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Training Students for Unemployment

August 8, 2010

I just read a great article called “Unemployment Training: The Ideology of Non-Work Learned in Urban Schools” by Martin Haberman. He identified the following attitudes as detrimental to students:

Nowness
Students come to expect that learning takes place in 45 (or 85) minute blocks and doesn’t carry over from one day to the next.
Showing Up
Schools have taught students that all they have to do to pass is come to class.
Make Me
Schools (and society) have conditioned students to believe that it is the teacher’s job to “make” the student learn. The student is just the passive vessel.
Excuses
“Students believe that they can be late or absent as much as they want provided they have a good excuse, someone’s permission, or a written note.”
Non-Cooperation
Schools generally handle conflicts between students by isolation and elimination, not by teaching students how to handle conflicts productively themselves.
Respect
In the student’s view, the basis for gaining or giving respect is power–who has it, and over whom is it exercised.
Authority
“Students’ approach to school authority is undergirded by their belief that any system is out to get them.”
Peers
“What adults see as irrational or bad behavior is actually quite sensible.If one lives in a violent neighborhood, is learning to take care of oneself less reasonable than reporting violence to authorities?If one is faced by constant attack from several adversaries, is it foolish to be part of a group that offers protection?” Schools, teachers, and administrators may come and go–students have to live with their families and their peers.
Messing Up
Like “Excuses”, students are taught that any mistake can be overlooked or fixed if they have a good enough excuse, and that the student “deserves” another chance, no matter what the offense was.
Explaining Success
Students develop this idea (which schools don’t contradict) that some people are either naturally talented/smart/gifted or lucky or some combination thereof. Effort does not play a part in success.
Relevance
Some schools make such an effort to make their learning “relevant” to their students, that they neglect to teach them to look beyond themselves to ideas and circumstances beyond what they could have imagined.
Purpose
Good learning, contrary to what many students are conditioned to believe, is not always fun. Neither is work.
Staying on Task
“What does the process of changing what one does every 45 minutes and even the place where one does it portend for fulfilling a job in the world of work?”
Ignorance
Students have never heard of the concept “Ignorance of the law is no excuse,” and schools pander to this belief.
Investment
To many students, a school belongs to other people: the teachers, the administrators, maybe the parents. They do not regard it as theirs, and likewise for the experiences at that school. They do not have ownership.

A quote attributed to Edison states:”The difference between coal and diamonds is that diamonds stayed on the job longer.”

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