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Academic Learning through Career Awareness and Exploration

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A key component of career education consists of efforts of all classroom teachers, at all levels of education, to teach career implications of their subject matter. This chapter provides the rationale behind that component and identifies the basic principles inherent in the operational implementation.


The basic rationale behind this component of career education is a dual objective: that the substantive content of career education and the basic educative skills which form the heart of elementary education can both be made most meaningful to pupils if they are taught together. Put another way, it rejects the notion that the substance of career education should be thought of as another subject to be added to the already overcrowded elementary school curriculum.

The component finds motivational advantages inherent in helping students see some relationships between that which they are being asked to learn in the elementary school and the occupational society of which they will ultimately be a part. As a form of educational motivation, the objective of helping students understand the career implications of their subject matter must be tied as closely as possible to the subject matter content of prime concern to the elementary school educator.

Helping pupils understand the career implications of their subject matter represents only one of several forms of educational motivation available to the experienced elementary school teacher. Thus it is not suggested or recommended that in every classroom on every day, career relevance be the only form of educational motivation the teacher should use. However, it does represent a powerful source of educational stimulus which, if added to all others now used by elementary teachers, should help pupils learn more subject matter content.

With this background, it should be clear that the objectives of career education and those of elementary school education merge in the goal of helping each student learn as much subject matter content as he possibly can. Those elementary educators who fear that career education may dilute or take time away from efforts to help pupils master the basic skills of language arts, social studies, science, or mathematics have nothing to worry about if they understand the career education movement.

At the same time, young people-for whom the school hours are often their only organized and directed learning experiences-can be guided into consciously identifying and internalizing concepts about the world of work. This will aid them in building work values and understanding as a basis for future career decision making.

It is first necessary to demonstrate the harmony between elementary education and career education objectives and then to derive principles for building career education learning experiences. Examples can then illustrate this process.


The elementary school states as its domain that portion of the formal education process dealing with the acquisition of the basic skills we know as reading, writing, and arithmetic. It also begins to impart the cumulative tradition of the past through the study of other peoples, other times, and other places. If the objective of the elementary school has been to provide both the human and processing skills which enable the child to make an effective transition to the next educational setting-that is, coping with more education-the objective of an ongoing career awareness approach is to use existing curriculum and community in the development and maintenance of a positive self-concept as it relates to a synthesis of future work roles. There can be no argument as to the worthiness of these concurrent aims, but it is important to point out the variance in the transitional behavior observable in the child who has been exposed to a thoughtfully designed career education program in the elementary grades. This child should be able to
  1. Discuss his interests as they relate to work and play behaviors

  2. Distinguish among people who work with others, ideas, or things

  3. Recognize worker interdependence within the home, the school, and the business community

  4. Make connections between school subjects and employability skills

  5. Role-play or visually depict the worker personality characteristics associated with people who produce goods or services or both

  6. Discuss the likenesses and differences between himself and his family members, his schoolmates, and others who are significant in his life

  7. Consider the many reasons why people work

  8. Attach worth and value to all who work, either for themselves or for others

  9. Display an optimism about himself in direct proportion to the number and quality of direct contacts he makes with people who work
Thus the student career awareness and self-awareness objectives should have been enhanced. But at the same time and as a consequence of this approach, the student should be better able to
  1. Recognize the utility of basic arithmetic skills in situations where he must conserve, spend, and build-as well as solve an immediate mathematical task stated as a classroom exercise

  2. Recognize the utility of basic communications skills in situations where he must persuade, defend, inspire, encourage, or translate-as well as communicate a given idea

  3. Recognize the utility of basic scientific principles in situations where he must work with, or modify, existing environmental elements-as well as test a known scientific formula

  4. Recognize the utility of basic social science principles in situations where he must deal with current social attitudes, habits, and needs-as well as articulate a synthesis of the world's cultures

  5. Recognize the utility of basic physiological principles in situations where he must match psychomotor skills with the ongoing maintenance and task appropriateness of those skills-as well as achieve mastery over a given physical challenge
Thus, in achieving (1), career education would have made a vital contribution to math; in (2), to language, art, and music; in (3), to science, biology, physics, etc.; in (4) to social studies; and in (5) physical education and health, without adding to the total curriculum load.

In this chapter, our particular concern is with the proposition that academic skills can be acquired with equal or greater facility when they are studied in a career awareness context. The elementary school has special advantages for this application. In later stages of the schooling process, subject matter is specialized by teacher and by classroom; thus career relevance must be related to one subject at a time.

The elementary school setting is distinguished by its capacity to house a daily six-hour investigation of an idea, an action, a person, a group, or an entire culture. The one classroom and the growing intimacy between teacher and children can free curriculum from its restriction to blocks of subject matter by presenting all academic skills as necessary handles to the outside world. To tell the child that these handles exist is not enough; he is entitled to some small proof of them and involvement in them through exercises absorbing him both physically and mentally.

In designing such exercises, the teacher would need to look toward the community where examples of tasks begun and finished exist in terms of the work that people do, in settings devoted to leisure as well as to the production of goods and services. Every child can express more than one citation of "interesting grown-ups I know"... and teachers can draw from this bank of possible models a simulated activity or project which faithfully duplicates the texture of a goal or product-oriented task in the community. The classroom then becomes a starting point and a hearing room for those portions of the activity which ultimately necessitate a departure from the classroom. In many projects, children will need to gather first-hand information by entering a part of the working world to play out their drama in authentic surroundings. In others, they will bring the community to the school as consultants to activities involving the immediate school environment. In all such activity, the utility and appearance of basic academic skills will be unmistakable to the teacher and newly relevant to the child.

It will be noted that much of what is described as "traditional" still carries with it the weight of logic and relevancy to the adult reader. Yet, combined with the career awareness orientation, the traditional could assume a full-bodied significance to the young child at that moment when learning takes place. The joy of knowing he has learned could well be the single most important reason why all teachers should and can improve upon these illustrations.
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