Friday, March 22, 2013

Being a hoop jumper or hoop builder

There is a ton to be discussed when it comes to education these days. Trying to get kids to compete with kids in far off lands whom they will probably never meet, deciding that first year teachers are better than teachers with experience, and a charter school enterprise trying to rob localities of money while only providing an education no better than the public schools they claim to be saving the kids from are some of the political battles that are being waged.

There is one area that I have noticed over the years that is distressing to me however that is not really viewed as a problem, and I don't see it as a problem, I just have some philosophical differences with. That is the importance placed on Advanced Placement class. While I am an elementary PE teacher, over the past nine years I have also coached high school tennis teams. Over those nine years I have coached girls and boys and at multiple schools. I have had many players over those years get accepted to highly selective college. One got into five Ivy League schools and Stanford. Others have gone to the University of Virginia, William and Mary, University of Mississippi, Washington and Lee to name a few.

From many of those conversations I have had with them one thing they all talked about was their AP class load. Many of them started taking them in tenth grade and took a healthy dose of them their junior and senior years. They took them all, AP Chemistry, AP English, AP Government, AP Psychology. If there was an AP class available, they took it.

Many told of stressed out nights of long homework for those classes, test prep, and reading an exorbitant amount of text in a short period of time. Many took three or four AP's in a semester at one time or another during their high school years.

My question to them was always, "Why are you taking so many AP's?"
I knew the real answer but I just wanted hear what they thought. In nine years I have yet to hear one person answer that question with anything other than, "It looks good on a college resume."

"Do you enjoy the class?" I would ask.
Answers would range from "Not really" to "Uggh, I hate that class." I have yet to get "I enjoy learning about...."

I know college is competitive and everyone wants to do what they can to get an edge. What I notice through all of this is not necessarily what they gain by taking these classes but by what they miss out on by not taking other classes. While they are taking class after class in which they are not interested in they lose out on understanding that learning is a journey rather than a means to an end. Education becomes about hoop jumping.

I cannot say that one way is better than the other and I understand the factors that play into wanting to get into a name brand college or university. What I am saying, is that while they are taking AP after AP, they miss out on classes that might be enriching and enjoyable to them. Maybe I am wrong about this and students and parents do not agree with me that a horticulture, woodworking, small engine repair, or photography class can have as much personal value as AP Western Civilization, but I do know that hands on work most definitely requires a tremendous amount of problem solving skills which will serve the student long after their school days are over.

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