Wednesday, August 13, 2003


Area Guidance Counsellor's Door Always Open
George posted a link to the Onion's mockery of internet social networks like Friendster. It's one of those easy pot-shot features that gives you a quick laugh and then you're on to the next one. But it reminded me of an article they wrote a couple of years ago about guidance counsellors. It's quite subtle, not really taking open jabs, but conveying the disconnect between kids and schools:
"Of the three or four students who seek out Wisniewski during the average week, most wind up filling out career-choice questionnaires that gather such information as whether a student is a people-person, is creative, or likes to work with his or her hands. The results are then plotted on career wheels which are later found on the floor by the drinking fountain."
I'm not posting this to make fun of high school guidance counsellors -- I think their jobs are difficult and necessary -- but I've often wondered about the effectiveness of most guidance experiences. And I thought the article was hilarious.

If the purpose of schooling is generally to create good citizens with some knowledge of words, numbers, ideas, people and places, the guidance office tends to be the lone outpost that acknowledges the need for students to find some way to make a living once they leave...or further their education to eventually attempt to make a living. Since kids have already been institutionalized for most of their lives, many choose college as a natural extension of that experience, delaying the inevitable and giving them the vague sense that it will facilitate The American Dream for them at some point.

Guidance counselling and career planning are viewed as afterthoughts in most high schools, to be addressed briefly (if at all) at some time before graduation. It's not integrated into classroom or academic expectations, and students are generally expected to take care of it out on their own, with few skills and little support. But shouldn't schools do more to help kids figure out the sustainability of their lives after high school? B.C. used to have mandatory courses in Career and Personal Planning (CAPP), but they were often taught by teachers who didn't have any background in the subject, with limited resources and unrealistic curriculum expectations. So now they've killed the program and replaced it with a graduation portfolio assembled by students as they progress through high school, with no curriculum, training support, funding or guidelines for implementation. It's like they're acknowledging the importance of employability, but aren't really willing to commit to it.

Meanwhile, teachers feel that the system is already too focused on preparing kids for work. Students are graduating with no clear sense of what they should be doing, or why. A provincial study in 2001 found that "only 38 per cent of graduates were satisfied with how well the education system had prepared them for work; only 63 per cent were satisfied with how the system had prepared them academically for post-secondary education."

A further problem is student disengagement in anything that smacks of school. I've talked to local students about CAPP and their aspirations. Most have this ambiguous fear about their post-secondary future, and feel that they'd like help figuring it out, but then when it was time for CAPP class, they tuned it out. This disconnect is what interests me the most, because there seems to be an expressed need, but the mode of meeting that need wasn't effective. What might work better?

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