As I sit some days at my classroom podium, I sometimes drift off to ponder. My students are working diligently toward a goal of attaining their industry certifications in most cases. One day while I was off in thought, it occurred to me. Many of today’s students know an education is important. They know “education” is a pathway to greater information. They know in their future they will need some sort of education to have an advantage. Yet for many of them, they do not have a clear pathway. They are not acutely aware of “what they are.” Let me clarify that last statement. I teach Virtualization. It is essentially the “cloud” and it seems to be the buzzword today. It is advanced, it is not easy, and it can drive a person mad trying to wrap their head around the concept. I tell all of my students if they do not love this field, they will absolutely hate it. In short, if they are an artist, no amount of successful teaching will make them a great I.T. person….THEY NEED TO KNOW WHAT THEY ARE.
Many students do not know what they are. For this reason, many students begin a journey through education without a plan and without a map. Some will go to college, some will complete a CTE program and go to industry. There are some who will join the military and see the world. Along this journey without a map, many changes occur. Often times these changes delay graduation, cost more money, or simply make the journey seem impossible. Guides along this journey have as many opinions as there are options to completion.
To the point now. I have pondered the idea that modern education is like a cubicle farm in a call center. The cubes are seven feet tall and there are no signs pointing to any destination. The people in the cubes are busy on the phone taking care of whatever business they are doing. There is not a guide and it is easy to get lost. It sounds like a bad movie where the good guys are trying to win, but the odds are stacked against them. Now I am not saying this current framework was created this way intentionally. I am saying that in the fracas of growth, certain things are not created efficiently and the rules of unintended consequences prevail. It is the system we have in the competitive education market. It is what it is.
But what if education were looked at differently? What if education were viewed as a basket of solutions instead of an adversarial competition of what is best according to the institution? We should all be able to agree that there is not a “box” for every student. Educational solutions are as varied as there are numbers of students. What if, instead of education being so segmented (like the aforementioned cube farm), it was more like the inside of a giant beach ball? I know, Tommy is off his rocker right? But think for a moment, no…..PONDER for a moment. If the beach ball represented all educational solutions available, then where ever I was standing inside the beach ball, I could look around and see every other place inside that ball. I could see every option. I could see the pathway to that option. More importantly, I could plot the fastest most efficient path to that solution.
There stands in our way a couple of hurdles. Everyone thinks their way is the best way. We tend to use personal success stories as the metric by which likely success will happen. But are we objectively offering EVERY option to our students? I cannot say for sure. I will however offer this anecdote. I came from industry. I came am also a product of CTE in my home state of Missouri. After graduation I went into the military. College scared me. No one ever explained Carnegie hours to me. I didn’t know my options because no one ever taken the time to explain them to me. I was a marginal student in high school. I was a C, D student, except in Computer Science class where my average was over 100%. I embrace what I am: I am a “nerd.” They even made a movie about me….Revenge of the Nerds.
Even with the aptitude for IT, my high school counselors never once offered college as a solution to me because of my grades. Now objectively, should I use this as the metric by which I council my students? Absolutely not. What is required on my part as an educator is to do my own inquiry. I must research all options available to my students. By doing so, I am empowering them to make the best decision they can make using the most contemporary information available to them at that moment in time.
Now look back at your own journey. Reflect back to your options. Were you told college was the only option for success? Did the cube farm of educational obscurity swallow your decision-making by narrowing the list of viable options? For people like me, CTE appealed to my technical nature. I translated it into a successful military career, and now a great teaching career. College only happened for me at the age of 37. Later in life, but wiser to life, is how I tell it.
The Beach Ball. Viewing all options from any location inside the ball. Visibility to take command of your educational journey. What better tool could we offer than for our students to take complete charge of their destiny armed with the latest and greatest information that can be known at the time?
That, my fellow educators, is real success and empowerment in education.
By Tommy Hamilton
2017 ACTE Business Education Division Fellow
Moore Norman Technology Center