Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Permanent Record

Another question we asked in that middle school last week was: What is the connection between your effort in middle school and going to college? We asked the question because the adults at the school didn't think students understood or saw that there was a connection. So we asked.

We didn't call them urban myths 40 years ago, but a 6th grader gave me the same answer my 6th grade teacher gave me when we were wondering why it was important to do well and behave in school: "Your grades, your behavior, your effort in every grade will be on your permanent record." I kid you not, those were the kid's exact words. The same exact words I recall hearing in 1974, when pocket calculators were the latest in classroom technology. The other students in the focus group nodded in agreement. Yup, on your permanent record.

Feigning ignorance and trying to hide my disbelief in hearing a four decade echo, I probed, "Could you explain that?" The student obliged, "When you apply to college, they are going to have your permanent record and they will look back at what you did in middle school, and if you messed up, it will be there and they are going to say, 'Nope' ... even if you have great grades at the end." He declared this with all the authority of an Ivy League rejection letter.

This young student put it in a most interesting and nostalgic way, but that was the theme across all the groups of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders we talked with: The connection between what you are doing now and getting into college, for want of a better way to put it, was "magical" and direct. Mess up now and don't get into college later. Only one student out of all those we interviewed had the outlier insight: "Well, learning builds on itself. If you work hard now and do well in school this year, then next year you will probably work hard and do well, too. And then the year after that. So when you are ready to go to college you'll be ready."

I hope these students heard the permanent record story from some kid last year who heard it from some kid the year before that ... who heard it from some kid the year before that ... who heard it from some kid in my class right before we went home to watch the Brady Bunch. I hope he didn't hear it from his 6th grade teacher. Recall that we asked the question because the adults at the school didn't think the students understood or saw that there was a connection between what they did in middle school and post-secondary going. We adults know the "permanent record" you create when you are in school is the trail of proper study habits you accumulate from year to year. If we are still trying to sell the "permanent record" version of the connection, we have no one to blame about the students' lack of understanding than ourselves.

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