18 Years


Today is an academic holiday in childrens’ lives: Field Day.  It’s one of the things you lose once you pass through the elementary grades.  I still have one, and she’s getting wet today.  My son had a late band practice yesterday to prepare for their concert next week, and my oldest daughter has a banquet that seems to look more like a prom than a dinner.

As the academic year closes, you tend to look back on what really made a difference.  Students may or may not do this, but most teachers do.  It’s a kind of wistfulness that most people feel on New Year’s Eve or a landmark birthday.

I read a blog from a young woman graduating from college this weekend.  She had a professor that had thought things through.  He told them that the first 18 years of “work” for them was school.  School gave them structure, a series of assignments, people all around to help and a general idea of what the next day, week, month and year would look like.  This soon-to-be graduate is facing a big moment in her life.

When we talk about P-16 alignment in political terms, we forget that the hardest part of college is the loose structure.  You don’t go to detention for skipping class.  Your free time is your own.  That seems to be an area where most students flail a little…or a lot.  Now a young woman has little or no idea what will be coming next for her.  There really is no structure.

As we prepare students…and prepare teachers…for P-16 alignment, we would do well to look at the real causes of “academia adrift.”  I think the biggest cause is the weaker structure of each phase of the transition from P to 16 (or beyond).  Preschoolers have very rigid schedules; college students do not.  Adult work varies too widely to address structure.

Harder tests aren’t the answer. Treating young people with more respect, preparing them for adulthood as people would serve us better. Perhaps a good resolution for next year would be to “loosen up.”


About Paul T. Henley, Ph. D.

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