Spring, my favorite season, is a time of transitions. Grey skies turn azure blue, barren tree limbs are suddenly lush with leaves and blossoms and our brown lawns turn gree…. Well, not this year.
For millions of high school seniors, it’s one of the biggest transitions in their lives as they get ready to leave the comfort zone of high school to go out into the big, sometimes bad, world. At that point over 70% of their young lives have involved school and now it’s time to move on. Some will take time off, some will start jobs while others will go across town or country to begin another educational journey in college.
There is pressure among high performing students to go to the “right” college. Not only have they spent much of their lives doing the “right” extra-curricular activities and getting the highest GPA’s, they have this drive to only go to certain colleges. Some make it to their dream schools while others don’t and are disappointed. Hopefully they see that not as a failure but as an opportunity to change plans and still excel at their second choice. We adults watch this angst knowing how unimportant it is in the grand scheme of things but the students have to go through it anyway and learn that the road to the future is not always straight.
One of the most important factors in their college choices is the cost. It’s so sad to see students saddled with debt just because they “had” to go to that expensive college. When we talk with high school students about their college plans we always ask if they or their parents have to borrow money for the first two years of a four year college. We then talk about our highly regarded community colleges and how the students can transfer to a four year as a junior with no debt. In fact, local high school students can take those college courses for FREE during their junior and senior years. We remind the students that the diploma from that four year college does not say, “only attended for two years”. Anything that can be done to lower that debt is worth not paying it over decades.
We also remind students that once they graduate from college that the origin of their diploma is a very small part of their future. Character, integrity and work ethic play a larger role. Many Harvard students don’t keep jobs for very long because of character issues. Most employer surveys talk about the poor job skills of college graduates. They lack communication and critical thinking skills, don’t know proper office behavior and often have a sense of entitlement and don’t follow office policies. Several surveys state that companies like Google no longer put emphasis on a college education over character skills.
The lack of those skills is not all the students’ fault. Our institutions of higher learning have been failing our kids for decades with their policies and emphasis on social issues over academia and character development. We’ve all heard the stories about speech codes, protests and lawsuits. Life on our college campuses is no longer about learning with open minds. It has become a time of worry about offending someone or being offended.
It’s easy to understand why this is happening. Just look at our K-12 schools where political correct rules and regulations are forced on our kids. Fingers held in a certain way are called weapons and solicit suspensions. Bring the “wrong” food to lunch and a cafeteria worker will shame you. Strict rules direct activities at recess – dodge ball is a no-no and no cart wheels. And now discipline in some schools is called restorative justice where miscreants can’t be suspended and are given group hugs. They’re reminded that they’re victims. So what do we expect when our kids graduate from high school?
Melanie Strum of Aspen, Colorado, writes a column called Think Again where she discusses the current condition of our college campuses. She raises the alarm that “institutions charged with cultivating civic virtue – family, faith and education – have failed to transmit the moral values vital to healthy societies. Skyrocketing numbers of single households, a struggling middle class and a crisis in higher education have combined to deprive us of citizens with the requisite moral character for self-government”. She quotes Benjamin Franklin who said, “only a virtuous people are capable of freedom”.
When discussing virtue and morals she connects it to the demotion of the humanities and the lack of openness of thought on our campuses – that education is no longer a quest for wisdom and truth. That erodes intellectual foundations of liberty and morality. College students can’t self-actualize morality.
Quoting Professor Allan Bloom, she writes that “openness used to be the virtue that permitted us to seek the good by using reason. It now means accepting everything, and denying reasons’ power.” Our students are safe from reflective thought, potential insult or conflicting ideas. Therefore, they lack critical thinking skills.
Consider how the concept of Free Speech and thought has been convoluted on campus. Free Speech means “for me and not for thee”. Invited speakers with opposing viewpoints are hounded off campuses and if they do speak, they are interrupted constantly by the opposing side. What these immature adults don’t realize is that to have true Free Speech we have to have civility and put up with speech we don’t like. That means controlling impulses and sitting through a speech then asking questions civilly. It doesn’t mean booing, throwing pies or glitter bombs. When protesting a conservative speaker at a college, one co-ed held a sign that read “Protect Free Speech. Ban Ann Coulter”. Her parents must be so proud of her reasoning.
The offensive aspect of these speech codes and political correctness is that it involves a small percentage of the actual student body and yet they terrify administrators and professors. One student complained about a sorority serving tacos at a fund raiser so the event was cancelled. “Feminist” women fret about “trigger” words that may set up bad feelings. They have gotten books and lectures banned.
When considering the emphasis on our college campuses, it’s easy to see why employers are distressed by our graduates’ work skills. Without openness of thought there is no critical thinking. Without real free speech there is no communication. And a victim always feels entitled.
The challenge for our graduating seniors is to instill in them the strength and ability to reject these self-defeating attitudes and to keep the values they have learned at home and school. They need to be open to new ideas and thoughts but use reason and common sense when considering their validity. Adding that ability to good character, integrity, kindness and academic success makes their future bright.