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thinky thoughts on education

Chicago schools just announced five high schools that will actually have a six-year track eventually leading to an associate's degree. My first thought was: coolness. I've always thought that not everyone is university material nor should we expect everyone to be. The thinking is that if a kid knows he isn't college-bound but can still see something useful and marketable coming out of his college years, he'll be more likely to put in the necessary work.

Right now, the schools have a grant from IBM because it's a new program they're trying out. But I find myself wondering what will happen when that runs out - if the state legislature or the city council or whomever pays the bills saw they were now having to pay for two more years of school, what would their response be? Maybe we don't really need world history or junior-year English so much? Maybe (as one commenter over at HuffPo argued) they don't really need six years, since many places let you take college courses and get both college and high school credit? Maybe the kids' families should pay for the last two years? (And if so, why not more than the last two, to save budget dollars?)

So I'm skeptical about the practical aspects, but actually hopeful, too. What really worries me is the message this sends and not just about the kids who don't want to go to college or aren't suited for it. Florida's Gov. Scott recently denounced anthropology and said the state needed to consider taking money away from those university departments and redirected it to STEM disciplines. This is only news because it's recent; I'm always hearing about either university presidents or politicians trying to decrease funding to less applied fields. I understand the need for results, but I think it bears asking: how is a university different from a community college? To my mind, while universities may house practical disciplines (pre-law, pre-medicine, business, nursing, education, etc.) that shouldn't be the main focus. There's something to be said for valuing all learning no matter whether it has practical implications or not.

More and more it seems like universities are being treated like four-year community colleges, and I don't like it. There's a value to the humanities and the social sciences, and it's a value everyone should have the opportunity to explore even if they can only afford to attend a state school. Really, that's what concerns me about the Chicago model. I think it will be good for lots of people - but if it becomes the only track available in an inner-city environment? Not so sure about that.

Your thoughts?

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