Food for Thought…


By David Williams

“Fanaticism consists of redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim.” – George Santayana.

I am of that opinion that this is what has occurred in our education system. There was a time when students who couldn’t pass were retained. Our biggest fear was looking at the back of that report card and discovering you’ve failed. Now failure has taken on a new form. Instead of being retained, students are being promoted without demonstrating the needed skills to succeed at the next level.

We know that there is a correlation between the inability to read and incarceration. It stands to reason that if a child is struggling to read on a third-grade level, then college probably isn’t an option. Instead of addressing the problem, however, we continue to place those struggling students in tradition courses. What good will history, science and/or complex math do an individual who can’t read? Those students are placed in classes that require them to demonstrate a greater depth of knowledge at every turn. How can they infer, analyze, connect or critique when they can’t read or comprehend what’s read? By continuing to redouble our efforts, we are setting them up for frustrated failure.

To make matters worse, we are also planning to eventually imprison those same struggling readers who turn to a life of crime. We know the cause and effect. We know the input and the outcome. If the historical data is that transparent, why not stop the madness and do something radical? Why not stop the core subjects for those struggling readers and focus instead on reading, writing and consumer math only? Perhaps some of our students would be better served with some career-oriented programs. As early as appropriate, such students should be exposed to career opportunities. If their academic abilities indicate that they aren’t college material, then vocational education could provide a positive alternative.

Our once blue-collar city is a prime example of this. How many of us are indebted to Goodyear or Gulf State Steel? Those factories provided many of us with our, “Moving on up Jefferson’s moment.” To secure a job at one of those places was an honor. It meant a change for your family. Perhaps the answers to our current education problems are within those blue-collar roots.

Several positive things could result from this alternative education format. Students often aren’t able to connect what is taught during class with real life. Many of the students aren’t able to see themselves having professional careers due to socio-economic status.

Research indicates that the students who were able to see themselves succeed were females from middle to high socio-economic status. Vocational education allows students a chance for self-understanding. If we are able to help students identify their interest aptitude and abilities through job exploration, then perhaps learning becomes meaningful. In age-appropriate ways, we can help them to understand work, life options and their future roles as contributing members of society. I’m not trying to kill the Peter Pan in them but instead trying to help them understand that Never-Never Land has an ending. They should know that these are the formative years and that the opportunity cost should not be wasted.

In education, we are always talking about the vested community members. In order for this to work, we need everyone. If we can expose our youth to job-shadowing, mentoring and pre -apprenticeship while also strengthening reading, writing, and consumer math for those non-college-bound students, then perhaps in time we could move those funds from incarceration into education. Perhaps we could focus on helping fix a struggling student instead of locking away a broken adult.

Of course, we don’t have to do anything. Which reminds me of another quote – “If you do the same thing, and expect different results, you’re insane.”

Contact David Williams at

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