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Volume 4 Number 3

Happy 7th Anniversary Teachers.Net...
Happy 7th Anniversary Teachers.Net by Dave Melanson
How Not to Get Into College: The Preoccupation with Preparation by Alfie Kohn
No Child Left Behind or Leave the Thinking to Us by Simon Hole
Greetings! - Update from Operation Deep Freeze by LT. Marshall Branch
Technology Reform in Schools by Daisy Marie (Price) Hicks
Special Skills for Classroom Management by Stelios Perdios
Looking for a teaching job? Ten Tips for Job Hunters by LFSmith
Gems of Wisdom from Joy Jones
Featuring Past Author/Illustrator Chat Guests by Kathleen Alape Carpenter, Editor
Editor's e-Picks - March Resources by Kathleen Alape Carpenter, Editor
Spotlight on NEW CD Set - How to Improve Student Achievement from
Living Up to David Ruggles by Caroline Edens Bundy
Retirement Career Counseling by Dan Lukiv
Addressing the Shuttle Tragedy by Zanada Maleki
Novel Studies, Help students "switch on" to a novel by Margaret Veitch
Student Stars Become Constellations by Jerry Taylor
Pre-writing Center from Teachers.Net's Early Childhood Chatboard
Odd Facts from the Second Grade Mailring
March Columns
March Regular Features
March Informational Items
Gazette Home Delivery:


Books by Alfie Kohn

The Case Against Standardized Testing: Raising the Scores, Ruining the Schools
by Alfie Kohn

$11.00 from
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Punished By Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes
by Alfie Kohn

$11.20 from
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Teacher Feature...

How Not to Get Into College:
The Preoccupation with Preparation

by Alfie Kohn

Copyright 2002 by Alfie Kohn
( Reprinted with the author's permission.

(continued from page 1)

None of this was a secret to these students, but what few realized was that the process wouldn't end once they finally got to college. This straining toward the future, this poisonous assumption that the value of everything is solely a function of its contribution to something that may come later -- it would start all over again in September of their first year away from home. They'd scan the catalogue for college courses that promised easy A's, sign up for new extracurriculars to round out their resumes, and react with gratitude (rather than outrage) when a professor told them exactly what they would have to know for the exam so they could ignore everything else. They'd define themselves as pre-med, pre-law, pre-business -- the prefix pre- signifying that nothing they were doing had any intrinsic significance.

Nor would this mode of existence end at college graduation. The horizon never comes any closer. They would have to struggle for the next set of rewards in order to snag the best residencies, the choicest clerkships, the fast-track positions in the corporate world. Then would follow the most prestigious appointments, partnerships, vice-presidencies, and so on, working harder, nose stuck into the future, ever more frantic. . . until, perhaps, they might wake up one night in a tastefully appointed bedroom to discover that their lives were mostly gone.

And those are just the successful students.

These are the sorts of things I said to this prep school audience, sweating profusely by now and sounding, I began to fear, like a TV evangelist. But I felt I also needed to offer a message for the teachers and any parents who were present. If you know from experience what I'm talking about, I said, then your job is to tell these kids what you know and help them understand the costs of this pursuit -- rather than propelling them along faster. They need a cautionary view about what is threatening to take over their lives far more than they need another tip about how to burnish a college application or another reminder about the importance of a test.

When I finally finished speaking, I looked into the audience and saw a well-dressed boy of about 16 signaling me from the balcony. "You're telling us not to just get in a race for the traditional rewards," he said. "But what else is there?"

It takes a lot to render me speechless, but I stood on that stage clutching my microphone for a few moments and just stared. This was probably the most depressing question I have ever been asked. This young man was, I guessed, enviably successful by conventional standards, headed for even greater glories, and there was a large hole where his soul should have been. It was not a question to be answered (although I fumbled my way through a response) so much as an indictment of college prep and the resulting attenuation of values that was far more scathing than any argument I could have offered.

When I conduct a workshop for educators, I like to begin by asking these questions: What are your long-term goals for your students? How would you like them to turn out? What word or phrase best describes what you want them to be like after they've left your school? The answers that come back are strikingly similar, regardless of whether they come from parents or teachers, regardless of whether the students in question are toddlers or teenagers, and regardless of the community's demographics. People usually say they want their kids to end up happy and fulfilled, ethical and decent, successful and productive, independent and self-reliant but also caring and compassionate -- and (to continue the alliteration) confident, curious, creative, critical thinkers, and good communicators. Also, someone invariably expresses the hope that students will always keep learning and wanting to learn.

The reason I mention this -- and the reason I urge readers to consider (with their colleagues) how they might answer the same question -- is that such reflection has the potential to challenge our practices. Never mind thought-provoking; it can be change-provoking. Of course, some people might say their long-term goals begin and end with getting students ready for, and into, high-status colleges; this may well be the raison d'ętre of their school. In such a case, we must concede that the means match the end. But I'm concerned with the far greater number of teachers and schools that say they are committed to other objectives, such as those listed above, but act as if all they cared about was college prep.

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