WYBI Wednesday: We Owe Our Souls to the Company?!

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‘Would You Believe It Wednesday’ has us looking at aligning school and work for one ‘seamless transition’. Before we get too deep into this topic which will take more than one post, I want to see if you remember an old song from Tennessee Ernie Ford, called “Sixteen Tons”. The reason I am curious is, the song is about toil, trouble and a longing soul. In my opinion what we’re seeing happen , or will see in the future, with all the aligned careers, pathways, workforce agendas, etc. being created for our students.

Here’s the first verse to “Sixteen Tons”:

‘Some people say a man is made outta mud
A poor man’s made outta muscle and blood
Muscle and blood and skin and bones
A mind that’s a-weak and a back that’s strong.’

A bit of background:

I don’t know about where you live, but here, in North Carolina, where I live there’s a big push to start students out on a career path very early in life. While I’ve known this to be the case due to all the researching I do, I really learned quite a bit more when I attended a morning long “Align4NC” Workforce Learning Summit. Lots of powerful people were there, at least 3 state legislators. The Governor and the Secretary of Commerce made an appearance as well. Many public school officials were in attendance as well.

It appears NC has been aligning education and workforce for quite a while, at least since 2009. I do believe it has been going on before then, but since I’ve not verified that, we’ll just stick with ’09. About every 3 or 4 years, educational standards are looked at, incorporating commerce needs at the same time. Why? Because, businesses are looking to the students (‘really looking at them’) as part of the ‘supply chain‘. You see, here in NC, the biggest ‘partners’ for aligning work/school are the following: industry, the Dept. of Public Instruction, the Dept. of Commerce and our community colleges. I had to stop several times to remind myself we were, indeed, referring to humans, not manufactured goods. Terms like, ‘human capital’, ‘youth pipeline‘, ‘supply base‘ were freely spoken. It’s a shame I wasn’t collecting a nickel for every time I heard such vernacular. All this & more, served up with enthusiasm and a smile. NC, according to the rhetoric of the day, has a more aggressive workforce strategy than any other state. Which should give ‘us’ the #1 workforce in the nation. (Pardon me if I don’t jump up & cheer over this ‘victory’) Don’t misunderstand me, work is good, just as long as ‘greed’ isn’t the winner. Especially when such attention to a ‘co-ordinated awareness plan’ is currently in motion.

‘You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store.’

Second verse of “Sixteen Tons”

Aligning in the schools:

In order for us to have a better workforce, schools are plotting to begin the ‘pipeline‘ in K-12. Fourth grade may begin writing resumes soon (certainly by 8th grade). Careers being assessed in 6th grade. Helping all this along? Guidance counselors. Why? Because their access to both the students and the parents is quite wonderful. According to those speaking, the counselors usually begin ‘career talks’ in the autumn season by seeking out those students who don’t know what their interests are. They then continue discussions about careers/the future so that by the early part of December, it’s time for open house. This is where the parents & counselor can interact. Now, there’s a 3 way communication. However, again, according to the information shared, only certain information is shared in this 3 way. School officials/business partners view this as ‘investing in kids’. Students, make the best salespeople in situations like this. They’ve been guided to a path by their counselor, the parents are ‘on board’ and the future appears set. A ‘return on investment’ will now begin for some lucky company. According to one of the Career Tech directors present ‘we’re waiting too late for dual enrollment.’ Traditionally dual enrollment (aka: ‘Career/College Promise’ in NC) is available to Juniors and Seniors in high school. According to the words spoken on this subject, we need to begin as early as 6th grade! “Make students want IT (job, success, more money).” Another quote shared at the meeting, “If we wait until 8th grade to find out a student’s affinities in life, we’re ‘too late'”. One other school official shared the reason why business/industry is listened to when it comes to education, “so we can supply the pipeline.’

‘I was born one mornin’ when the sun didn’t shine
I picked up my shovel and I walked to the mine
I loaded sixteen tons of number nine coal
And the straw boss said “Well, a-bless my soul”.’

Third verse of “Sixteen Tons”

Parents, we’re the problem:

Parents are key to putting kids in a pathway were work and education intersect. Did you know that about yourself? I sure didn’t! I sincerely thought my children’s pathway in life was something they were to discover. As a parent, I have raised my children to be independent when it comes to personal choice. In my mind, their lives, their paths ARE personal choice. However, I understand that personal choice is opposite of the ‘collective good’ so prevalant not only in this alignment pow-wow, but Common Core altogether. (oops, I’m digressing)

Back to the meeting, Parents are considered the problem by many of the school officials who were in the room. I almost expected to be tarred and feathered as I sat there. We’re not up to date on the what jobs are available today OR we have such preconceived mindsets, we’re woefully out of date about jobs. For ‘great ed reform’, schools want to increase work based learning..it’s the ‘perfect platform’. It’ll get the students excited when they see the actual work & hear about the company benefits!. Appealing to parents: “FREE classes (dual enrollment); “Career Pathways” don’t lead to college debt!” Yes, reduced college debt would suit my family well. However, the federal government’s involvement in student debt is WHY so many families are saddled with massive debt. But, consider, it’s NOT the parents facing the debt load… the students are! According to those wishing to further align education and work, they realize in order to ‘sell’ the parents are the greatness, more than FREE college will need to be offered up.

Did you know it’s because of us parents (in NC) that the new school grading system has been put into effect?! Yes, I was amazed that a state legislator uttered those words for everyone to take note of! According to his other words, it was we (parents) who couldn’t understand ‘schools of excellence’, ‘blue ribbon schools’ and other such titles BUT we (parents) could understand letters! I didn’t take a survey, but it is curious how many in the room bought that lie as the truth. What grading system? What lie, you ask? The new grading system for schools that gives letter grades, A-F. The better letter grade your school gets, the more federal/state funding you get in the future AND the more flexibility (to what with, I’m not sure) the school is afforded. What a terrible thing to throw parents under the bus as to why NC is using letter grades! Want to know the reason why states have letter grades for schools now?! Common Core Standards are the main culprit, however, so is the legislative body!!! (here’s the announcement the NC Dept. of Public Instruction made: http://www.ncpublicschools.org/newsroom/news/2012-13/20120807-01) At the root is Race to the Top funding, not parents!

Just for kicks, know that ‘NC’s Project Ready’ is tied to ‘Home Base’ data mining which is tied to Pearson Publishing’s “Power School”. As far as the parents understanding the letter grades or not, there’s a real fear (to the point it’s a threat to some educators) that when the newest round of grades is given in Jan. 2015, the messages about the schools will be mixed because only math, language, etc. are assessed..NOT workforce related subjects. So, for us parents, to ‘buy in’, we need to understand all the success and greatness of aligning everything and we can’t if a mixed message is given.

One last thought:

I shared with you, this would take more than one post to convey all that was gleaned from the Learning Summit and I will follow up, however, I leave you with one youthful comment shared by an apprentice who was in attendance and up on the stage. “Like any job you don’t know what each day holds. We must be ready for anything.” True of everything in life. However, here’s a question I leave you with today: How can we accomplish this type of flexibility when we’re so busy being aligned to constrictive lessons and scripted agendas? Thoughts?

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