Stealing Vocational Dreams: Pushing Career Education Too Soon

Reposted with permission from Nancy Bailey’s Education Website.

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To some extent it is necessary to forecast the kinds of jobs that will be available to students when they graduate. Businesses have every right to express their needs.

But steering children into those jobs, especially at an early age, is more about business than about children.

If you have a middle school student, chances are the school they’re attending is already discussing career options. While there’s always been a place at this age for discussing a child’s hopes and dreams for the future, the push to make career-ready children is creating a lot of anxiety among parents.

Much of this involves placing students online and gathering personal information through surveys used to align student interests to future jobs.

How must children feel when they are coerced into determining what they want to do with their lives when they are only in eighth grade, or when their reading difficulties already prevent them from moving into a career path they find interesting?

This is tracking at an early age.

One study found that middle school students (6th, 7th, and 8th grade) spent an average of one year studying the introduction into career-technical education (CTE). How time consuming.

Having taught the same 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students in a resource class, and also high school students, I know that academic and social differences between the same sixth and eighth grader can be profound!

High school students change too. By a student’s junior and senior year, students are somewhat more settled on a college and career direction. This seems like a good time to discuss careers and interests.

Most children, aside from a few prodigies, dream about and change their minds about a career. And some students don’t proclaim a college major until they are well into their college career!

So why is there such a push to stamp a career on a student before they’re ready?

Policymakers and school reformers claim they’re worried about the future economy, and schools must prepare students for future jobs. This hyperbole has been running rampant in the school reform arena for years.

Much of this hyper-focus on college and career readiness was ushered in with the Common Core State Standards and Smarter Balanced Assessments.

There’s no shortage of career online testing companies that will gather personal information about children. Naviance is an example of a software provider to middle and high school which collects personal data about students, including student values. This data collection is especially worrisome.

Along with assessment, nonprofit programs have popped up to match middle school students to businesses.

While discussing middle school students and career education, Education Week showcased a program called Spark. The chief executive officer, Jason A. Cascarino, stated, Nobody knows what to do with these kids. Developmentally, it’s a challenging age. Middle school was also described in another Education Week report as The Forgotten Middle. The Bermuda Triangle. The Black Box. The Educational Weak Link.

These perceptions of middle school are not entirely true. Middle school is a challenging age, but well-prepared teachers who study preadolescent development and work with students, have succeeded at identifying student interests.

If preteens become bored and disengaged, it’s because school reform measures have destroyed the ability of educators to provide a good foundation in coursework with access to a whole curriculum. Teachers may lack resources and good preparation.

There’s possibly been too much focus on career planning and testing.

Exposure to language arts, math, social studies, science, music, and art still make the most sense for all students at this age. Middle school students also require plenty of socialization opportunities through engaging extracurricular activities.

Any kind of apprenticeship opportunities might be best offered in the summer. Students at this age like to discuss and explore careers. But businesses should back off.

To some extent it is necessary to forecast the kinds of jobs that will be available to students when they graduate. Businesses have every right to express their needs.

But steering children into those jobs, especially at an early age, is more about business than about children.

Elementary schools even obsess about career preparation. Children in kindergarten are assessed to determine a career route!

All of this is foreboding. It shouldn’t be permitted, certainly not at such a young age when students are constantly changing and reinventing themselves.

The seriousness of a career choice cannot be underestimated. But forcing this commitment onto middle school students goes way beyond what is ethically appropriate.

-Nancy Bailey

References

Caralee J. Adams. “Career Prep Moves Into Middle Schools.” Education Week. July 15, 2015.

Caralee Adams. “Focus on Middle Grades Seen as Pivotal to High School and College Readiness. ” Education Week. December 5, 2014.

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