Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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College Prep?

Posted by lpearle on 26 July 2010

Tomorrow we start moving from the Chapel to the rebuilt library, and as we’ve drawn closer to the move I’ve been thinking about our program and preparing our students for college. This summer has also been one of going through the Hackley archives, organizing them and putting things in acid-free boxes and folders.  In several of our evaluation for accreditation documents, we talk about preparing our students for college with a rigorous, traditional education.

I’m sure that most of our peer schools also consider themselves to be preparing their students for college with a rigorous education (perhaps not always “traditional” – see, for example, the Dalton Plan).  In this day of multiomedia tools and cloud computing, and Buffy’s Media 21 class, what exactly does “college preparatory” mean?  I’ve also been talking to several of my nieces, nephews and assorted other recent high school graduates about their experiences in college and the workplace.

I’m concerned that in our rush to use all the new toys (and yes, they’re both toys and tools), we’re creating a generation of students that has unrealistic expectations of their college experience and their work lives.  Yes, we absolutely must teach students to evaluate information (as Doug points out, the ugly episode with Shirley Sherrold might have been avoided had adults had that skill!).  Buffy’s letter to President Obama stresses how little attention this skill has gotten, and how needed it is.

We’re failing to prepare our students for life when we fail to teach them how to find and evaluate information.

But what about teaching them to use Prezi, or VoiceThread, or how to do Presentation Zen PowerPoints?  That’s where the line is far less clear.  I know that few of these tools/toys are used in college.  Elyssa Cahoy, at Penn State, told me that what we are doing in school libraries with new tools (and by “new” she’s including iMovie!) is far beyond what’s being done at Penn.  I suspect this is true of most colleges and universities.  So are we doing our students any favors when we show them how to use tools that they won’t be using in college?

Many will say that the college system is broken, but I’m not so sure.  The part that’s clearly broken is the assumption that we all need to have a college degree to succeed in the 21st century.  Nonsense: I don’t need a plumber that can rock Prezi, and I don’t need an auto mechanic to do a Mindomo to show me what’s wrong with my car. Back in the dark ages, when I was in public high school, there were three tracks: one was students going for a Regent’s diploma, often taking AP classes; the second were those students going for a regular diploma, taking lower level classes but heading for some sort of secondary education; the third were those students that went to school for their four basic classes and then traveled to the local BOCES for vocational training.   Today, we think less of those that choose that last path, yet there’s no shame in that path (there’s also no shame in any of the so-called red state activities, whatever college admissions might think).

I’m not suggesting that we refrain from teaching these tools, but I do question why we’re focusing on these skills rather than on more needed skills like evaluation and filtering.

At a school like Hackley, we anticipate that our graduates will go into professions like law, medicine, teaching, finance, science, etc..  Again, I wonder how much these new tools/toys will be used in their daily lives?  Years ago I was at a NEIT conference where the keynote speaker insisted that Palms were being used by everyone, everywhere, for everything, and that schools were behind the curve.  Given my ties to people in the finance industry, I knew that to be false (and the keynoter himself was proven false when asked a question and pulled out a scrap of paper on which he’d scribbled the answer, rather than checking his Palm).

Given the fuss over these new tools/toys, I wonder if this isn’t a reprise of the Palm-hype. Again, we’re concentrating on a tool, rather than evaluation (in this case, what’s the right tool for the job?  paper or Palm?  Prezi or overhead slide?).

I’ve rambled on long enough for one post.  More to follow.

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