20 BELOW, Eugene, Ore.
I don’t want to bash someone’s grand plan to help high school kids, but something has to change. School officials are pushing today’s high school seniors into professions, and not necessarily professions chosen by the students themselves. We’re being typecast much earlier than our parents’ generation, and it’s creating a conflict between what students want and what adults think kids want.
This year, a new senior project was required in high schools in my county after being used in other schools throughout the state. It’s intended as a helping hand, easing seniors into adulthood by showing them what it takes to be successful in the real world.
Successful completion of the project is required before any senior can graduate. A typical project includes the student choosing a potential career, getting hands-on experience – for me, it’s 25 hours of service with a chosen mentor in that career – writing status reports and a final essay about what we learned, an evaluation by the student’s supervisor, and a final presentation before a faculty committee.
On the surface, it sounds great. But as with many ideas with good intentions, the faults outweigh the benefits.
Sure, there are success stories. My dad worked with a senior who wanted to pursue photography as a possible profession. She photographed all of the varsity football games and learned what it takes to capture that “perfect picture.” She discovered a possible career that she now loves.
But I’ve also heard about plenty of projects that have accomplished nothing, except adding busy work for students. The students just want to get the project done. They haven’t made up their minds on what track to take after high school. They see the project as just another mark on their checklist to graduation.
Is that how we want young people to plan their lives? Why make them invest so much time and energy in a project or profession that will, for many, have no bearing on their futures? Why make us choose now?
The senior project only makes sense if the student has a clue about what career to pursue. And I just don’t think most seniors know what they want to do for the next 50 years. I’m not saying we should bag the senior project. But what if there was an alternative?
Why not structure it so that seniors develop a lifelong love of learning? Give them something to broaden their experience: a month to learn pineapple growing in Hawaii or art techniques in France. Or spending a month dreaming about inventions, making downtown Eugene more appealing, or writing a movie that rivals “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Maybe it’s helping the world through a Peace Corps-like experience or building homes for Habitat for Humanity. Or reading a personalized list of books, or shadowing university students who already live the life seniors will soon experience.
I understand the importance of trying to give seniors a little guidance toward a future career. But it’s the student’s responsibility to choose a profession, not the high school administration’s.
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