion and debate is still one of the highest rated kinds of teaching, as are group projects,” Yazzie-Mintz said. “Technology projects, art and drama projects also have a good number of kids saying they really like this type of teaching.” [Ethan Yazzie-Mintz is project director of the High School Survey of Student Engagement.]

Sadly, our schools are facing an environment in which they are forced to make decisions based on finances and test scores. This makes it more difficult to provide the type of educational programs and teacher training that students are crying out for. We need to teach critical thinking, problem-solving and teamwork, along with other essential skills that employers tell us workers need.

Business and industry needs are not necessarily consistent with the standardized tests we are using to measure success in our schools. K-12 schools need to be in a position to provide more career guidance. More time spent on exploring career options and helping students discover their talents and desires will benefit all of us.

The Mark for Safety Challenge is another great example of industry and educators working together. The challenge is named for a young man who lost his life walking on a dangerous roadway in Joliet due to no sidewalks and poor lighting. Joliet Junior College and several area high schools are working with civil engineers to redesign this road. Engineers kicked off the project with teams of high school students working on design solutions for this roadway. They used Google Earth and other software, and dealt with scaling, lighting, codes, slope and design issues on the project kickoff. The students are all excited to be involved and work with the assistance of the engineers and their instructors.

We need more of these types of opportunities in schools to keep students engaged and interested in the learning process. To that end, I encourage you to get involved with education at the policy level. iBi

Brian Gordon is the executive director of the Three Rivers Education for Employment System (TREES) in Joliet, and former director of Peoria Education Region for Employment and Career Training (PERFECT).