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Problems for Career Education in Elementary Schools

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Career education is expected to occur in many ways and at many times in the lives of individuals. Its success, at any level and in any setting, is dependent upon the extent to which we can give priority to the individual as our primary concern. Leaders in the career education movement have emphasized repeatedly the necessity for its beginnings during the elementary school years. Most persons making such pronouncements have no clear understanding of what is being asked of the elementary teacher or the extent to which elementary school practices are being requested to change.

It seems advisable here to outline in broad form some of the operational problems facing elementary teachers who attempt to change in ways that will make them active and positive contributors to the total career education movement.

Individualization of Instruction

Experienced elementary educators know full well that whenever anyone proposes a new form of educational motivation, he is in fact talking about working with pupils on an individualized basis as much as possible. That is, one doesn't motivate a group, but only individual members of a group. The elementary school classroom that has 30 or more pupils calling for the teacher's attention is simply not conducive to the goal of individualized instruction. We know that many elementary classrooms today have 35 or more pupils. We hear many contending that career education will not be any more expensive in the long run than our current educational programs. This simply is not true. For the classroom teacher to emphasize the career implications of the substantive content she seeks to help pupils learn demands a relatively small class size or an increase in the number of helping adults in the classroom.

There probably is no magic number for the teacher-student ratio. At the same time, there is no point in pretending that career education, in the elementary school, can be truly effective unless concentrated attention is directed toward reducing the teacher-pupil ratio to a point where individualization of instruction can in fact take place.

Increase in Teacher Knowledge

One cannot teach that which he does not know. To ask that elementary teachers help students become aware of and familiar with the world of work outside education demands that teachers themselves become familiar with that world. This cannot be done vicariously or in an incidental manner. It is a particular problem in the elementary school because of the career development patterns followed by many elementary teachers themselves. That is, it is not unusual to find an elementary teacher who has never worked outside the field of formal education except for rather low-level, temporary jobs to help finance his college education. Career education demands that some provision be made for helping elementary school teachers have first-hand experience in the occupational world outside education. This for many teachers is going to mean a twelve-month annual contract with two to three months spent in some form of work experience or work study program. Until teacher education institutions change so that they make such experiences a part of elementary teacher education, the state departments of education and local educational agencies will have to provide the means for this kind of in-service education for elementary teachers. This too is going to cost money.

Need for Coordination of Activities

If career education is seen as a developmental process, then it is important to plan for it in a developmental fashion. What is done in the second grade should not be repeated in the third grade. The variety of career education projects now being proposed to elementary teachers has not, by and large, been specified as belonging at any particular grade level nor in any particular sequence. Elementary school curriculum planners face major problems in planning career education experiences in the elementary school that build on one another and that clearly lead into the career exploration activities planned for the junior high school years. This has been done only sporadically up to this time.

Career education in the elementary school seems to be working best in the open space elementary schools. Yet most elementary schools are not yet set up to operate on this basis. Certainly many of the proposed career education activities in the elementary school to be discussed in this book demand a project approach to teaching that involves the coordinated efforts of several teachers. The project approach obviously involves the construction of learning packages. Just as obviously, this takes teacher time and effort. This is not something that can be effectively accomplished in the teacher's "spare" time. It is a problem that must be faced at the beginning.

Need for Special Materials

Two distinctly different kinds of special materials are going to be required for career education in the elementary school. One represents materials in the domain of pupil values and self-understanding. Current programs of elementary school career education have done much better in helping pupils become aware of the world of work than in helping pupils become aware of them-selves. While some reasonably good commercially prepared materials are beginning to emerge in this area, the best continue to be those constructed by teachers in local elementary school settings. This too will take time, effort, and a considerable amount of in-service education.

The second kind of special material consists of those used to give elementary school students some actual "hands-on" experience with the tools of the industrial and business world. Very few elementary schools are presently equipped with vocational laboratory facilities. Portable units containing basic tools are becoming increasingly popular, as are exchange programs that allow elementary school students to spend some time in secondary school vocational-technical education facilities. Much remains to be done.

Philosophical Concerns

Many elementary school teachers will be appropriately concerned lest the career education emphasis displace traditional educational values to which they have strong professional and philosophical commitments. Most are predisposed to think of "liberal" education as the ideal and vocational education as illiberal, and there is a tendency to read into the career education movement an intent to make all education vocational. If all of this were true, there would be cause for concern, and there is sufficient reason in some uses of the career education term to be on guard. However, if the definition of liberal education is those formal learning experiences which help the individual understand the society in which he lives and himself in relation to it, reexamine the values of that society, and either reconfirm or modify his commitments to them and gain the skills to function successfully within that society, career education must be part (but not the whole) of liberal education. The best way we can illustrate our concept of the role of career education within formal education and of the latter in the total learning process is by devices shown below.

Vocational education is only part of career education and career education only one of the assignments of the education system. Neither can be successfully pursued solely within the formal education system, but important learnings, skills, and values vis-a-vis work and career (perhaps the most important) develop in the home and community outside the schools. The school curriculum is always overloaded with both objectives and content. The essential task for advocates and designers of a greater career emphasis within education is to integrate its values, objectives, and content into the curriculum in such a way that they will supersede nothing which is equally essential and support all that is.

The prime objective and assignment of the elementary school is to aid the development of the whole human being and to supply some of the essential skills of life in society. Career preparation and participation are certainly a vital part of that development and those skills.

Each of these problems, and more, will be discussed in the chapters that follow. They are raised here simply for purposes of identification and awareness. Career education has come to American education. The elementary school has a crucial role to play in career education. The case for career education is strong, and the call for career education is clear. It remains for professional educators at all levels to recognize the challenge of career education and to convert it into effective programs that will accomplish the goals of career education without in any way demeaning or detracting from all other worthy educational goals and objectives.
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