The story goes that Ms. Desmond welcomed her ninth grade Health class on the first day of school with a blackboard drawing of the human body depicting its bones and muscles. She began to lecture from the textbook immediately and continued the practice for the next few months, never discarding or mentioning what was chalked behind her. Finally, as the end of the calendar year drew near, she gave the students the mid-term exam, which consisted of only one question……”list the major bones and muscles of the human body.” They looked up only to find that the answer was gone, strategically cleared by an eraser that same morning. They complained bitterly, protesting that Ms. Desmond never discussed the question in class. Her response was classic….”education is much more than learning what you are told.”
This story came alive for me soon after completing my graduate degree in Criminal Psychology many moons ago. I am part of an immigrant family with limited financial resources and neither of my parents were fortunate enough to study beyond the fourth grade, given the limitations of farming communities in Latin America. However, upon returning home from college during the summer months, I began to get a sneaking suspicion that my parents were wiser and more knowledgeable than my professors. This came to fruition, when after receiving my graduate degree, my proud father hugged, congratulated and offhandedly reminded me that “a diploma can´t stop a bullet.” The “old man” got it right… it kept me vertical during more than thirty years in law enforcement!
But enough of Ms. Desmond and my dad; how about my experiences in the field of education? I was blessed to have been the Director of Training in my agency for the last fifteen years of my career followed by stints as an adjunct professor in two separate South Florida universities. And like my teacher and my father, frustration became a part of dealing with higher education. I too would give a mid-term exam, which usually consisted of more than one question. A couple of weeks later, without warning, I would again ask the students to take the same test. And regardless of the institution, the subject matter or the student population, the results were exactly the same… their scores were normally between 25-40% lower than the original one. Which begs the question, “did I really teach them anything or was I just training them to pass a test?”
Many years ago a survey conducted by the Rochester School District delved into what were the most and least important college courses in developing skills for employment. The population used for the survey were both large and mid-size corporations. The results were a “surprise” to academia. The LEAST important turned out to be Mathematics, Social Sciences, Natural Sciences, Computer Programming and Foreign Languages. On the other hand, following directions, reading instructions, respecting others, no substance abuse and following safety rules were deemed the MOST important. Interesting, however, the latter are not considered college courses.
Which year of school is most important?
Maybe we should decipher this conundrum with a question, the same one I have asked my students throughout, and that is, “which do you consider your most important year in school?” Very few answer kindergarten, which provides the most intensive learning period in our lifetimes. There we learned to share, play fair, be kind, return things to their proper place, clean up after ourselves, don’t take things which were not ours and say sorry to those we hurt. These take us back to the MOST important traits we can bring to the workplace. Undoubtedly, higher education is the leading player when it comes to getting a job, since without it, our chosen path becomes much harder and often times unattainable. On the other hand, it is the first year of school that is pivotal in keeping the job we acquired with our diploma.
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