Readers cynical about forcing seniors to apply to college

by Christopher Paslay


Yesterday, I published a commentary in the Inquirer headlined Seniors need a backup.  The article had two main points: that graduating seniors should have a contingency plan in place in case things don’t work out as anticipated after high school; and that schools should do more to help students take advantage of the government’s $100 billion in federal aid for higher education.


To help achieve these goals, I suggested adding an extra requirement to the senior project.  “Every single graduating senior must successfully apply to a community or four-year college, or to a trade or technical academy,” I wrote.  “In addition, each senior must complete an application for government financial aid or a scholarship of his or her choice.”


Basically, I was trying to give graduating seniors more options.  If after high school they went straight to work, great.  If they got together with their buddies and backpacked through Europe, or took over their uncle’s store, or went into the military, even better. 


But if months passed and they were stuck with no prospects, by applying to a college or trade school as part of their senior project, they just might have that extra option waiting for them to use as they pleased; and they would get practice filling out applications and meeting deadlines in the process, real world skills that everyone can use.


How were the ideas put forth in my commentary received by readers?  Not so well, I’m afraid.


On the Inquirer’s comment board, I was called an “idiot,” and my article was labeled “a moronic piece of PC fluff”.  I was stunned at how many people completely missed the point, people who either failed to read—or comprehend—the article, and reacted solely to the subheading.


A commenter named “Dutchman” wrote, . . . This has been written by someone who has had little contact with anyone outside of the ivory tower. The ugly truth, plain and very simple, is only 23% of high school graduates earn a four year degree. . . Now kids who will never go to college are forced to spend large amounts of money to attend post high school trade schools instead of starting a career . . .   


Ivory tower?  I guess Dutchman didn’t notice the article was written by a high school teacher (who, by the way, teaches IN A TRADE SCHOOL).  I guess he also missed the part that said attending a college or trade school was merely a BACKUP PLAN.


A commenter named “TwoEvils” said, Not everyone has the intelligence and/or skills to make it through college. . . .  What’s wrong with guiding high schoolers with aptitude and desire to technical skills schools for studies like automotive and construction (carpentry, masonry, electrician, plumbing, etc.). That anyone in this day and age considers such jobs lower class is ridiculous when you take into account the knowledge, including math and reading, required to do it right. . . .


I guess when I wrote, “Every single graduating senior must successfully apply to a community or four-year college, or to a trade or technical academy, he must have thought the phrase or to a trade or technical academy really meant people who work technical jobs are uneducated pieces of garbage and should be slapped in the face with a leather glove.     


Those commenting on this blog were just as negative and cynical.  A guy named Jim, who wrote that he works for one of Pennsylvania’s public universities, said he would like to see more lower-income students take advantage of government aid, but he was less enthused about “filling schools with students whose only reason for attending college is that their other plans fell through”. 


Studies have demonstrated one of the key factors in student success is having clear academic and career goals, Jim said.  Folks in student affairs know that students without goals are the ones that are most often in trouble (lots of partying, little studying). If these students don’t succeed, they’ve gained little beyond debt that they will struggle to repay.


Well, if folks in student affairs say these kinds of kids are poor candidates for higher education (and studies prove it), then why waste our time trying to get them to fill out college applications at all?  In fact, why not replace all the college applications at their schools with McDonald’s applications?


A guy named Sam was the most off the mark (and angry).  He wrote:  This sounds like a wonderful idea. Wonderful, that is, until you consider the consequences.


Want to take over your father’s business straight out of high school without wasting $50 per college application? Tough luck, we’re going to force you to waste your time and money on something that will not benefit you.


Applied to a dozen colleges, and didn’t get into a single one? Well, since you didn’t “successfully apply to a community or four-year college, or to a trade or technical academy,” I guess you can’t get your high school diploma.


Your proposition would create far more problems than it would solve. Thankfully, the people we’ve elected to office think about the actual consequences of nifty new mandatory government programs rather than just considering the upside, taking advice only from their yes-men. . . .


Sam got his facts wrong in three places:  One: if a student had the option of taking over his father’s business straight out of high school, he could certainly do so.  I said a college or trade school was a BACKUP PLAN if other options didn’t materialize, not a mandatory requirement.


Two: I never said that a kid couldn’t graduate if he didn’t fill out an application for higher education. I said he would not be eligible to participate in commencement ceremonies. There is a big difference.


Three:  “Successfully applying to a college or trade school” doesn’t mean getting accepted. It simply means successfully filling out the paperwork on the application and submitting it before the deadline.


It’s amazing how cynical adults are when it comes to trying to send students to college.  It’s even more amazing how these same adults can’t even comprehend what they read in the newspaper.

5 thoughts on “Readers cynical about forcing seniors to apply to college

  1. Chris, I read the comments about your Monday article and the range of opinions are interesting. I’ve been reading the editorials about the Phila. Public Schools for months and have wanted to respond, but this is my first.

    I think you are in the right direction as a base. I’ve been volunteering and “contributing” in the Phila. Public Schools for over 20 years starting with my fraternity at Temple. I’ve initiated two in-school and after school programs in the district over this period. The first ended after seven years when the first Bush Administration initiated No Child Left Behind which devastated scheduling beyond a testing focus.

    The 2nd program was a creative arts contest program that has had almost 8,000 high school students involved, grades 9-12, across 36 area schools. The one consistency I’ve seen over these 20 years relative to your article is the wide spread lack of encouragement from the majority of teachers in presenting the college or continuing education options. You could disagree and others can take issue with individual comments but this is the sure truth. I’ve seen it, volunteered in it, have had many students and even teachers say the same and it’s evident in so many regards.

    The clearest example and challenge relative to the basis of your article are three of the most influential elements in our society; the corporate sector, professional and collegiate sports. The “leaders” or more relative to what you do in the classroom, the “coaches” set the path, clearly communicate the goals (in this case college, etc.), impose a discipline structure and manage to this. When results aren’t obtained the leaders or coaches are replaced.

    It is not the responsibility of the student to create the goal of college and it’s not even their parents or whoever is taking care of them. Teachers get these young people at 8:00 in the morning and it’s their responsibility to set and manage to the goal. Everybody benefits; starting with teachers, society, our country and then at the very ground level, local communities and future families of those youth. Look what we have in large measure in this City, the birthplace of capitalism; “too many” unmotivated, undisciplined and crime intending youth that feel a sense of entitlement. If you don’t agree, ask a handful of employers, large and small.

    I do like the direction of your article because you’re hitting the core. In conclusion to drive my point home, my Mother taught in the Phila. School District for almost 30 years and retired in 1980. At the outset of her career and the start of our family, she made the decision with my Father to send my Brother and myself to one of the area prep schools. I’m not sure how old you are but you can understand my following point.

    My Mother taught in the era when discipline was allowed at the level necessary to get results. One of her students from her Southwest Phila. 4th grade class is now a head basketball coach at an academically-focused Division 1 team. At 42 years old, the one thing I appreciate more than anything from my prep school experience and it’s the same at the parochial schools to a large extent is that before I got the first dose of education, I got discipline. There are some teachers that do this, but not enough and its not systemic. Our quality of life statistics in this city relate to this.

    Clearly setting the goal or “prize” is the key and managing with discipline is the only way to get results across the board. I hope you can begin to advocate to your colleagues that the system has to change. The future of the city is dependent on it.

    Lastly, to the benefit of those “adult” teachers that have been the target of physical abuse by “teenage” students; if there was a District-wide discipline structure and goals put forth to the students, this would not happen. It didn’t in large measure 20 years ago. There are so many young people asking for this in so many ways. I know because I helped give almost 8,000 of them that opportunity.

    Gratefully, Todd

  2. Todd,

    Thank you for taking the time to write this very thorough and insightful commentary. I’m glad you support the main idea expressed in my article. Teachers must motivate students, and set goals for them to strive for.

    I also agree with your point about discipline. Prep schools have it; so do parochial schools; and years ago, so did urban public schools, as you’ve alluded to with the example of your mother (by the way, my father taught in Philly for 37 years).

    Some public schools still have solid discipline, and the motivated, experienced teachers do succeed in setting the proper tone in the classroom. But the problems you mention often times go beyond teachers and schools, and stem directly from home environment and communities as a whole. Too many parents in large urban areas don’t value education, and our society has a tendency to disrespect school teachers.

    Which is why you and your mother should be commended for working hard to reach today’s youth. But with that said, the teacher doesn’t stand alone when it comes to setting academic goals, in my opinion. The student and the parents ARE part of that equation, and must take on at least some of the responsibility; but I agree, the teacher is the pivitol part of it all.

    Thanks again for writing and for your support.

    –Christopher Paslay

  3. Chris, my principal made copies of your commentary and passed them out for us to read. All hope is not lost. Remember the audience who reads the newspapers. The same people who responded so ignorantly to your article are the average Daily News readers , most of whom have not graduated from college,themselves. Consider the source. Even Todd P. doesn’t know that common nouns such as mother, father and brother should not be capitalized. Yet he wants to blame teachers for not instilling a future goal in the students. Give me a break. Blame us for all the ills of society… it’s so easy and it absolves everyone else of any responsibility, especially the parents. I’m tired of these teacher bashers who don’t realize that teachers cannot impose discipline when they are not backed by their administrators. Yeah, you’re a real hero, Todd. Keep patting yourself on the back, if you must, but stop “contributing” your uninformed, biased comments against teachers.

  4. Chris thank you for your follow-up comments and unlike the other reply I clearly referenced that there are many teachers doing great things but the system is not working on a broad basis reflected in the quality of life issues we are struggling with in this city and most other urban cities across the country.

    As your initial article alluded to, you talked about seniors across the board, not the few who are pursuing a college education. My comments are not about teacher bashing, but all of us understanding the dynamics. Teachers aren’t forced to teach. Many do it for different reasons, but as a society when we have given young people; a teenager, as one example, the mental tools to physically assault an adult in a classroom or school, we, adults have failed somewhere.

    Administrators have a contribution, but they’re not in the classroom. It’s irresponsible to blame someone that is somewhere else for the problems that exist in the place where one has chosen to work. At least that’s what a union is there for.

    The problem with the parent issue is that many of the current parents are part of two generations that went through an undisciplined environment and structure at school. My overall point is that all of us, where ever we work that has a greater societal impact, has to take responsibility for the environment we’re in.

    The points this exchange has touched on sits on many structural issues that may soon be addressed at deeper levels. There are many people, professionals, willing to assist teachers in their environments, starting with discipline, encouragement to the students and teachers, to name just a few. In our society the largest contributors to our productivity and entertainment do this; well run companies, sports teams (pro, college and HS) and creative arts operations.

    If a corporate manager, a head coach or a theatrical producer blames someone else for a lack of results, they get replaced. All of these “leaders” have a team of assistants supporting their efforts. There are many of us here to help teachers and you are respected more than you know.

    Also I initially read your article in the Inquirer and not the Daily News. I also purposely capitalize Mother, Father, Brother and we should do the same for Teachers. Keep up the good work and I will continue to commit myself and my resources to Teachers and their Students.


  5. Todd, you’re not a teacher, are you? Actually, you can’t be, as you are completely clueless about all the responsibility that teaching already entails, and you have no idea what goes on in schools. Furthermore, your writing is just a tad incoherent and disjointed. I agree with what Fed Up said…. teachers try to maintain discipline in their classes, but in many instances, they are not backed by their administrators. I see administrators cave to parents’ wishes because they’re too weak to take a stand, plus they know that the school district gives in to any and all parent demands. When school rules are not consistently enforced, the inmates begin to run the asylum. Your opinion that administrators are not responsible because they aren’t in the classroom is ridiculous and unfounded. And tell me, where are all these “professional people” that you say are anxiously standing by to support teachers? We haven’t seen any of them, but we’ve seen plenty of those who criticize and blame us for everything from the student drop-out rate to their lack of proper nutrition. And one more thing: what kind of “mental tools” does a student need to physically assault a teacher? You make absolutely no sense and as Fed Up indicated, you cast blame on the ones who are in the trenches, teaching their hearts out and trying to make a difference in the teenagers’ lives.

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