Are our students, “up a creek … without a paddle?”

I’m sure you’ve heard the metaphor, “up a creek without a paddle.” I think most of us interpret that to mean being put in a situation unprepared with little chance of success.

Anyone who pays any attention to the national education dialogue knows there is no end to those who believe they have the solution to all that ails the system, whether it be curriculum, teachers or school choice. Everyone weighs in. Some ideas are good … some not so much. But this piece is not about curriculum. And it’s not about teachers or school choice.


It’s about what happens to our children after they graduate high school, or in too many cases – don’t. It’s about the most neglected aspect their education. It’s about transition …. that messy period of fragmented decision-making, that time when a student has to decide  … what’s next. This is the time when they put that first foot in that boat that will take them “down the creek … without a paddle.”

Now I understand there’s plenty of creeks they’re going have to navigate over the course of their lives. But can’t we at least give them a fighting chance. And the currents are lot stronger today then they were when we were that age. Well you say, “that’s what high school counselors are for.” Aren’t they supposed to provide guidance?

But how many counselors know anything about employment trends? How many how can project what opportunities might be down the road should a student decide to go to college? And how many have any idea of economic geography or demographic trends and what they may mean to a student’s future? A high school counselor’s job mainly consists of attempting to keep wayward students from wavering even more “off-center.” Oh, I can’t forget keeping up on that inventory of college propaganda.

Maybe a student can establish a rapport with a teacher who brings more to the table than knowledge of state and federally mandated curriculum. But that’s a maybe … and a big one at that.

That leaves parents or friends of parents. While they probably only have the best intentions in mind – intentions are not all that’s needed. Parents want to see their children go to college. Isn’t that one of the cornerstone of the “American Dream?” And what kind of parent would they be seen as if their children didn’t, no matter what their reason and regardless of the opportunities, or lack of there of afterwards.

Now let’s take this issue of transition and move it down the road to college. To an outsider, once someone enters college and has been there a year or two, they should know what their career path will be. In other words, “what they’ll be when they grow up.” How’s this supposed to happen though. Let’s time I checked, tuition and a dorm room didn’t come with an “almighty all-knowing orb” that will guide a student to a life of riches and contentment.

I suppose you’re saying, well isn’t a college student assigned an advisor? I wasn’t, but I’m sure that in most cases they are. But what do the advisors actually do? Probably they’ll make sure you know the classes you have to take to get your degree, a degree that will pave the road to, well who knows where. And on top of it, how many advisors are going to say, “you’re in the wrong field because there isn’t any jobs in this field.” Probably few.

Well here’s what we got. We got a whole lot of young adults, some with high school degrees, some not; some with college degrees and some that didn’t have enough money to finish. All of them are pretty much in the same situation, “up a creek with no paddle.”

Enough of the problem. Now let’s fix it. Here’s my “unqualified three-point solution” … my metaphorical paddle.

  • First, let’s start advising high school students in the first semester of their junior year. Find out what their passion are. This gives them a year and half to tweak their class schedule to accommodate what they’re interested in or better set themselves up for college should it fit into their plans.
  • Second, bulk up the high school advisor departments. Bring in the professionals. And I don’t mean educational professionals. Bring in a recruiter, a “headhunter,” someone who’s livelihood depends on finding people career opportunities. I’m sure there would be no shortage of recruiters in your community that would be willing to provide needed assistance. And you could enlist several depending on their niche and industry specialties.
  • And third, give young adults a taste of the real world. How do they know what a profession is going to be like if they’ve never “been there and done it?” Imagine involving the community in the success of their future leaders. Why can’t a community offer internships? Virtually no school systems in this nation reach across the aisle to local businesses or even the public sector to expose our young adults to the reality after high school.

We need to re-focus the role of schools. They should be in the “student success business,” not the test score business. It’s not about students per teacher. It’s not about teachers’ salaries. It’s not about tweaking curriculum and sure isn’t about about test scores.

It’s about preparing students for success in life.

The question is whether the powers that be in the American education establishment realizes this … or even cares to.


You can find me on Twitter at @clayforsberg


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