I admit that the phrase “college and career ready” gives me pause, particularly with respect to students who aren’t well served through our current system. I like the analogy of Monopoly. You can break down understanding Monopoly into three categories. The first is learning the basic rules for how the game works; knowing that each person has a piece, you roll dice to move around the board, etc. For analogy purposes, schools do this when they teach reading and math, and when they help students do things like apply to college or for financial aid.
The second is how to win. This involves strategies like building passive income and tactically mortgaging. It’s knowing how to use the rules to your advantage, and it seems to me this is where we’re spending most of our “college and career ready” effort. We want high schoolers to get a head start so we encourage them to investigate potential careers and take dual credit classes. We want them to build employability skills, so we provide work-based learning opportunities. We want them to develop social capital, so we promote mentoring. We know that many students from more privileged backgrounds already have access to these strategies and so we work to make the playing field more equitable.
Then there’s the third category. To truly understand Monopoly means that you see how the rules of the game favor some over others. It means having the capacity to challenge the structure of the game and the tools to consider alternatives. There are some who argue that school should focus entirely on this third aspect of understanding the game; that preparing students to be “college and career ready” is, in itself, an inequitable endeavor. I disagree. One of education’s responsibilities is to help students succeed in the world as it exists. But another one is to give students the tools to challenge the game, to improve it, to make “college and career” consistent with a more just and equitable society. It’s not an either/or. It’s a both/and.
So, what does it mean in a practical sense to do both? I look forward to thinking deeply with my colleagues at EdSystems, who are experts in college and career readiness and are committed to equity, to unpack how this is already embedded in our work and how we might expand it. At the very least, it seems important to identify and support employers in creating diverse, equitable, and inclusive workspaces in which students can engage, learn, and thrive. It seems necessary to ensure that mentors are committed to equity and justice. And it seems worthwhile to make work experiences opportunities for students to notice things like who gets to speak and who is heard. What do they get to say? Who gets to work with whom on what? Is there a sense of community in the workplace and what is helping or hindering that? Reflecting on what they notice with skilled teacher facilitators and their fellow students could make for wonderful learning opportunities.
There are bigger questions to be asked as well, like what qualities of character make one successful in a particular field? What are the ways the rules of a field, and what it takes to be successful, promote and detract from what we want from society? Contribute to and diminish social cohesion? Further and undermine equity? What function does the field serve in the larger socio-economic landscape? And to put work in the context of life, how is work itself defined and situated in other countries and how that has changed over time? I look forward to unpacking with my colleagues how all this fits and to sharing as I learn.